Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay – Update

This past week, the Mayor has been meeting with councilmembers to discuss an alternative proposal for next week’s briefing on the neighborhood stabilization overlay. I met with the Mayor and other councilmembers yesterday and today, and want to give an update on where we are on this issue.

If you’re familiar with the overlay, jump past the history lesson and read “Council Briefing on September 7.”

For those unfamiliar with the overlay, it is intended to provide neighborhoods with a zoning tool to stem the tide of teardowns and incompatible new construction. Many residents are frustrated with the McMansionization of their neighborhoods and want to do something about it. They want to be able to address issues like height, setback, and garage placement, but not get into architectural design or details.

Right now, the only real tool neighborhoods have are conservation districts. Although conservation districts can take care of McMansionization, they are really intended to provide regulations not just for height and setback, but for architecture and design. Using CDs to address massing and scale is overkill.

More importantly, the line to become a conservation district is a long one. Half a dozen neighborhoods are in line right now, and the City can only handle two neighborhoods a year. (The planning department holds many meetings in a neighborhood to discuss proposed zoning changes, and these meetings take several months.) I started the conservation district in the M Streets, and am very familiar with the process.

In September 2004, the Single-Family Standards Taskforce was formed to look at single-family housing in Dallas. The Taskforce was made up of residents, home builders, realtors, architects, and other professionals.

Near the same time, in November 2004, the city held a townhall meeting to listen to residents’ concerns about teardowns as part of ongoing comprehensive plan discussions. The meeting did not go well. The City did not really address the teardown issue as much as talk about the development needs of the particular area near the meeting site.

The City tried to fix its mistake by holding more productive meetings in January and April. During this time, City staff, along with the comprehensive land-use plan consultants, researched the teardown issue and how best to address it in Dallas. The Single-Family Standards Taskforce was provided updates and given feedback on the teardown issue by staff.

Single-Family Standards Taskforce Recommendation
After reviewing the city staff’s presentations, the SFST proposed the following:

  • Neighborhoods could use overlay tool to regulate massing and scale, but not architecture
  • Neighborhoods would have to collect signatures from 50%+1 of property owners to begin process (just like conservation districts and historic districts)
  • After collecting signatures, “prevailing neighborhood standards” would be interim building standard for neighborhood for up to 18 months until neighborhood reached concensus on permanent standards
  • Prevailing standards would include:
  • >Stories
    >Garage access, location and connection
    >Paving surface in front and corner side yards
    >Front and side yard setbacks

  • City would hold neighborhood meetings to gather concensus on permanent standards that could include:
  • >Height
    >Garage access, location and connection
    >Paving surface in front and corner side yards
    >Front and side yard setbacks

  • Residents would have the opportunity to vote on the finalized standards, and the Plan Commission and Council would vote on whether to approve the zoning change.

SFST’s proposal then went to the City’s Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee (ZOAC), which reviews potential amendments to the City’s Development Code and forwards recommendations to the Plan Commission.

ZOAC and CPC Recommendations
To the frustration of many residents, ZOAC held the overlay proposal for months. ZOAC made some changes to SFST’s proposal, and then that proposal went to the Plan Commission. The Plan Commission amended ZOAC’s proposal. I’m not going to go into detail about ZOAC’s and CPC’s proposals because it’s easier to look at a side-by-side comparison.

Now the ball is in City Council’s court. On Wednesday, the Council will be briefed on the foregoing. A single representative from the proponents and opponents will each speak and answer questions. Public input will not be taken at the briefing (there will be opportunities when the Council holds a public hearing).

The alternative proposal being floated next Wednesday will look like this:

  • There is no interim standards period
  • Neighborhood has 60 days to collect signatures for overlay petition (we’ll also discuss 90 days)
  • Clock starts ticking on neighborhood when neighborhood picks up petition forms from City
  • Petition must contain the specific standards for the proposed overlay
  • Neighborhoods must get 75% of residents to sign petition (we’ll also discuss 67%) Note that in no other zoning change in the city of Dallas do we require such a high threshold.
  • Standards may include height (not stories), front and side setbacks, garage placement, and impervious coverage of front and side yards
  • Minimum size of overlay district is an entire subdivision (we’ll also discuss the CPC’s recommendation of 50 houses)
  • After verification of signatures, CPC will authorize a public hearing to vote on the overlay
  • If it passes the CPC, then the Council holds a hearing and votes on it.
  • Note that the CPC vote and City Council vote can each be delayed by 30 days if someone pays a fee

It’s unclear when the Council will vote on the overlay issue. It may be late September or early October before we vote on this.

I’ve got grave concerns about this alternative proposal, not the least of which is that if we’re trying to make a “conservation district lite” process to make it easier for neighborhoods to protect themselves from incompatible development, why are we instead making the process much more difficult?

District 14 residents, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

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