Final Council Meeting on Overlay

On November 9, the Dallas City Council will vote on whether to create a “neighborhood stabilization overlay” — a tool that will help neighborhoods address teardowns and McMansions. If adopted, the overlay will allow neighborhoods to regulate height, front yard and side yard setbacks, and garage placement for new construction in their neighborhood.

It is important to note that the overlay is a tool, not a zoning change. Not a single home in Dallas will be affected if the City Council creates the Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay tool next Wednesday. If a neighborhood wanted to become an overlay district, it would first have to submit a petition signed by at least 60% of the property owners. Even then, the overlay district would have to be approved by the City Plan Commission as well as the City Council.

If adopted, the overlay tool will give neighborhoods across Dallas the option to require new construction to be more sensitive to the context in which they are built.

If you care about this issue, you need to come to City Hall at 1:30PM on Wednesday, November 9, and show your support.

The overlay discussion has been going on for over a year now. First, the City’s Single-Family Housing Standards Taskforce (made up of residents, builders, realtors, architects, and planners) developed a proposal working in concert with the City’s Comprehensive Plan work group.

As it was originally envisioned by the Taskforce, the overlay would allow a neighborhood to apply to become an overlay district with the support of 50%+1 of the property owners in the area (the same standard for all other zoning changes in Dallas). After the neighborhood petitioned for consideration to become an overlay district, the City would provide an interim set of building standards based on what is typical to the neighborhood. These “prevailing standards” would regulate new construction while the neighborhood met with the City for up to 18 months to determine permanent standards. The prevailing standards would be based on the neighborhood’s typical number of stories, front and side setbacks, garage placement, and percentage of front yard impervious coverage. The purpose of the prevailing standards period was to immediately address the teardown and McMansion problem and give a neighborhood breathing room to develop permanent standards for new construction.

Under the Task Force’s proposal, a neighborhood’s permanent overlay ordinance could address height, stories, front and side setbacks, garage placement, and percentage of front yard impervious coverage. After the ordinance was finalized by the neighborhood, with assistance from the City’s Planning staff, the overlay ordinance would then go before the City’s Plan Commission for approval. If approved, the final decision would be made by the City Council.

After the Taskforce made its recommendation on the overlay tool, the City’s Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee (ZOAC) reviewed their proposal. After considering it for months, ZOAC revised the overlay tool and forwarded its recommendation to the City Plan Commission.

At the Plan Commission, the overlay tool was again substantially revised. Now the issue is before the City Council for determination on November 9. Unfortunately, each time the ordinance has come before another layer of city bureaucracy, the overlay has become less neighborhood-friendly.

Look at this comparison table to see the differences among the various proposals, and how much the neighborhoods have ceded to the opponents.

This issue first came before the City Council in September, when Councilmembers were briefed on the issue. At the briefing, the Mayor proposed an alternative overlay tool that compromised the neighborhoods’ needs even further. Most importantly, the “prevailing standards” interim period was stripped away, height and stories were removed as options, and the minimum percentage was increased from 50%+1 to 67%-75%.

I and neighborhood leaders in attendance at the meeting objected to the alternative proposal. As a result, the Mayor created an ad hoc council committee to develop a compromise. The committee was comprised of Councilmembers Ed Oakley, Bill Blaydes, Elba Garcia (later replaced by James Fantroy), Leo Chaney, and me.

The ad hoc committee met to discuss the overlay issue. Director of the City’s Development Services Department Theresa O’Donnell walked us through the different iterations of the overlay. At the meeting, I was elected chair of the committee. I asked from input from each member of the committee. Councilmembers Oakley and Blaydes both stated that they opposed allowing a neighborhood to address height in the overlay, and that they would not move from requiring 75% of all owners to agree to the overlay. (This is in stark contrast to every other zoning change in our city, which requires a threshold of only 50%+1).

After hearing from each committee member, I proposed a compromise between what the original Taskforce had proposed and what the Mayor had come up with: >50% to sign the petition, 1 year to gather signatures, and allow neighborhoods to address height, front and side setbacks, garage placement, and front yard pavement. In exchange, I proposed giving up regulating the number of stories, doing away with the prevailing standards interim period, and increasing the minimum district size from one blockface to 50 homes. The committee passed the recommendation by a vote of 3 to 2, with Mr. Oakley and Mr. Blaydes voting “no.”

Despite the many concessions made to the opponents, the Mayor wanted the supporters to further compromise, and asked Councilmember Garcia to try to develop a new proposal.

Because I want to see an overlay tool created, I will support a reasonable compromise. I will support a compromise that would increase the petition requirement to 60%, decrease the time to collect signatures from 1 year to 6 months, allow standards for height, setbacks, and garage placement, and increase the minimum area from one blockface to 50 homes.

I will therefore be supporting the following neighborhood stabilization overlay proposal at the Nov. 9 Council meeting:

Petition: 60%
Time limit: 6 mos.
Area: 50 lot – contiguous and compact area
Issues addressed:
Typical height OR 20′, 25′, 30′, 36′
Front yard setback:
Between 10′ – 70′ OR typical setback
Side yard setback (right):
Between 5′ – 40′ OR typical setback
Side yard setback (left):
Between 5′ – 40′ OR typical setback
Cornerside yard setback:
Between 5′ – 40′ OR typical setback
Entry: Rear/Front/Side
Connection: Attached/Detached
Location: Front/Rear/Side

Many councilmembers are supportive of the Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay. However, it is a grave disappointment to me that other councilmembers do not want to give neighborhoods even a small voice in their future development.

If you think this is an important tool for neighborhoods, let your voice be heard. If you already enjoy the protections provided by an historic or conservation district, let the Mayor and Councilmembers know how it has positively affected your neighborhood, and show your support for creating the overlay tool.

Write, email, call and fax the Mayor and councilmembers and attend the City Council meeting at Nov. 9 at 1:30PM at Dallas City Hall, 1500 Marilla Street, 6th floor. Tell them you support the above proposal.

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