Proposed Changes to Conservation Districts

I’ve gotten several requests for more information about the proposed conservation district changes (UPDATE: Read Proposed Conservation District Ordinance Changes.)  Melissa Kingston has done an excellent, thorough job of analyzing city staff’s proposed changes to the conservation district process.  She has kindly agreed to let me repost her analysis.

From Melissa:

The City Staff has proposed changes dealing with the CD provisions of the Dallas Development Code.  The proposed changes and flow charts showing existing and proposed changes are attached.   I live in the Belmont Addition CD and chair its Ordinance Review Committee.  I wanted to make sure that each of you are aware of the proposed changes at the City.  I would also like for the CDs to work together on responding to these proposed changes.  I don’t mind taking the lead, but I think we need to respond.  And I am working with the Preservation Dallas and the Dallas Homeowners League on this matter as well.

WHY should we care, you might ask (since we are already CDs)?  BECAUSE you know that next thing coming are changes to the Development Code on how to alter existing CDs.

My thoughts/concerns are as follows:

1. Director gets More Discretion: The revisions give the Director of Development Services significant discretion that could be used to defeat the purpose of the statute and limit the creation of new CDs.  For example, see Section (d)(2)(H) on page 6 and Section (g)(2)(C) on page 11.   These are new provisions that basically give the Director the authority to require applications to do whatever she says without any guidance from the statute.

2.  No Time Limits by When Director Must Act:   There are no no timeframes from some of the decisions that are required by the Director.  Under section (g)(3) and (4), there is no time by when the Director has to determine whether the application is complete.  There is no time frame by when the Director must schedule the pre-meetings or the public meetings.  All of this gives staff time to put applications on a back burner.

3.  Reduced Appeal Rights:  Section (g)(5) does away with City Council appeal.  I never like getting rid of appeal rights.

4.  Poorly Drafted Lists:  The lists under Section (h) regarding what “must” and “may” be regulated by a CD need work.  For example, I think (a) doors, (b) alteration of lots (building up or scraping) and any other alterations to the lot that could create run-off issues for neighboring properties, and (c) trees should be included in the “must be regulated” category.  I also don’t like the list of what “may be regulated”  – So, if the feature a neighborhood wants to regulate through its CD isn’t on the “may be regulated” list, that neighborhood can’t regulate it?  In my view, that is bad policy.   Examples might include some unique feature that a certain architectural style has that isn’t on one of these lists or simply things like placement of satellite dishes and mail boxes.

5.  New Application / Petition Process is ONEROUS:  The new petition/application process is designed to make it almost impossible to get people on board early on.

  • The current process allows one person to initiate the process of becoming a CD by submitting an application with the required information.  From that, staff determines whether the application is complete and whether the proposed CD is eligible to become a CD.  The application has to have the signature of 50% of the property owners in the proposed CD, but that petition merely says the people are interested in determining whether they want to become a CD.
  • New process requires the formation of a 10-member Neighborhood Committee to seek the Director’s determination whether the proposed CD is eligible to become a CD.  If so, the Neighborhood Committee must have 2 pre-application meetings where the proposed changes that will be included in the CD are discussed (meaning you have to know what you want the CD ordinance will likely say before any public meetings), at the end of these 2 pre-application meetings, the Director provides a Petition that the neighborhood has to get signed by 66% of the property owners (up from 50%) that lays out all of the things the Neighborhood Committee thinks it wants in the CD Ordinance.  This petition has detailed information about what the new CD might look like before the public drafting meetings (including a list of development and architectural standards that the Neighborhood Committee of 10 thinks it might want).  In my view, this is designed to make it harder to get signatures!  And now you have 6 months to get your signatures.  There previously was no time limit.
  • I think these changes are designed to talk people out of or scare people off from trying to become a CD early on.  The process that currently exists is onerous enough, and City Staff constantly complains about how the current process takes too many resources.  So, the Staff’s answer is to add more steps to the process?  I smell a rat!  And while staff was at it, they increased the required signatures from 50% to 66%, reduced the time available to obtain those signatures, and replaced a one sentence petition with one that will likely be pages.

My overall thought is that the changes are designed to look good on paper but have enough new onerous steps and enough additional discretion for staff that these changes are designed to make it harder to create CDs, which is exactly what staff wants.

MELISSA’S ADDITIONAL ANALYSIS OF MOST RECENT PROPOSAL:

1.  The definition of “Neighborhood Committee” now includes CDs to be amended or expanded and is required to be 10 people OR at least 50% of the proposed new CD area.

2.  Throughout, there are notations that ZOC recommends CDs (and changes to CDs) require 66% of the property owners’ signatures, and staff recommends 75%.  To have the fee waived, ZOC recommends 75%, and staff recommends 85%.

3. There is now a requirement that within 65 days of the director determining that an area is eligible to be a CD, the neighborhood committee must request the pre-application meetings….(one more hurdle for NAs)

4.  The biggest change is that the ordinance now has a section on amending/expanding CDs (starting on page 14).  The new process is fairly similar to the new process outlined for becoming a CD BUT for certain changes, the neighborhood has to collect signatures within 60 days.

A new area of concern that I have is that the ordinance say “the original petition” must be signed by property owners…I assume that means you can’t have multiple copies that are being circulated in the proposed new CD area.  Logistically, it would be almost impossible to get 75% of property owners to sign the SAME piece of paper (and within 6 months).

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