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.

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Tour of 1600 Pacific with New Statler Owner

Yesterday, I toured 1600 Pacific with owner Leobardo Trevino (who just purchased the Statler).  The building had been vacant and in disrepair, and Leobardo bought it and cleaned it up — inside and out — in preparation of a multi-stage, total renovation.  Pictures:

If you’ve never been inside one of Downtown’s vacant buildings, I can tell you that the ones I’ve seen are littered with old furniture, junk, and trash, and are generally in disarray.  (The City has taken measures to require buildings be cleaned up.)  While some property owners leave their property in shambles (trying to avoid the expense of clean-up and hoping that potential tenants can see past the debris and visualize their new space), Leobardo’s philosophy is that those looking for real estate are more inclined to purchase space if the building looks move-in ready.  The difference in 1600 Pacific is striking:  Looking at the before and after pictures reveals how significant his clean up was. Continue reading

“This Old House” Magazine Selects Junius Heights “Best Neighborhood for Families”

As reported on Unfair Park, District 14’s very own Junius Heights Historic District was selected by This Old House Magazine as the nation’s “Best Neighborhood For Families” in their annual “Best Old House Neighborhoods” contest:

Like most of Texas, the city of Dallas is obsessed with all things big. But the people of the Junius Heights neighborhood beg to differ. “This is a small-town, front-porch community,” says Bill Williams, who purchased a Craftsman here in 2003. Junius Heights is home to some of the city’s most interesting residents, including artists, reporters for The Dallas Morning News, and about half the lawyers in town. And it’s turning into a haven for families looking to eschew traditional suburban living. That’s thanks in part to Woodrow Wilson High School, “one of the best examples of an inner-city high school in the country,” according to one resident (and Newsweek magazine). The school provides a top-notch education, as well as entertainment for Junius Heights residents through its excellent theater and athletic programs.  More….

Junius Heights is a great example of how historic district designation can help stabilize a neighborhood.  Since becoming an historic district in 2006, the neighborhood has enjoyed improved property values and has become even more attractive to families.  Most importantly, Junius Heights is full of active, involved neighbors who look out for each other and take pride in their lovely corner of East Dallas.

Congrats to the residents of Junius Heights for this well-deserved national recognition!

Statler-Hilton Tour

I’m not a huge fan of mid-century modern architecture.  It’s always seemed a little kitschy and plain to me.  The traditionally-designed Adolphus, the Magnolia, the Kirby, those buildings have style and class to spare.  But I’ve gotta say, mid-century modern is growing on me.  It’s still not my favorite, but I’m starting to appreciate the clean lines and blocks of color.  It’s something.  It’s the Jetson’s vision of the future made real (only without the jet-packs, air-cars, or robots, unfortunately).

The Statler Hilton (aka, Dallas Grand) is the quintessential mid-century modern building, with its blue glass paneled facade and Sinatra lounges.  Last week, I toured the building with Karl Zavitkovsky, Director of Economic Development for the city, and the style grew on me a little more.

As you’ll see in the pictures, the building needs some love.  But it has great bones and lots of cool mid-century flourishes.  I don’t know the structural integrity of the building, what it’d cost to do asbestos abatement, HVAC expenses, etc.  But aesthetically, the Statler’s no worse off than the Merc or Atmos buildings.  And the view is amazing.

I’ve heard again and again from developers that the eight foot ceilings are the killers — they’re just too low for today’s marketplace.  But the configuration of the rooms, combined with the wall of windows, make the ceilings seem higher than eight feet, and the rooms don’t feel small or cramped at all.

Imagine Main Street Garden is done, the UNT Law School has moved into the municipal courts building, and the modern streetcar is up and running on Commerce (with its mate on Elm).  The Statler could be one of the coolest addresses in Downtown.

(And I didn’t wear the cool headgear throughout the tour — only in the stairwells and basement where it was dusty and/or smelly.)

Today at the City Council meeting….

Here are some highlights from today’s council meeting:

Apartments Crime Reduction Program – We approved an ordinance that will require apartment complexes with excessive crime rates to participate in a mandatory crime reduction program administered and enforced by the Police Department. Run-down apartments are a breeding ground for crime, so this new program is absolutely critical. As I said today, though, we can’t make crime prevention a burden that’s born solely by our police; we must invest MUCH more in code enforcement.

Little Forest Hills Conservation District – (District 9) On Councilmember Kadane’s motion, we denied this CD. On zoning cases, I generally defer to the councilmember who represents that district because (1) I believe the voters in that district elected that person to reflect their values (which will be reflected in the councilmember’s zoning decision), (2) voters can vote out someone who makes zoning decisions they don’t agree with, (3) that councilmember has usually worked closely with the community on zoning cases and can best represent their position. I am very supportive of CDs because I’ve seen in my own neighborhood how beneficial it’s been. Someone at the meeting suggested that CDs reduce property values. The facts belie that claim: property values have risen significantly in the M Streets and other CDs in our city; people like the certainty of knowing what type of development can go up around them. Councilmember Kadane had asked the LFH CD proponents to attain 65% support from all residents, and they fell short, with 58%. I know how hard their worked, and my heart goes out to them. I hope LFH is able to find another way to protect their trees and keep themselves “funky,” such as through a planned development district, as was suggested today. Otherwise, I fear we’ll lose what is one of the coolest neighborhoods in our city.

Goodwill Drop-Off on Haskell – Here, Goodwill wanted to put in a small building that would serve as a drop-off for donations. It wouldn’t have had any retail component at all. Surrounding neighbors worried about an increase in traffic on an already busy street, as well as the possibility that people would drop things off while the site was closed, resulting in litter and a haven for the homeless or theives. I worked with Goodwill and the neighborhood for months to try to reach a compromise, and delayed this case more than once. As a matter of right, Goodwill could put in a retail store today without special dispensation from the city, and that is a more intense use than a drop-off. However, at the end of the day, 41 property owners voted “no,” and 41 voted “yes.” With such a split, I couldn’t justify a zoning change. To me, the zoning on the ground is the default, and the property owner has to show a compelling reason to change it. Part of that reason may be that the neighborhood strongly supports the change. Here, that wasn’t the case, and I couldn’t support a zoning change. Goodwill is such an amazing organization and does so much for our city. I wish the neighbors had been able to reach a compromise here.

Far West SUP – Residents near the Far West club at Gaston/Grand had grown frustrated with problems stemming from the club — crime, noise, traffic, etc. Usually, bars have to have a short-term “specific use permit” that lets them operate under certain conditions. The SUP process involves a public hearing and approval of the City Council. A bar that causes problems runs the risk of the neighbors opposing the renewal of the SUP, so the bar has an incentive to be a good neighbor. That is dependent on an SUP that expires every couple of years. Here, for whatever reason, the City Council gave the predecessor to Far West a 99-year SUP. That’s nuts. At the request of the neighborhoods I recommended the city reduce the time period for the SUP and put other restrictions in place. After working cooperatively with the club owner and residents, we were able to reach an agreement on a 5-year SUP with traffic and safety requirements. I’m very proud that we were able to make this change.

Dog Run for CityVet on McKinney – I postponed this for a month so the applicant can work with the surrounding neighbors on trying to reach a compromise.

GPS System for Garbage Trucks – At a cost of $700k, the GPS system is supposed to help track trucks, reduce inefficiencies, and save money. That sounds good, but having ridden on a garbage truck, I saw firsthand some of the problems our sanitation workers encounter that slow them down: overgrown alleys being #1. If we cleared the problem alleys, we’d speed up service and prevent our men from speeding down streets to make up for lost time (not that they should be speeding anyway). I don’t really think we’ve got the money to do this, given today’s economy, but if we do have an extra $700k, I think we should spend it on giving our sanitation workers a raise. They make minimum wage right now, and $700k would almost get them to a living wage (a $3/hr. increase). Alternatively, we could spend that on cleaning up alleys, or hiring 1-2 mechanics that are needed to fix air-conditioners and heaters in the trucks (that are frequently broken). A majority of the council, including me, voted to postpone the matter and have a briefing to get more info.

UNT Law School in Downtown We unanimously authorized the City Manager to enter into final negotiations with the University of North Texas to establish a law school in what is currently the city courthouse. (We desperately need a new courthouse and will include that in the 2010 bond program.) The legislature has to approve the law school, but I am very hopeful that it will pass this session.

Lastly, I’m not shy about speaking up when I disagree with the Mayor, so I want to take a moment to compliment him on the way he handles public hearings. One, he is very respectful of the time people take out of their schedules to come down to City Hall, and tries to move up cases involving large groups of people. Before I was elected, I remember coming to City Hall and spending 8 hours waiting for our neighborhood’s case to be heard. This is a welcome change.

Two, even when a group’s time to speak before the Council has expired, the Mayor lets opponent/advocates come to the microphone and enter their name and opinion into the record. This takes a little time, especially with large groups, but I think it really shows a great courtesy to citizens who have taken off work to spend their afternoon at City Hall.

Update on Hard Rock Cafe

On Monday, the Landmark Commission voted to hold the Hard Rock Cafe pre-designation decision for 30 days. During that time, the building will be protected from demolition as if it were landmarked.

I have not spoken with the prospective owner this week, but understand he may have some reluctance to designate the property. I am hopeful that we can work out a win-win situation that both protects the building and provides him with all the development rights (and perhaps more) that will allow him to have a successful business at the site.

The Landmark Commission will consider whether to begin the designation process in 30 days.

Fate of the Hard Rock Cafe on McKinney Ave.

On Wednesday, I met with residents who were concerned about the fate of the Hard Rock Cafe on McKinney Ave. Elvis has left the building, so to speak, and the Hard Rock is closing. What does that mean for the 100 year-old building it occupied?

The new owner, Brett Landes, attended the meeting as well, and dispelled rumors that he was going to scrape the building to put in a CVS. (I think the rumors got started because Landes owns many CVS stores.)

Landes explained that he wants to put in a jazz club/restaurant in the current building, and isn’t planning on tearing it down. He has done previous historic restoration projects, and promised to do something that the neighborhood would be proud of.

However, unless the building had historic landmark protection, there is nothing to stop the owner from demolishing it.

The mood at the meeting Wednesday was that folks would like to preserve this important landmark that was home to the McKinney Avenue Baptist Church. Landmark status doesn’t mean the building would be frozen in time and couldn’t be expanded and renovated. It also doesn’t mean that the owner would have to take it back to how it looked in 1906 (when it was built). The ordinance protecting the building can be very developer-friendly and strike a balance between protecting and restoring the building to its pre-Hard Rock-schmuck days and allowing for renovation and expansion.

If you would like to see this building preserved, you need to attend the Landmark Commission meeting at 1pm on Monday in the City Council Chambers on the 6th Floor of City Hall, 1500 Marilla Street (between Ervay & Akard). You need to urge them to begin the historic designation process, which would have the effect of protecting the building immediately. There is parking underground at Akard and Young.

I appreciate the emails I’ve been getting in support of landmarking the building, but fact is, you don’t have to convince me. I think the building should be preserved. You need to convince the Landmark Commission. So attend the meeting on Monday if you want to preserve this building.