Council Approves Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay

I am pleased to report that on Wednesday, Nov. 9, the City Council approved the Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay by a vote of 11-4. The overlay will give neighborhoods a tool to address incompatible, overly massive new construction in established neighborhoods.

The ordinance did not change substantively from what was posted on this website over the weekend. Here is a summary of the overlay tool:

Petition Requirement:
There are three ways to initiate an overlay:
1. Collect between 50%+1 to <75% of property owners’ signatures; get on the City Plan Commission agenda by paying a fee (like other zoning cases).
2. Collect 75% of property owners’ signatures or more; get on the Plan Commission agenda with no fee.
3. Get a Plan Commissioner or Councilmember to put the overlay on the agenda with no fee.
Time limit for collecting signatures:
0-49 homes: 3 mos.
50+ homes: 6 mos.
Minimum Area for Overlay:
50 lots – contiguous and compact area
Issues Addressed by Overlay:
–Height may be regulated if 60% or more of the property owners sign the petition.
–Height may NOT be regulated if less than 60% sign the petition (but the area may still get an overlay and regulate setbacks and garage placement).
–If the typical height of the homes in the overlay area is less than 20′, then the overlay area may select that as the maximum height. The area also has the option to select a height ranging from 20′ to the maximum allowed by zoning.
–If height is regulated, a “height slope” is required. (See the term sheet for a diagram.) This allows higher construction towards the back of the house but maintains the lower height at the front of the house.
>Front yard setback:
–Menu options range between typical setback and max allowed by zoning
>Side yard (right and left) and corner setbacks:
–Menu options range between typical setback and max allowed by zoning
–Entry: Rear/Front/Side
–Connection: Attached/Detached
–Location: Front/Rear/Side

Opponents to the overlay wanted to delay the vote so the council could (once again) be briefed on the issue. I argued that we had already had four public hearings on the issue, that the City had worked on the overlay for more than a year, and that it was time to move forward and vote on the overlay.

It really seemed that the only purpose of the proposed delay was to try to defeat the overlay or further compromise it. Proponent held firm, and when the opponents moved to delay the vote, they lost by a 6-9 vote (Voting to delay: MR, SS, BB, RN, LM, GG).

After several hours of discussion, I moved to approve the overlay ordinance. The ordinance passed by an 11-4 vote:
Voting in favor of the overlay: AH, EG, PM, EO, LK, GG, LM, DH, MTR, LC, JF
Voting against the overlay: MR, BB, SS, RN

This has been a long and difficult fight. I was troubled that a realtors representative, who has been actively involved in two meetings with me, two meetings with Councilmember Garcia, whose consultants had helped draft the compromise, and who was present at the final discussions on Monday, told the Council that his group had not been involved at all in overlay discussions and that they wanted more time to have input before we approved the overlay.

We drafted a compromise that, while imperfect, incorporated the concerns that were conveyed to us by realtors and builders. We now have an overlay tool that will allow neighborhoods to protect themselves from incompatible growth, if they choose to do so and if the overwhelming support is there.

The Development Services Department is going to prepare a packet of materials over the next month, and neighborhoods may begin applying for overlay status after mid-December.

My sincerest thanks to all of the neighborhood folks who turned out to support this, and to everyone who has been working so hard on this for many months. Your hard work and perseverance paid off!

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.

Council Briefing: Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay

Today the City Council had a special joint briefing with the Plan Commission on the proposed Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay.

Residents had to wait FOUR HOURS before we got to the overlay. (FYI, I’m looking at how we can be more respectful of visitors’ time.)

The Mayor called a joint briefing with the Plan Commission. Director of Development Services briefed us on the overlay and then presented the alternative proposal the Mayor put together:

–No prevailing standards interim protection period
–75% of all property owners must sign petition
–Neighborhoods have 60 days to collect signatures
–Smallest overlay area is the original subdivision
–Height, side and front setbacks, garage placement and entry, and impervious cover on front lawn may be regulated

The Mayor then invited Michael Jung to present the proponents’ position and Paul Cadauro of the Home Builders Association to present the opponents’ position.

Michael Jung did a superb job of summarizing the arguments in favor of the older versions of the ordinance, both the version endorsed by the Housing Standards Task Force and the version that came out of ZOAC. Paul Cauduro also gave the Council the results of an economic study funded by the HBA. It was supposed to show how older neighborhoods benefit from being knocked down and rebuilt.

Bruce Wilke, chair of the Plan Commission, made a presentation of some figures in his possession about 100 new homes sold recently, supporting the idea that the City would lose enormous tax revenue if it passed an ordinance that slowed down the “McMansion” building boom.

After the presentations, most Council members and some members of the Plan Commission voiced their opinions and concerns. Bill Blaydes was the most outspoken opponent of the ordinance. He and Mitchell Rasansky stated that the present Conservation District ordinance can be used to do everything the Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay is trying to do.

I spoke about why it is so important to give neighborhoods the tools they need to make decisions about their future. We have made neighborhood quality of life one of our top five priorities in our city, and nothing is more integral to our quality of life than our neighborhoods.

You can watch my statement here:
Small (6MB, Windows Media Format)
Large (25MB, Windows Media Format)

There are three primary problems with the overlay alternative as proposed. First, the 75% petition requirement is too high and is not required for any other zoning change or area designation in our city. If 50%+1 is good enough to allow Public Improvement Districts, Tax Increment Financing Districts, Special Use Districts, etc. to be presented to the City Council for determination, then why isn’t it good enough for our neighborhoods?

And when was the last time we required 75% of all registered voters to pass a referendum or elect a councilmember? Remember, the City Council doesn’t have to pass an overlay (or PID or TIF, etc.) just because folks collected 50%+1 signatures. We have discretion to make those decisions. In a neighborhood where some people are absentee landlords or just don’t care either way, a threshold in line with our other standards makes more sense.

The petition must be collected over the course of two months. Speaking from personal experience, this is too short a time period. The M Streets Conservation District moved at the speediest clip of any conservation district, and it took us six months to get signatures. This time limit is particularly harsh considering neighborhoods have to get 75% of an entire subdivision, which can be over 1000 homes.

Lastly, a subdivision is too large to be the minimum area permitted. Often, one or two streets get developed before a neighborhood realizes they want to protect the character of their neighborhood. Shouldn’t they be able to protect the remaining streets? A more reasonable alternative may be the 50 homes, in a compact, contiguous area, which was proposed by the Plan Commission.

At the end of the day, the Mayor appointed a committee of five council members to work on this issue and arrive at some version of the ordinance which could be submitted for a vote, perhaps as early as September 28. The Mayor appointed me along with Leo Chaney, Bill Blaydes, Ed Oakley and Elba Garcia (James Fantroy has taken Dr. Garcia’s place).

There was no formal public input at the meeting, but Wendy Segrest, Nancy Moore, Danielle Arvanitas and Ken Lampton had all signed up to speak at the “open microphone” session at the end of the briefing. They gave excellent short speeches about the need for the overlay.

I will be meeting with the committee over the next few weeks to work on the overlay. If you think we need an overlay, write to members of the City Council and let them know.

(My thanks to Ken Lampton for his summary of the meeting from which I’ve borrowed.)

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.