Homeowners in existing neighborhoods won a huge victory at City Hall in February. The City Council voted unanimously to support a neighborhood/developer compromise on a new type of zoning that will be added to the Dallas Development Code. “Form-based zoning” (FBZ) will encourage the development of walkable urban neighborhoods similar to West Village and Mockingbird Station.
I had written about FBZ last October, stressing how important it was for the Council to keep in place protections for existing neighborhoods related to height, buffer zones, and adequately sized development parcels to prevent spillover parking. All of these protections were in the neighborhood/developer compromise that the Council adopted.
An all-day planning seminar in January arranged by City Manager Mary Suhm helped break a stalemate that had existed for months between advocates of the compromise and some officials at City Hall who wanted to weaken the neighborhood protections. At the seminar, urban planning experts from cities like Vancouver, who have had success with this type of zoning, described ways to achieve it. One way that caught the attention of councilmen was the use of “corrals”. These are areas in a city that would be considered good candidates for the creation of walkable urban neighborhoods through the use of FBZ.
When Council voted in February, they added an 18-month review of FBZ. Since the poor economy will probably preclude a lot of major development, form-based or not, from taking place in the next 18 months, the Council directed city staff to spend that time working with individual councilmen to identify potential areas in their districts that might be good candidates for corrals.
Far North Dallas has a number of areas that could be considered, such as the Valley View Mall area, the Coit/Spring Valley area, the A&M property along Coit Road, and various sites along the Dallas North Tollway.
(Speaking of sites along the Tollway, it’s a shame that FBZ wasn’t in place several years ago when the old Prestonwood Mall site was being redeveloped — we might have gotten something wonderful there instead of just another strip center with acres of parking lots.)
Several organizations deserve a lot of credit and gratitude for their hard work in ensuring a good outcome for the FBZ issue. These groups are The Real Estate Council, an influential organization of Dallas developers; Preservation Dallas, an organization that strives to protect and preserve historic Dallas properties; and several homeowner association umbrella organizations — the Dallas Homeowners League, the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League, and the North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance.
The alliance is our local umbrella HOA group. It was founded in 1981 as the Far North Dallas Homeowners Coalition to advocate on behalf of homeowners north of Arapaho Road. Since then, alliance boundaries have changed a number of times, and today serves neighborhoods located in City Council Districts 11 and 12.
The alliance helps neighborhoods organize homeowner associations, helps with zoning cases if requested, holds meetings for HOA presidents or their representatives on issues of interest in the area or in the city, holds candidate forums for city races, and acts in general as an advocate for homeowner interests. The longtime president of the Alliance, Lucie Bellew, recognized early on how much FBZ could impact existing neighborhoods for better or worse, and therefore how important it was to be involved in the issue.
And therein lies the great value of umbrella organizations like the alliance — they closely follow matters that affect their members, and lobby city officials to achieve good results. This, of course, is what all HOAs do for their members, but umbrella organizations represent literally thousands of homeowners and provide strength in numbers. Also, umbrella organizations are particularly knowledgeable about zoning, a subject that can be complex to navigate and that most people know little about, but that can greatly affect neighborhood property values.
The alliance will soon celebrate 30 years of helping homeowners achieve and maintain quality neighborhoods.