For 30 years now, one group of dedicated homeowners has been fighting for quality-of-life issues in our community. Founded in 1981, the North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance has had a hand in just about everything — from the successful construction of the Preston Ridge Trail to the disappointing outcome of the Prestonwood mall redevelopment. Co-presidents Marla Beikman and Ann Murphy talk about the some of the current issues facing the alliance and what the organization’s future might hold.
With 60 to 70 diverse homeowners’ associations, how has the alliance retained cohesiveness in the area?
Beikman: There’s a common concern whether you live in a condo, a small homeowners’ association or big homeowners’ association. Everyone is concerned about safety, which relates to the crime watch. Everyone is interested in parks and recreation. And transportation — everybody needs to get to work.
Murphy: I also think that people are used to us being here. Are we the cart before the horse? Our organization started because of the area developing. I don’t think people know of us ever not being here.
What has been the impact of the alliance in recent years?
Beikman: The Preston Ridge Trail was a big accomplishment, coordinating with Dallas and Collin counties. A feeling in Collin County was that Dallas was separate even though a large part of Dallas is in Collin County.
Murphy: We’re the illegitimate stepchild on both ends … Obviously, we were heavily involved in the [Far North Dallas] land use study, transportation plans … Mary Currin, who is one of our past presidents, was such a visionary. We were pretty instrumental in the form-based zoning [a type of zoning put in place to foster neighborhood-friendly development]. Aside from having Mary Currin following every single zoning case, we’ve just been here all these years for information and education.
Beikman: Most neighbors do not go up against a zoning case or board of adjustment case within the lifetime of an HOA. When they get a notice, they don’t know how to proceed.
Murphy: That’s most of the day-to-day business of the Alliance. We deal with that as it files because homeowners just don’t know how. I would say the two biggest meetings we’ve had in recent years is one, when the Dallas Housing Authority announced they were building complexes out here … and two, the Walmart at Prestonwood.
Talk about Prestonwood. How did the developers win in the end?
Beikman: I don’t think our objection was so much to the big-box store, but that area had so much potential. It was a big piece of real estate that the community was keenly interested in.
Murphy: We had already respected it as a community gathering place.
Beikman: The mall had beautiful trees and landscaping, but it became less and less well-cared for. We wanted to make it as positive as it was then … We wanted to have something like the shopping center at Preston and Frankford, which has the lake.
Murphy: Prestonwood was the classic, textbook case: A bunch of developers and their attorneys meet with neighbors and show them glossy pictures. The room is full of people looking at these beautiful proposed designs, and they end up having nothing to do with it.
Beikman: We had so many minor amendments to everything that it turned into a major amendment.
What are your hopes for the Valley View/Galleria redevelopment?
Murphy: I would hope for a real live-work-play environment with a grocery store and some quality service businesses. But it has to be accessible to people who are driving there, too.
Beikman: Dallas is trying to reinvent itself into something that it’s not — a Boston or a New York City. It was not founded as that, and it will never be that. Dallas has a habit of overbuilding. They jump on the bandwagon. When malls were big, they jumped on the mall bandwagon. They just couldn’t all succeed.
Murphy: We need a hybrid of those things. Like we’ve talked about before, there’s no destination spot for Far North Dallas, and that’s kind of what we’ve been trying to do all these years — give us our spot. Now, there’s an opportunity in Far North Dallas with Valley View for us to have our spot. But if you let the developers get a hold of it and don’t pay attention, all you get is more concrete.
Outsiders tend to perceive Far North Dallas as an area full of wealthy people who have everything they need. How has the alliance addressed that misconception at city hall?
Beikman: North Dallas has historically been a newer area — the streets are new, the buildings are new. Some of that perception is true.
Murphy: But if you don’t maintain what you have, then it all ends up rundown at the same rate. The mention of North Dallas versus South Dallas comes into play with people saying, “We’d be happy to have what you have.”
Beikman: For instance, when there’s a case with a private school being built near a neighborhood. It’s easy to perceive us as being elitist when really we’re just concerned about how we’re going to get out of our driveways in the morning.
What are the new challenges the Alliance faces today as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago?
Beikman: A lot of what’s happening now isn’t development anymore, it’s redevelopment. Now, it’s landlocked, and the neighborhoods around it are fixed. It’s different than just being surrounded by raw land.
Murphy: Another thing, to me, is our volunteers who go down to the city hall; there needs to be a younger group of people who have an understanding of this redevelopment. Thirty years ago, life was a little bit slower. Now, we’ve got to get that 35- to 45-year-old group to get a grasp of this and get involved. There’s always going to be a need for representatives to make sure that city hall is doing what it’s supposed to. That neighborhood voice can get lost down there.
To learn more about the North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance, visit ndna-tx.org.