Thursday, June 02, 2005

Article: DMN June 2, 2005

Vote delayed on teardowns

Dallas: Board wants more data on zoning tool to limit rebuilds

09:20 PM CDT on Thursday, June 2, 2005

By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News

A zoning board recommendation on an ordinance designed to help Dallas homeowners fight new "McMansions" in their neighborhoods has been delayed another three weeks.

The delay comes after months of packed meetings and public outcry from residents, real estate brokers and builders on both sides of the issue.

Members of the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee, chaired by real estate agent Carol Scott, deferred voting on the hot-button issue for the fourth time Thursday, saying they needed more information to make a decision.

Many of the nearly 70 attendees who sat through the two-hour forum weren't pleased with Thursday's outcome.

"This is a filibuster – the longer they delay it, the more new houses get under wraps," said David Thornton, a Dallas resident who works in construction materials and supports the zoning tool. "A lot of people cannot keep showing up to these meetings."

The controversial Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay – which would allow clusters of homeowners to set standards for redevelopment in their communities – must be voted on by the zoning board before it can be vetted by the City Plan Commission and the City Council.

Impact study urged

Ms. Scott, who also serves on the Plan Commission, said she fears the proposed zoning tool might be detrimental to the city's tax base. She said she wants to see an economic impact study before she votes on the measure.

"The more meetings we have, the more I learn," she said. "I'm determined to do what's right."

More than 1,500 residences have been torn down and replaced with new homes since the late 1990s, many of them in North and East Dallas. Under the proposed overlay, residents who want to preserve certain qualities on their block or neighborhood could, with support from a majority of homeowners, regulate height, garage location, front and side yard setbacks and paved surface of future construction.

During a neighborhood's wait for its overlay to be approved, builders would be forced to get development plans approved by the city.

Putting additional restrictions on developers will dissuade them from building new, more valuable homes in Dallas, said Stephen Collins, a real estate broker with Virginia Cook Realtors. This will damage the city's tax base and serve as a "slap in the face" to the Dallas school district, he said.

And because the overlay could be applied to neighborhoods as small as one block, Mr. Collins said it could be confusing and costly for real estate brokers and builders to know what they're buying into.

'Burdensome ordinance'

"There's a ripple effect here that's going to be massive," he said. "You're talking about a wildly burdensome ordinance."

But Bette Epstein, a Northpark-area homeowner, said builders must recognize "it's not all about money." Ms. Epstein's property taxes have skyrocketed as a result of rebuilds adjacent to her home, and it has forced her to consider moving, she said.

"It's time for there to be some restrictions on what can happen to these neighborhoods," she said. "Something needs to be done to protect those of us who don't want to move."

Slow action criticized

What residents want is not an end to new construction, Mr. Thornton said. They want developers to be sensitive to the surrounding area, he said, instead of building out-of-scale mansions that dwarf their neighbors. And he said he thinks Ms. Scott – who sells homes in the Preston Hollow area – is holding up the process intentionally. At this rate, the City Council will not be able to address the measure until August at the earliest, he said.

Wants to avoid mistake

Ms. Scott said she wants to address all the issues, and make sure the city doesn't make a major zoning mistake. And she said she has no conflict of interest. "I'm a real estate agent. I have the knowledge to know what's going on in these neighborhoods, and it has not been bad," she said. "Because of the ambiguous way [the overlay] has been crafted, there's going to be a group of people not being able to remodel or sell their homes."

Preservation is important. But the proposed zoning tool is not the solution, said Diane Benjamin, who describes herself as a "homeowner, Realtor and conservationist."

"It is impossible to be the world-class city we strive to be without change," she said. The overlay "will stop us from moving forward."

But Pattie Walker, who says she watches her elderly Love Field-area neighbors get harassed by developers trying to buy their homes, has a different take.

"What I'm hearing here today is you want people in these neighborhoods to move, and people in the suburbs to come back in," she said.



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