Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Dallas Citizens for Responsible Development to Demonstrate at City Hall Thursday, October 20, 2pm

Come out and show your support!
Demonstration to promote the drafting of a proposed ordinance to protect reasonable limits on new housing construction in established Dallas neighborhoods

A brief demonstration of Dallas citizens who support responsible housing development will be conducted outside Dallas City Hall tomorrow, Thursday October 20, on the north side of the building facing Young Street.

At issue is a proposed Neighborhood Zoning Stabilization Overlay ordinance, which was originally proposed by the Dallas Single Family Housing Task Force in November 2004. The purpose of the original ordinance was to allow a neighborhood to voluntarily choose, or not choose, certain maximum size, height and setback limits for newly constructed houses in established, stable neighborhoods.

“If we are going to realize the increasing value and quality of life of our established neighborhoods, we need to think beyond short-term profits and consider the rights of Dallas citizens,” said Jason English, communications director of the non-profit organization. “We encourage both redevelopment and renovation of existing neighborhoods, but we need an Overlay ordinance because of certain cases of extreme speculative development that are disruptive to our neighborhoods.”

The proposed overlay document would be a “Conservation District Lite” and allow a majority of citizens to select a set of size and placement maximums without regard to specific style or materials. But since the ordinance was proposed, well-organized and funded groups of building and realty lobbyists have been actively campaigning against any means of residential self-governance.

The proposed ordinance has made its way through zoning and planning commissions, with key controls removed from it at every step. We currently have no idea what is even on the document currently under consideration by mayor Laura Miller and the City Council. However, the secret document appears to have been proposed by the Home Builders’ Association (HBA), and would impose an impossible set of voting conditions to put any limits in place.

The demonstrators are proposing that the council should pass the Overlay document as originally drafted and passed by the Dallas ZOAC commission. This would give us a reasonable ordinance that is both legitimate and enforceable by neighborhoods, without hampering renovation or eliminating new reconstruction. DCRD would like to ensure these points survive in the Overlay ordinance:

  1. That 60 contiguous houses or 3 acres of land be considered enough of an area for a “neighborhood” to be able to define itself and apply to Dallas for an Overlay District
  2. That the citizens of a proposed neighborhood have at least 6 months, and preferably 12 months, to gather the required signatures to put an overlay in place.
  3. That a majority of 50% +1 be all the signatures of households required to achieve an approval status for an Overlay. This standard has been in place for 100 years in other types of zoning and more restrictive tools such as Conservation and Historic districts. To make the “majority” requirement higher would make achieving the required signatures very hard for private citizens in almost every neighborhood (as many houses are rented, and much canvassing is required to catch every citizen at home and explain the benefits of an overlay)
  4. That we only require ONE signature per household – requiring both spouses to sign a simple petition doubles the difficulty of any petition.
  5. The overlay must allow limits on overall building height (usually 30-45+ feet), front and side setbacks, and either lot coverage or building size. Builders and realtors have been trying to remove these meaningful methods of putting any controls on size.

It is the residents of Dallas who pay the majority of the taxes in this city, and not the building industry, so we are demanding that we have reasonable sovereignty over the destiny of the neighborhoods we live in.

Why is this happening?

If builders had shown a sense of self-restraint or consideration for existing neighborhoods, no political action would be necessary.

We’re familiar with the phenomenon. A speculator “flipper” makes a fast-buy offer and tries to get a commitment to buy a house on an existing residential block before it even appears on the market. A developer then gets a large loan and levels the house, quickly erecting a new 5,000+ square foot house which consumes most of the surface area of the lot, and towers over neighboring houses. A realtor then sells the “supersized” house to an incoming suburbanite or someone from outside of Dallas who values the proximity of the house to the city. The parties involved can make anywhere from $80,000 to $200,000 per house.

Neighboring houses are now “overshadowed,” and since they are now expected to follow suit by selling, the value of the existing smaller houses is reduced to the raw land value, discouraging renovation and reinvestment as the character of the neighborhood is changed.

While many neighborhoods have broad constituent sympathy for the idea of limiting construction that disrupts a neighborhood, people are often unaware how to do anything about it. Neighborhood associations typically are not touching the issue for fear of creating a “hot potato” by offending certain individuals with an economic interest in the redevelopment. Well-spoken and well-funded representatives from the development and realty industry say a zoning overlay would severely limit individual rights, and have attempted to delay any action and dissipate Dallas into smaller neighborhood groups that have little collective influence.

The citizens group Dallas Citizens for Responsible Development (DCRD) conducted a broad awareness campaign over the past 3 months to promote the idea that new development in existing neighborhoods needs to be “better, not bigger.” Yellow and red yard signs, bumper stickers and t-shirts are appearing around established neighborhoods and at community events, city meetings and open “McMansions.” The goal of the group is to educate Dallas citizens on the reality of their property rights, and demonstrate to the Dallas government that citizens need an effective tool in place to provide some reasonable limits to new construction in existing neighborhoods.

About Dallas Citizens for Responsible Development (DCRD)

The goal of DCRD is to get a meaningful and enforceable Zoning Overlay passed by demonstrating a visible level of support within Dallas and disseminating information through the site that educates homeowners and provides suggestions on how to show support for responsible development. In addition to the outward signs of the awareness campaigns, many citizens are working directly and meeting with Dallas council members, city officials, and other community advocacy groups to ensure that reasonable building limits and controls are part of the proposed zoning overlay.

A zoning overlay is not intended to stop homeowners from renovating or improving their own houses. But development companies are attempting to spread the idea that the zoning tool would create a “block war” within communities that have differing opinions on what limits should be. In reality, the overlay would primarily affect only new developed houses and limit their overall size, setbacks and height to proportionate levels in comparison to neighboring houses. It would eliminate that quick-flip profit of a larger house, which isn’t a popular notion for certain developers and realtors currently enjoying the lack of zoning controls.

Unregulated construction not only destroys the character of a neighborhood, it provides little economic benefit except in the short-term – for the parties who profit from the sale. Unregulated development is now rampant on many Dallas streets, with development companies running hundreds of crews to feed the teardown boom. The unregulated construction is not only disturbing and hazardous to existing residences, it is fueled by a low-interest economic housing “bubble” that has spiraled out of control and will leave behind an inconsistent legacy in many neighborhoods.

Press Contact: Jason


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