Ask a group of Oak Cliff home and business owners the meaning of “positive development” south of the Trinity, and you’ll get as many answers as there are folks around the table. Last month, CliffDweller sat down with Rick Garza, Monte Anderson and David Spence, three of the men who’ve helped lead the charge for historically sensitive and community-minded development here in the Cliff. This month, we’re rounding out our look at what Oak Cliff needs and wants as large-scale developers set their sites south of downtown Dallas by speaking with two of Oak Cliff’s leading preservationists.
When it comes to community and preservation credentials, you’d have to look a long way to find someone with more bona fides than Barbara Barbee, current president and longtime leadership figure within the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League. An Oak Cliff native, Barbee attended George Peabody Elementary, W.E. Greiner Middle School and Sunset High School before leaving for college in Louisiana and graduate school in Indiana followed by a life of travel around the world. After lengthy employment stints around the globe in cities ranging from New York to São Paulo, Brazil, Barbee returned to Dallas permanently in 1993 — and she’s taken a leadership role on preservation and community quality-of-life issues ever since.
Spend 30 minutes talking with Barbee, and you’ll walk away with at least one worthwhile project that needs doing or fixing here in Oak Cliff. From planting perennials at Founder’s Park to arranging for volunteers to help disabled or lower-income families paint their homes, she’s a one-woman beehive of community support. And, as the president of OOCCL, preservation, protection and improvement of the 27 member neighborhoods takes high priority in her schedule.
Don’t make the mistake of believing, though, that prioritizing preservation means Barbee opposes development. “There seems to be a rumor that the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League is opposed to development,” she asserts. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We need new businesses, we need employment, we need more upscale development. We want people to come here and succeed.” What, then, does Barbee believe it will take to achieve development success? “Everybody has to work together — and all that the OOCCL member neighborhoods ask is that we be given a seat at the table.”
Longtime CliffDweller Rob Romano, currently working on his fourth historic-home restoration project, concurs.
“The preservationists I know aren’t against development, we just want to make sure that we’re engaging in thoughtful, positive development,” explains Romano, a partner in Dallas-based fence-sealing company Pro-Seal and a newly minted convert to the “historical flip” process. He’s served two terms as president of the Winnetka Heights Neighborhood Association. “Many of us moved to Oak Cliff because we liked its appeal — and, while we’d all like to see the addition of services and retail, we’d like to make sure that we do it in a way that maintains that appeal.”
The big barrier to “thoughtful development” in Oak Cliff is, in a word, parking. “It’s the one topic that comes up time and time again,” asserts Romano, “and it’s one of the issues developers use to make homeowner associations and preservationists look unreasonable. In the past, we’ve been overwhelmed by investors proposing some very dramatic changes to our current parking ordinances — and giving us very little time to buy in. Faced with that situation, I’m not willing to give so much that the homeowners in the first few blocks surrounding new development are plagued by overflow parking.”
Barbee believes the City of Dallas needs to take a strong leadership role to develop solid parking solutions in neighborhoods — and commercial districts — that were originally built and occupied by people who walked more and owned fewer cars. “The city needs to get creative and take a leadership role in solving the parking problem,” she urges. “We should be putting in place economic incentives to develop economically viable parking solutions.”
Romano seconds Barbee’s call for parking incentives, and offers other ideas he’s discussed with area homeowners that he believes are worth at least a collective review and discussion. “Economic incentives that would encourage the development of commercial parking spaces would definitely be a home run,” he states. “I’ve also heard about the potential for doing something similar to what they’ve done in the Bishop Arts area — maybe close 7th Street in some sections and turn that into parking.”
Whatever the solution, Romano does believe that the time has come for homeowners to step in and help shape the eventual solution. “The neighbors need to get involved,” he urges. “Change is coming, and neighborhoods like Winnetka Heights will be impacted whether or not they choose to act. I don’t know if that was always my view.”
The OOCCL and Barbee believe so strongly in the need for high-level business and neighborhood cooperation that they’ve joined forces with the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, Oak Cliff Tribune and Methodist Health System to sponsor a joint mayoral forum in April. “It’s critical that we all work together to address not just the issues of appropriate real-estate and economic development in Oak Cliff, but quality of life issues like crime and graffiti as well,” she says. “Preservation is important. Viability is important. Reducing crime is important.
“Oak Cliff is a gold mine. Most of the undeveloped land in Dallas is in Oak Cliff. We’re going to have development. We’re going to have redevelopment. All we ask is that we be included in the dialogue — and that we do it the right way.”
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Oak Cliff.