Fort Worth Avenue advocates oppose Sylvan Thirty changes

Oak Cliff editor Rachel Stone noted in last week’s neighborhood news roundup that controversy has arisen over zoning for the Sylvan | Thirty project on Sylvan between I-30 and Fort Worth Avenue. Then yesterday afternoon, the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group announced a town hall meeting this coming Tuesday, Sept. 13, to discuss the development.

The letter from Fort Worth Avenue Development Group president David Lyles on the group’s website opens by noting there has been confusion in the community over FWADG’s position on the project and also that “we all as a community are eager to see [Sylvan | Thirty] launched.” After skimming the letter, we couldn’t ascertain exactly where FWADG stands, so posed the question to Lyles.

“We are not in favor of the bulk of what they are hoping to change,” Lyles says. The town hall meeting announcement specifically cites an increase in height from 40 feet and three stories to 95 feet and eight stories, but that’s just one problem of many, Lyles says.

Lyles says that “this is not a Sylvan | Thirty bashing meeting; there is no intention of that. … We’re not trying to gang up.” FWADG is inviting “interesting panelists who can talk about zoning and form and streetscapes and right of ways,” and tentative panel invitees are city staffers, including those from the new and much lauded City Design Studio, plus a representative from Better Block.

When we asked whether Sylvan | Thirty developers were invited to the meeting, Lyles told us, “not explicitly, but I believe they’re all aware. … We would appreciate for them to be there.”

The head of the Sylvan | Thirty project is Brent Jackson, who lives in Kessler Park mere blocks from the development site. When we reached him, he said yes, he head heard about the town hall meeting and no, he hadn’t yet decided whether to attend. In prior conversations with Jackson, he has hammered home his belief that gathering community input and creating a retail and residential project that serves such a diverse community is of utmost importance to him.

So what of this recent controversy over his project, not only the FWADG town hall meeting, but also business neighbor and Belmont Hotel owner Monte Anderson, who was once a huge fan of the project, expressing his disapproval last week to the Observer‘s Robert Wilonsky?

“As a fellow neighbor, I greatly appreciate the enthusiasm, interest and involvement that we’ve received from community groups and neighborhood associations, both from Oak Cliff and West Dallas,” Jackson says judiciously, referencing “multiple meetings with multiple groups” over the last several years.

The concern FWADG has expressed over Jackson’s recent zoning change application, filed Aug. 19, has to do with how the changes diverge from a planned development (specifically, PD 714) on which neighbors worked tirelessly for several years, and ultimately persuaded city council to approve in early 2005, Lyles says. The planned development entails a 3.2-mile stretch of Fort Worth Avenue, from roughly Beckley to Westmoreland, and encompasses somewhere around 250 acres (Sylvan | Thirty is a 30,000-square-foot project, a little more than two thirds of an acre). The 2005 rezoning converted mostly industrially zoned land to retail and residential mixed uses.

“Why rezone an area if any developer can come in and change that zoning?” Lyles asks. He stressed that FWADG “is very interested in new ideas for the betterment of the community, but there are certain sacrosanct requirements in place, which seem to be very good requirements in our minds, and we’d like to see those enforced.”

Lyles noted that FWADG has been in a number of meetings with Jackson, and “walked out thinking we had made serious headway, but apparently our thoughts were disregarded.” From Lyles’ perspective, “basically, at our last meeting, the developer suggested that was the last meeting.” That meeting was shortly before the zoning change application was filed, and Lyles says that it is a “64-page document, and a lot of hours have been devoted to going through it with a microscope and trying to, in some cases, understand the intent of the requested changes.”

Jackson says he is “embracing” the zoning process, “which, I should mention, is exactly that — a process,” he says. In addition to community feedback (the Oak Cliff and West Dallas chambers remain 100 percent behind him, according to Wilonsky), Sylvan | Thirty has worked very closely with city staff and the City Design Studio, Jackson says, and has “made many changes already based upon those respective parties’ recommendations.”

When asked about the implied wool being pulled over the eyes of neighbors in a 64-page zoning change application, Jackson points out that Cox Farms, the announced tenant of the project, “is a locally based, organically focused grocery store that has been accepted with open arms in the community.” He stops short of saying that this is no Walmart-anchored development we’re talking about. Jackson also stresses the project must meet approval from the City Design Studio, which was “put in place by some very smart and creative minds” and based on “world-renowned ideals.”

“Our project aims to be something that’s never been done in Dallas, never been done in Texas, never been done in the United States,” Jackson says. “We truly are aiming for a world-class project.” The project’s designer, Lake | Flato, is a “top quality architect in the country, recognized around the world,” and a testament to this aim, Jackson says.

And at the end of the day, a world-class project needs to be the right fit for the project’s neighbors, Jackson says.

“We have listened to the community, and we will continue to listen to the community — even after the project is built,” Jackson says. “The community will be our future customers.”

The FWADG town hall meeting takes place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13, at Salon Las Americas. Lyles encourages attendees to show up early because of limited space.


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