The process to form a conservation district in Dallas is a “blood bath” that can pit neighbors against each other and can take years to accomplish, and there are some who want to make that process even more difficult.
Neighbors testifying before the City Plan Commission last week said that if proposed changes are made to the city’s conservation district ordinance, no new districts would be formed.
The Dallas Builders Association is pushing for the changes.
One of the biggest differences would be in how the process starts. Currently, 50 percent of homeowners in a proposed conservation district area must sign a one-sentence petition stating that they would like to begin the process of creating a conservation district.
Under the proposed changes, someone would have to write a proposal for a conservation district, and between 66 and 75 percent of homeowners in the area would be required to sign off on it before the process could begin.
The builders association also wants to include language “in bold lettering” warning neighbors that forming a conservation district could cause their property values could decline.
Phil Crone, the builders association’s executive director, testified that conservation districts make areas “unbuildable,” and usurp property rights.
Residents of several of the city’s conservation districts testified that is not the case.
Even though working out the details of a conservation district caused strife, it ultimately made the neighborhood stronger, says Mark Freese of the Vickery Place Neighborhood Association.
“It was not easy. It was contentious. There was a divide between the McMansions and the historical homes,” he says. “But we’ve gotten past that now. There’s no divide. We’re a better neighborhood today because of it.”
And property values continue to rise, he says.
“My taxes keep going up, so that could not be further from the truth,” he says.
Santos Martinez of Masterplan Constultants, who lives in the Hollywood/Santa Monica neighborhood, says homes in that neighborhood are selling for upwards of $400,000 after just a few days on the market.
Besides that, the builders association’s claim that the districts are “unbuildable” doesn’t fly with conservation district homeowners who say new construction happens in their neighborhoods.
Vickery Place president Selena Urquhart says her neighborhood was never “anti new-build.”
“It’s about stabilizing neighborhoods and maintaining the charm and having the new-builds be compatible with what’s already there,” she says.
Real estate agent Terri Raith of Junius Heights argued that the real danger of declining property values comes when builders come through an old neighborhood to tear down houses and build McMansions in their place, and “it makes your house worth the lot value,” she says.
Another big change in the proposal concerns timelines. A neighborhood would be required to complete their proposal in six months, which neighbors who have been through the process say is not enough time.
“We have 17 conservation districts in the city of Dallas that have worked, and we have two that have failed,” former City Council member Angela Hunt told the commission. “That tells me the process works and has worked very well.”
For more background on the changes, read Hunt’s column from the February Lakewood/East Dallas Advocate and this follow-up post.
The full briefing by city staff to the plan commission is below.