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The Dallas City Council approved a measure to make creating a conservation district more difficult.

The biggest changes are in how the process starts. Previously, half of all homeowners in the proposed conservation district area had to sign a one-sentence petition stating they would like to begin the process of forming a conservation district to preserve the architecture of their neighborhood.

It’s not so easy any more.

Once the new ordinance takes effect, neighbors will have to come up with a basic plan for their conservation district in advance. Once that is done, 58 percent of all neighbors in the proposed area must sign off on that before the process can begin at City Hall. That means getting a super majority of one’s neighbors to sign off on a plan for architectural standards and other conservation district rules before hashing them out.

City Council members argued for about an hour Wednesday over what percentage of neighbors would have to sign that initial petition. The City Plan Commission had recommended 51 percent, and the Dallas Builders League wanted it to be 66 or 75 percent. City Councilman Sheffie Kadane proposed changing it to 66 percent, and Councilman Tennell Atkins suggested the compromise of 58 percent.

The Plano-based builders league’s argument was framed around property owners’ rights and a supposed need for increased transparency in the conservation process.

Dallas attorney Melissa Kingston, who helped form the conservation district for her Lower Greenville area neighborhood, has bird-dogged this conservation district ordinance proposal from the beginning. She told City Council Wednesday that compromises already had been made. Neither side, conservationists nor builders, were totally happy with the proposed ordinance, the sure sign of an even compromise, she said.

Councilman Phillip Kingston said he thinks the ordinance sends a message that Dallas is unfriendly to architectural conservation. Every historic conservation organization in town, including the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League and Preservation Dallas, opposed the ordinance. The most vocal backers were the the builders league, which raises opposition to every proposed conservation district in Dallas, Kingston says.