the human scale

Neighbor Rob Shearer organized a panel of architecture, design and urban planning experts following a screening of the documentary “The Human Scale” Tuesday. The meeting, which drew about 500 people, was prompted by Alamo Manhattan’s plans for a massive development in Bishop Arts.

Here are 11 takeaways from the night:

1. Reopen the Bishop Arts Zoning case.

The biggest news from the meeting came from City Councilman Scott Griggs, who said the Bishop/Davis zoning, which was put in place five years ago and allows buildings up to six stories in the Bishop Arts District, ought to be reopened and reviewed.

2. Nothing good can be built without a good architect

Dallas Morning News Architecture critic Mark Lamster told the crowd, “I wish our architecture firms were slightly less rapacious.” He pointed to JKS and Good Fulton & Farrell, who is the architect for the Alamo Manhattan project, as firms that are guilty of that. “If we got the right people, we’d be getting better work,” Lamster said.

3. Uptown is not so bad?

Robbie Good, whose father owns the architecture firm Good Fulton & Farrell, said the West Village development is a “Disneyland,” but that the surrounding area is a walkable, urban neighborhood that works. He shamed us for saying we don’t want Bishop Arts turning into Uptown because what we’re really saying is we don’t want certain Dallas people in our neighborhood and that, he said, “is shitty.” Bishop Arts has room to grow, and we should encourage smart development with good design, he said.

4. We should always hold public meetings where you can drink.

After weeks of neighbors trading vitriolic barbs on social media, everyone was surprisingly chill in person.

5. Developer Michael Nazerian is stunningly handsome.

“OK, he can build whatever he wants,” one meeting attendee told me. Also, what he had to say was encouraging. The plan for his family company’s Bishop Arts Village development will include small retail spaces — about 500-1,000 feet each — that would encourage “artisinal, interesting businesses,” and would discourage “the Gaps of the world.” He also said the overall development would have four acres of green space.

6. Tax reimbursements are one of the few ways to control developers.

Alamo Manhattan wants $11.5 million in future tax reimbursements for underground parking, to bury power lines and for “exterior materials and details.” Because they want that money, their design has to be reviewed and approved by a Tax Increment Financing board and City Council.

7. TIF board meetings should be more transparent.

By the time a development makes it to City Council, much of the plan often already has been worked out by the TIF board. Griggs says he wants TIF board meetings to be broadcast and to generally be more accessible to the public.

8. We ought to review what “affordable housing” means.

As a condition for the TIF reimbursements, Alamo Manhattan would have to create a number of “affordable” apartments, which are reserved for those earning 80 percent or less of the median income. The median income for a family of four in Dallas is around $55,000. But the median income for the census tract just south of Davis is about $26,000.

9. We have to organize.

Sending the message that we don’t want development in Oak Cliff will not work. “To simply say ‘no, we don’t want this,’ we’re going to end up with another Sylvan Thirty,” Shearer told the crowd. “That’s what happened in that case. The developer got tired of us and just did whatever he wanted.” If we want good development with smart designs that fit into the neighborhood appropriately, we have to organize and have a unified voice to tell them what we do want: A higher quality of developer and architect.

10. We should stop making fun of Houston for its lack of zoning.

There is no unified zoning standard for the City of Dallas, either. Dallas’ zoning is a mess because of Planned Development Districts. There are 199 in Oak Cliff, including those that cover the Bishop Arts District and the Oak Cliff Gateway, and there are 691 of them in Dallas. “Anyone who has a good lawyer can get a PD,” Lamster said.

11. Sara Tillman is awesome.

She and her late husband, Ricky, opened Tillman’s Corner in 1992. That restaurant has evolved into Tillman’s Roadhouse, a destination spot for neighbors as well as our friends across the river. But in 1992, things were different. Someone once asked her whether it was safe to drive her BMW and park it at Tillman’s. “I told her, you should leave your hubcaps at home,” she said. Tillman said the overpowering brick buildings Alamo Manhattan has shown won’t work. “It just doesn’t fit to me,” she said.