A bit of two-lane road off West Davis raises an opportunity for neighbors to confront 10-year-old zoning along West Davis that is overly permissive.

This block of Fouraker at Vernon can’t be built out to the maximum massing that is allowed unless the city releases 1978 deed restrictions that limit it to warehouse, parking or office uses.

The restrictions also limit the height to 14 feet, just one story. Neighbors in single-family homes and duplexes across Fouraker at the time negotiated deed restrictions with the Sewell family’s bygone bumper-plating factory, which then fronted Davis, when the company wanted to build a warehouse at the back of its property.

Land on Fouraker at Van Buren that could be developed as a 5-story apartment building if deed restrictions are lifted.

Exactly what longtime Oak Cliff resident and investor Rick Garza plans to build there hasn’t yet been revealed. But if deed restrictions are removed, he could build five stories of apartments.

A committee of 14 created the Bishop/Davis zoning area, known as PD 830, in 2009-2010. Garza, who purchased the property in question in 2008, served as chair of that committee.

Now he is the president of a group called the Davis Street Owners Association, composed of those who wish to keep PD 830 as is.

City Plan Commission members last week denied 12-2 Garza’s request to lift the property’s deed restrictions. Treating the case merely as a deed release would be a mistake, many of them agreed. It is the only thing standing in the way of an as-yet unknown building that’s high enough to cast a shadow over homes in Kidd Springs.

Single-story homes on Fouraker, across the street from where five-story apartments can be built.

“Everything that anybody can do by right [in PD 830] scares me,” commission member Peter Schulte told Garza during the hearing last week.

Garza, an architect, says  designs for the property are “a moving target.” The first design, which Garza presented to neighbors in 2011, is pictured below.

“It’s not in your best interest to show us your designs,” Schulte told Garza. Because seeing the visuals on a planned building would bring home the reality of the massing that’s allowed.

An unpopular design could cause an uproar among neighbors like the one caused in 2015 when plans were revealed for Alamo Manhattan’s two apartment buildings on Zang at Davis, giving the public its first dose of PD 830 reality.

Neighbors who opposed the Bishop/Davis zoning at the time told Schulte that they said, “we know we’re not going to win everything, but at least we have the deed restrictions to protect us.”

Schulte said he got the impression that PD 830 was railroaded through City Hall in 2010 and that advocates of the zoning requested feedback from neighbors but then ignored it. Neighborhood activist Pam Conley testified to that effect as well.

Neighbors trying to fight the Bishop/Davis plan at the time said, “we know we’re not going to win everything, but at least we have the deed restrictions,” Schulte said he was told.

Garza denied that.

“There were hearings that drew 200 people to Hitt Auditorium,” Garza testified. “It passed through CPC and City Council easily. It’s been vetted”

Commission members suggested that Garza wasn’t forthcoming or inclusive in communicating with neighbors in this case. A letter sent to certain property owners doesn’t mention the height restriction and lacks mention of the five-story building that’s allowed. The letter wasn’t sent out to any neighbors on Winston Street, whose homes are a block off of Fouraker, and several homeowners on that street testified in opposition of lifting the deed restrictions. Garza testified that as president of the owners association, he would be reluctant to set an unfavorable precedent with his own property. Many other properties along West Davis have deed restrictions that could prevent PD 830’s full effect.

Winston at Van Buren, a block from where 5-story apartments could be built.

Perhaps more important than the height is virtually zero requirement for RPS — residential proximity slope — a ratio that prevents new construction from towering over single-family homes. If you’re afraid that “Oak Cliff is the new Uptown,” consider that Uptown, Lower Greenville and most similar neighborhoods in Dallas restrict that ratio. The neighborhoods west of Bishop Arts, all of it in PD 830, have little protection for existing homes and buildings.

Heritage Oak Cliff raised $10,000 several years ago to open an “authorized hearing” to rehash PD 830’s subsection 6, which includes West Davis from Zang to Montclair. Michael Amonett, past president of that organization and a former pan commission member, spearheaded that effort.

He says negotiations broke down in November 2018 when Garza and the owner’s group refused to negotiate on height and proximity slope and were only open to discussing architecture and materials.

Amonett says he put the revisit of PD 830 on pause so that it wouldn’t interfere with Scott Griggs’ mayoral campaign, which Amonett supported.

Plan commission members including Enrique MacGregor, who represents District 1, Margot Murphy, Paul Ridley, Jaynie Schultz, Deborah Carpenter, Michael Jung and Schulte commented that they want Garza to treat his case as if it is a zoning change, offering transparent notification letters and widespread public discussion.

“This should be presented to the whole community,” commission member Margot Murphy said. “It’s a zoning case and should be treated as such.”

Heritage Oak Cliff opened the authorized hearing, a period of time to rewrite zoning rules, which any citizen with enough money and savvy can request. But the plan commission could also open an authorized hearing on behalf of the city, which would allow the city’s planning staff to help rework it.

Amonett is hopeful that’s what will happen.

The property, “needs to be redeveloped,” commission member Paul Ridley said. “It’s not an asset,” to leave it undeveloped.

But he said it needs neighborhood-wide approval because PD 830 doesn’t protect residential neighborhoods. He recommended amending the deed restrictions in the interest one-story neighbors.