The Lakewood Conservation District Expansion fight is only getting started

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(Michael Hogue)
The city of Dallas is well on its way of expanding a conservation district in Lakewood. It’s been my experience that the only thing that is conserved once these matters are finished is animosity. The process creates a confrontation district, putting the issue into a cage match: two sides enter, only one leaves.
I’m interested in this because, as a child, I lived on one of the streets that is part of the district: Lakewood Boulevard, where my maternal grandparents also lived. I recently drove the area, and signs for those in support and opposition abound. It appeared to me more than half of households oppose the measure, with one-third in support. Proponents originally purported two-thirds of owners were in support. That is not the case for the Lakewood Conservation District Expansion, also known as CD2.
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If I were representing an applicant in a commercial zoning case with so little support, I’d know it’s a loser.
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Somehow, like a zombie, this case staggers along propelled along by city planning staff, according to the opponents. At the very least, the staff should have prevented this from moving along with so much bitterness.
One of the earliest conservation district battles occurred in this City Council district near Mockingbird and Abrams in the early 2000s. Many of the older districts featured widespread dissent about the rise of “McMansions.” Looking back, they were public discussions about the widening wealth gap.
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Wisely the plan commissioner for the district, the late Bill “Bulldog” Cunningham, and the highly capable council member, Gary Griffith, saw the dissent and the measure failed.
This may prove to be a hot potato for council member Paula Blackmon and her new plan commissioner, Neal Sleeper. Staff should have sorted this out much earlier, preventing the appointed and elected officials from taking the heat.
Historic Districts are carefully arranged and must meet specific architectural characteristics. These homes help tell the story of an era. Conservation Districts are an arbiter of taste and what the future of a neighborhood is about and which homes contribute to it. It’s a completely artificial designation that responds to the opinions of those in that area, rather than architectural or historical merit.
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The proposed ordinance for the Lakewood expansion district is so complicated I can hardly follow it. There’s a clear preference to not allow new homes to be built. The amount of coverage, or building footprint, has been reduced by 5%. Given homes are sold by the square foot, they are getting into people’s wallets, while also limiting the tax base.
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I sold my home in Stevens Park in north Oak Cliff in part because I was unwilling to live in a “government zone” that came a few years after I moved. I’m also philosophically opposed because these districts artificially cap the property value on homes by often limiting the size or even the ability to remodel. As such, that pushes off more tax burden to others, while they enjoy a haven of no change.
These cases are a microcosm of zoning. Many people do poorly with change, and they especially abhor it in their neighborhood.
My least favorite part of these cases is the process. People are asked to sign a form determining if it’s worthy of consideration. They do so in good faith, not understanding once it gets into the hands of city staff and a few stalwarts that something is going to pop out of the hopper. That you can’t opt out after opting in is nuts. Even the Internal Revenue Service lets you amend your tax return.
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The only notification was on the city website. In my line of work, I’m on there most days; I suspect I’m an outlier. I don’t see people posting things or talking about what they saw on the city’s website. These community meetings, according to opponents, were lightly attended, never attracting more than 30 people in an area of about 275 homes.
There are other concerns. Previously city staff took an inventory of which homes were architecturally contributing. Now, it’s a do-it-yourself model. Same with setting the boundaries of the district, and in this case there’s a lot of gerrymandering.
Now the proponents are willing to change the boundaries of the district again. They are willing for the removal of some streets but continue to force others to stay in that have more than well more than half in opposition.
The opposition features some heavy hitters who know local government. On Tokalon Drive, former Dallas ISD school board president Roxan Staff and Rob Richmond, who was once the plan commissioner for the district and the chairman of the board of adjustment, are both confounded by the process and their treatment by staff.
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“Lakewood doesn’t need saving or being placed in amber in the 1920s-30s by a few nanny-state planners,” Richmond complained.
He makes a valid point that Lakewood comprises of 3,000 families living in 50 different home styles. These homes are being updated with modern technology,
One of the proposed changes does not allow for painted brick. Too bad that 43% of the homes on Tokalon Drive currently have painted brick. Of the 57 homes included on Tokalon, 53% are non-contributing.
The city of Dallas takes pride in making matters take too long. This conservation district process started in 2022. It should have been obvious there was not consensus. Now it’s dragged on so long both sides likely have war chests. You’ll see buses being rented, more signs, t-shirts, making it a circus. And Blackmon and Sleeper are the lion tamers.
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As I often remind, Dallas has seceded from the state of Texas along with Houston and Austin. They pursue programs and policies that are not consistent with core Texas values, like property rights.
In this case, it’s an incursion that promotes larger governmental regulation and less trust in the market. I suspect these types of programs will be rolled back by the Legislature in coming years.
Texas is becoming more conservative outside these cities, and the Legislature is likely to pass more rules limiting the power of municipal governments — and for good reason. They are a threat to the “Texas Miracle.” People from other states are fleeing to Texas to avoid more government. Let’s attract as many as we can and welcome them with open arms, not more rules that come in the middle of the game.
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