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Dallas officials approve Elm Thicket -Northpark zoning changes that reduce new home sizes

Supporters hope the changes, including limiting home lot coverage to 40%, will help preserve the Love Field area neighborhood.

modern home
Construction on a modern home, right, alongside an older home in Dallas’ Elm Thicket-Northpark neighborhood in September 2022.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

By Everton Bailey Jr.

The Dallas City Council approved zoning changes to a northern Dallas area Wednesday which supporters hope will help preserve its legacy as a historical Black neighborhood.

The changes include limiting maximum lot coverage to 40% for new single- and multi-story homes in the Elm Thicket-Northpark neighborhood, a more than 500-acre area founded as a Freedman’s Town that borders and sits east of Dallas Love Field airport. The limit in most of the city is 45%, but most of the original homes in the neighborhood cover 30% or less.

Height restrictions for new homes were also reduced from 30 feet to a maximum of 25 feet.

The new zoning has divided the neighborhood of mostly single-family homes, which is now made up of a mix of Black, Hispanic and white residents. The more than 40 people who spoke to the council ahead of the vote were split in favor of and opposing the changes.

The council vote was the culmination of a nearly decadelong process with the city to address concerns from residents and homeowners over newer construction and rising property values that have forced out families who’ve lived there for generations.

In 2016 the area was designated by the city as part of Dallas’ Neighborhood Plus program, a revitalization plan that targeted 12 underserved areas to come up with ways to expand homeownership and rental options, reduce poverty, attract and retain middle class residents and other goals.

“At this point, we have to deal with the fact that this is an African-American neighborhood that wants to maintain its integrity and that wants to keep our children, grandchildren living in an area that our foreparents fought for,” said Zac Thompson, who owns his childhood home in the neighborhood.

He said his family was forced to move into the neighborhood more than 60 years ago when displaced from their original home in the area via eminent domain by the city because of the expansion of Love Field.

Thompson said the home once worth $6,000 is now valued at $400,000.

Other residents called for the council’s vote on zoning changes to either be delayed or voted down, arguing the new zoning would infringe on property rights and wouldn’t stop gentrification or the displacement of historical residents.

The city sent nearly 2,400 notices to area property owners about the proposed changes. Of the 901 who responded, 285 property owners said they were in favor and 616 replied in opposition.

Julie Coffman said she bought her house in the neighborhood over seven years ago and doesn’t believe the issues boiled down to race.

“I didn’t kick anyone out of this neighborhood. I bought a house from somebody who sold it to me. That’s it,” Coffman told council members before the vote. “And now you’re going to tell me what I can do with the single biggest investment I’ve ever made in my life.”

According to the city earlier this year, median real estate taxes in the area increased at least 33% between 2005 and 2019. In 2000, the neighborhood’s residents were 62% Black , 20% Hispanic and 11% white. But by 2014, the population has shifted to almost 43% Hispanic, 32% Black and almost 20% white.

The City Plan Commission approved the changes in July, forwarding them to the City Council. The most recent proposal limited multistory homes to 35% of lot coverage, but council member Jesse Moreno, who represents the Elm Thicket-Northpark neighborhood, made a motion Wednesday to modify the lot coverage to 40%.

He said he saw no reason to further delay a vote, described his modification as a compromise and the changes in totality as “a chance to build out the neighborhood in an equitable manner for all residents.”

“While what is being proposed is not a save-all, fix-all solution, it’s a step in the right direction,” Moreno said. “It’s a nod to the history of Elm Thicket.”

City officials disagreed that the zoning changes would take away property rights.

Bert Vandenberg, an assistant city attorney, told council members that it was a vote “just changing the development standards of the property.”

Properties already at or over 40% lot coverage won’t be penalized, said Andrea Gilles, assistant director of the city’s planning and urban design office.

“There’s nothing retroactive about this,” she said. “Nobody needs to conform to the standards after the fact.”

Also Wednesday:

+The Dallas City Council denied a request from electricity distributor Oncor to increase its rates in the city. Dallas is one of 169 cities served by the state’s largest electric delivery company planning to oppose the rate change, arguing that it is excessive and unjustified. Oncor told Dallas officials in May that it wanted to increase rates system wide by 4.5% or $251 million, according to the city. It included a proposal to bump up residential rates by 11% and street lighting rates by almost 2%.

The company said an average Oncor residential customer uses about 1,300 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month and the rate change would mean an extra $6.02 in their monthly bill. Oncor can appeal any city’s denial of rate changes to the Public Utility Commission of Texas and current rates would remain until new ones are set by the state agency, which could go into effect by the end of this year or in 2023.

+A three-block stretch alongside South Oak Cliff High School’s football field, baseball field and parking lot will be renamed Golden Bears Way. The City Council voted to change the name of Garza Avenue between South Marsalis Avenue and Vanette Lane after the school’s mascot. Council members Carolyn King Arnold, who represents the area, Casey Thomas and Tennell Atkins made the street name request in May. The school last December won its first state football title — the first Dallas-based school to do so in several decades.

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