Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Some old Dallas neighborhoods are motherland to striking architecture, sacred spaces and romantic, time-halting historic buildings — certain folks lionize such land (you know, like the people who have long lived there). But these damned developers want to Plano-ize stuff, and plenty don’t plan to take it lying down.

Take Oak Cliff, for example. 

Certain old Oak Cliff  properties received a layer of prevention against demolition when the Dallas City Council approved expanding our neighborhood’s demolition-delay area last week.

A small area surrounding Lake Cliff Park and the Bishop Arts District were granted demolition overlays in 2015. The expansion area includes part of the Kidd Springs neighborhood and is roughly bounded by West Davis and Twelfth streets and Interstate 35 and Marlborough Avenue.

This “demolition-delay overlay” prevents blindside demos. 

The Headington Companies’ demolition of historic buildings on Elm Street in 2014 (one was torn down during a Sunday Dallas Cowboys game) stunned the public and prompted the city to create a demolition-delay area in Downtown. City Councilman Scott Griggs pushed for the overlay to include part of Oak Cliff.

It gives the city, property owners and neighbors time to consider the historic value of properties at risk of demolition.

The overlay triggers a 45-day waiting period before certain properties within its bounds can be demolished. During that time, property owners are asked to meet with the city to discuss alternatives to demolition. There have been six cases in Oak Cliff since the original overlay, and in three of those, the buildings were moved or otherwise preserved.

It doesn’t take away property rights.

There have been cases when property owners were peeved by it, but the delay doesn’t prevent ultimate demolition if that’s what the owner decides.

It affects a small number of properties.

To trigger the delay, properties must be at least 50 years old and listed as a contributing structure in the 1994 Hardy-Heck-Moore survey of Oak Cliff architecture or be 50 years old and in a National Register District, a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark​, a State Archeological Landmark or a National Historic Landmark.

The city accidentally confused everyone.

The city notified thousands of homeowners and businesses to the proposed overlay as required by city code. But the letter they sent mystified almost everyone and alarmed more than a few. The notice begins with a big chunk of text that explains the current zoning before getting into language about “demolition delay.” Some neighbors mistakenly thought the notice meant their property could be taken by eminent domain or that they’d be required to demolish, or be automatically prevented from demolishing, their own property.

David Cossum, the city’s sustainable development and construction director, said that in the future his department will make sure that the notices are “very clear” and simpler for the average person to understand.

It could be a roadblock for ‘super blocks’.

Zoning in the Bishop Arts area makes it possible for developers to buy up as many adjacent lots as they want and have them “replatted” into one continuous property that could be redeveloped into ultra-massive block-long apartment buildings. Heritage Oak Cliff is working to have a very small portion of that zoning changed. But otherwise the city has few tools to prevent these “super blocks” from being developed. Demolition delay adds a thin layer of defense.

Another one coming for East Dallas.

There are demolition-delay overlays in Downtown and Oak Cliff, and East Dallas is next. City Councilman Philip Kingston has proposed a demo overlay for parts of Old East Dallas and Uptown. —reporting by Rachel Stone