Some land-planning history is unfolding at Dallas City Hall these days, and it is instructive to observe the process, because if it is successful, it could serve as a guideline for the future. Residents of a 120-block section of old East Dallas have asked the City Plan Commission to backzone the entire area to single-family usage. The plan commission has been receptive, but it delayed a request for a March 10 hearing on the case to give planning officials an opportunity to review the efforts of the residents.
The history of the area makes the backzoning proposal plausible. After World War II, it was zoned for apartment development in anticipation of a population boom. But the boom never developed. Some apartments were constructed, but developers move to other areas in the city. The multi-family zoning, however, destabilized the area. Property values near the land zoned for apartments dropped, and homeowners began having difficulty getting loans for home repairs. Potential home buyers also found financing difficult or impossible.
Consequently, deterioration began, and some existing facilities were converted to undesirable usage. Today, much of the housing stock is still good, but financial restraints imposed by the instability have created hardships for present homeowners and have discouraged revitalization.
Doug Newby and Bob Logan, two of the moving forces behind the drive for backzoning, make a convincing case for the effort. They point out that initial backzoning won’t require destruction of existing buildings, which can continue to be used as nonconforming structures under the zoning law. And the backzoning won’t preclude future zoning changes as the character of the area begins emerging in redevelopment.
Indeed, proponents of backzoning have done an impressive amount of homework in the past 18 months. Newby and Logan presented the plan commission with petitions signed by 600 property owners in the target area supporting the rezoning. Workers for the plan claim more than 94 per cent support from those responding to their letters and telephone calls.
Critics of the plan claim that it is a form of big-brotherism to rezone the property of those owners who oppose the plan. And that’s a point. But the vast majority of property owners apparently favor the rezoning and would suffer continued financial hardship if it is denied. An equal form of big-brotherism would be for the plan commission to begin designating certain parts of the area for particular uses before redevelopment begins.
There will be ample debate before the question is resolved. But from this vantage point, the larger the area backzoned to single-family initially the quicker the process of redevelopment will begin. Stability in the neighborhoods is the greatest factor needed to attract money and new homeowners, and backzoning would provide that.