Controversy in Deep Ellum

The Dallas Morning News, March 10, 1984

Regarding your editorial about development in the “Deep Ellum” area: The controversy in the old Elm Street area has been drawn as a preservation vs. skyscrapers, when in fact it has been between a small group desiring special benefits and the majority of property owners desiring equitable treatment. The real issue should be preserving the character and scale of this urban neighborhood.

The objective everyone should agree on is to protect the aesthetics and scale of the area. The main consideration should be design guidelines, such as exterior building materials, structures with a common setback and most important, height of the structure.

The property owners’ solution goes even further than the city proposal in protecting the scale of the neighborhood by suggesting a 125-foot height ceiling vs. the 140-foot limit the city proposes. The city is proposing a 4-1 floor area ratio (FAR). While most owners will never use our proposed 6-1 FAR with a 125-foot height limit, every owner, regardless of lot configuration, will at least be able to reach 125 feet.

Under the city proposal only a few property owners with extra deep lots on the periphery would be able to attain the 140-foot limit. The property owners’ solution includes a greater use of design guidelines to preserve the character of the area than those suggested in the city proposal.

If the city is genuinely concerned with too much density in the area, it should increase the inducements for renovation and new low-density buildings. These inducements could include greater tax incentives or abatements and subsidized city parking; also an increase of the commitment to street level improvements (such as trees and awnings) on several streets and not just Main, which would then encourage a pedestrian atmosphere throughout the area.

One of the greatest beneficiaries of this rezoning is Baylor Hospital, which is excluded from the rezoning area, but is one of the city plan’s strongest proponents. Their 250-foot office tower will never have to compete with another high rise in Deep Ellum. As a recipient of this windfall, they might consider donating parking spaces to make the rezoning more attractive to the Deep Ellum property owners who are sacrificing development rights for the good of the area.

There has been a reluctance on the part of the city to alter its proposal. Officials cite an 18-month process and 50 meetings with property owners in justifying their current firm position. These 50 meetings were run by planning staff and some property owners who were meeting privately with the city consultant and city staff. The 50 meetings of slide shows and sales pitches were able to convince only approximately 65 of the area’s 450 property owners to accept the plan.

The city needs to find a solution. We have an assistant city manager of planning, Jim Reid, who is experienced and creative in finding solutions. The city manager and City Council should give him free rein to proceed toward this end. A preservation solution has been offered by the owners. If the process does not include the opportunity to find a solution that satisfies a majority of the property owners in Deep Ellum, a very dangerous precedent could be established.

The solution now being offered by the property owners as an alternative to the planning department proposal goes even further in preserving the character and scale of the area and protecting the value of the property for all the owners.