Lets Build
Our Future

Study envisions makeover of Dallas

January 21, 2006

Pedestrians, not cars, star in draft of plan, but code changes sought

By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News

When Dallas residents and business owners look to the future, they see a city interconnected: where light rail, bike paths and wide, well-lit sidewalks link tree-lined neighborhoods to urban lofts and lively retail centers.

Yet implementing this vision, outlined in a rough draft of the city's Forward Dallas Comprehensive Plan, won't be possible without an upheaval of some existing codes and zoning standards, Dallas development director Theresa O'Donnell said.

"Our codes are so outdated. They're very auto-oriented; they don't encourage us to be pedestrian-friendly," Ms. O'Donnell said. "We make it difficult to do a West Village, a Mockingbird Station."

The need for a zoning-code overhaul and overwhelming citizen support for such transit-oriented developments are just two key findings of the plan, released this week after months of public meetings orchestrated by renowned urban planner John Fregonese.

Other recommendations include:

  • Bringing employment opportunities and retail services closer to residential areas.
  • Investing in quality multifamily housing and encouraging homeownership with creative financing options.
  • Improving sidewalks and transit service and offering incentives to keep commuters from hopping in their cars.
  • Redeveloping with office, retail and multifamily housing around transportation stations and corridors.

"We need to take advantage of our urban assets, our urban character," Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia said. "What we have in the West Village is exactly that. The challenge will be to work with DART, particularly [in the southern sector], to make this urban development happen."

The plan pinpoints some of Dallas' more troubling features – including its overemphasis on automotive transportation (more than 90 percent of Dallas workers commute by car) and limited homeownership.

Homes in Dallas are just 43 percent owner-occupied compared with 66 percent regionally, the result of a dearth of middle-class, single-family housing.

But it's not for a lack of land. While Dallas is landlocked, about 18 percent of the city is still vacant and primed for development, the report notes – almost all of it in the southern sector. That means most of the city's anticipated growth – 91,000 new households and 350,000 new jobs by 2030, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments – will occur south of the Trinity River, planners say.

"The southern sector is a virgin territory, as far as development and transit-oriented opportunities are concerned," council member Leo Chaney said. "It's taken us years to get there – but I'm pleased that everyone's becoming cognizant of its potential."

But new construction in the southern sector and redevelopment across the city must be done systematically, planners say.

City officials should monitor vacant tracts, surface parking lots, washed-up shopping malls and blighted multifamily complexes for redevelopment opportunities. Potential zoning changes should be bounced off the comprehensive plan to make sure they align. And the city's urban design standards and parking and zoning codes must be updated so they're business- and neighborhood-friendly and pedestrian-focused.

"The bottom line is, yes, we need to analyze our codes, review them, and make the necessary changes to bring them up to date," council member Angela Hunt said. "We need to ensure we have standards that will anticipate our growth needs."

Planners suggest that city officials focus on investment in southern Dallas businesses, and work to attract employers like health-care providers, warehousing and distribution centers, and technology companies.

Bringing new industries and infrastructure to the Trinity River Corridor and beefing up retail and housing options in the city's central business district should also be top economic development priorities, the plan notes.

To cynics who believe the comprehensive plan will simply sit on a shelf, think again, said Janet Tharp, the city's interim assistant director of development. The plan's advisory committee will consider the draft in the coming weeks. And the Plan Commission and City Council are expected to approve one- to five-year implementation schedules in March and April.

E-mail eramshaw@dallasnews.com