20 Jun 2017

Close to 120 folks filled the newly renovated Arts Mission Oak Cliff for discussions on preserving our heritage and our community from developers whose only interest is in their profit line.  Our wonderful structures and the multitude of trees help determine the fabric of our community, defining and setting Oak Cliff apart from the rest of Dallas. Our passion in their preservation pulls us together against the bulldozers that threaten to demolish what we love.

Recently we have been buffeted by teardowns of historic and loved buildings. As our area continues to experience rapid change and development, we would like to think about how we can act in a positive way to preserve and protect this history.

Tonight’s event was sponsored by Heritage Oak Cliff, Preservation Dallas, and the Oak Cliff Advocate.  Rachel Stone, from the Advocate, moderated an expert panel of speakers which included Scott Griggs, Dallas City Council, Monte Anderson, Option Real Estate and local developer, Mark Doty, Chief Planner, City of Dallas Historic Preservation Dept, and Bob Meckfessel, DSGM Associates, President, FAIA (Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.)

There are several tools already in place that the City of Dallas uses to determine which properties are protected, which properties can be protected, and which are not.

Buildings within a Historic or a Conservation District will be covered under the rules governing those areas. Most of these include no teardowns. These are wonderful tools in preserving the original fabric of a neighborhood.

A Conservation District is a tool that communities can use to preserve an area’s distinctive atmosphere or character through architectural guidelines, development standards, and special zoning provisions. Conservation Districts protect such things as architecture styles, densities of the area, heights of structures, and setback guidelines. The neighborhood decides these things and sets the guidelines into an ordinance, which must have approval of 50 to 75% of those living there.  It typically takes 12-18 months from start to finish until the city council adopts it.

A Historic District looks to preserve the original structure exactly as when it was first built, including original materials, colors, styles, and any other elements of the original structure. Any improvements or new construction must first be approved by the neighborhood historic district task force, before going to the City of Dallas’ Landmark Commission. This process can take about 2 months to complete. This also includes putting in new landscaping, fence, or just a fresh coat of paint.

Another tool created about a year ago is the Demolition Delay Overlay District. Its creation was recommended by a downtown task force, set up by the Dallas mayor to address some demolition that occurred in the downtown area.

Currently there are 2 of these Overlay Districts:

1)         1) Downtown Dallas 

2)         2) Oak Cliff


The Oak Cliff Demolition Delay Overlay District: What this means is that any demo permit that is pulled within the overlay area, goes to the Historic Preservation Officer for review.  There is a 45-day delay before issuing the demo permit. The planner has set criteria he uses to determine whether a dialogue needs to happen before any demolition takes place. Part of the dialogue would be consideration of re-using the building and/or making it a landmark. 

Criteria that qualifies a building for demolition delay would be any building within the overlay district that meets one of the following:

(1) Being located in a National Register District;
(2) Designation as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark;​
(3) Designation as a State Archeological Landmark;
(4) Designation as a National Historic Landmark;
(5) Being listed as a significant building in the 2003 Downtown Dallas Architecturally Significant Properties Survey; ​or
(6) Being listed as a contributing structure in the 1994 Hardy-Heck-Moore Survey​.

If a building does not meet the criteria, the demolition permit is issued.

If a building does meet the criteria, a sign is posted on the property letting the public know a demolition request is on file. Within 45 days, a public meeting is held with the property owner, public officials, and the stakeholders to discuss alternatives to demolition.

After 45 days, the owner either agrees to the alternative solution, or declines, at which point, the demo permit is issued.

Anything that is outside of these areas, you would need to initiate a conversation with the property owner to try to stop any demolition.

Boundaries for both of these overlay areas can be found online.

Please note that a National Registered Landmark is honorary only. It does not provide any protection.


Local Landmark is on the local level and does provide protection.  


Other ideas addressed by the panel included:

Uses:  Expand uses for old buildings. Allow uses to transform organically, instead of forcing something that really does not fit.

Economic Development: provide economic development incentives for restoring as opposed to tearing down. Encourage investing in smaller projects that require less money. Improve neighborhood relations when “good guys” want to invest. The Arts Mission Oak Cliff is a good example.

Platting/Lot size: keep plats of land small to discourage out of town developer to come in and build big. Do not allow re-platting. Create a citywide notification system for re-plats.

Density: Increase density on residential lots with accessory structures.

Street Grid: Pay attention to the street grid, streetscape, frontage, infrastructure, etc. that contribute to the historic fabric, not just the architecture 

Historic Survey: Perform a historic survey on the oldest parts of Oak Cliff. City is working on RFQ (request for qualification) for citywide survey to include N Oak Cliff. A Cultural survey should be added to information gathered regarding old structures.

Creating a step-by-step manual for persons new to historic preservation and who would like to preserve a building, would be very helpful. Include such information as tax credits, landmarking, CA’s, etc.

Expanding the Demo Delay area mentioned above, would provide more control for protecting structures.

Expand historic protections to other areas. Recognize what we have and what we should protect and save.

A key part in all of this is staying informed. We all need to have ownership in not just our own house, or even our own neighborhood, but also in the entire community. What affects one affects us all, and we are stronger in our unity than we are as individuals.  

Education and outreach is critical in building support and spreading the word on matters important to our community. Impart to your children what you think is important in Oak Cliff. Share with them the value of a community that cares. Teach them how to communicate and work together to achieve common goals.


We have also had very good follow-up press:

The Observer:


The Advocate:


Tonight’s dialogue is a start in recognizing the problem and hopefully come up with solutions.