Plethora of City Attorneys Unable to Push New Demolition Ordinance Past Committee

Categories: Preservation

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Sam Merten
City plan commissioners Neil Emmons (right) and Robert Ekbald (left) watched as Katherine Seale of Preservation Dallas spoke this morning to the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee.
Much to the chagrin of the half dozen city attorneys attending this morning's Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee meeting, members voted 5-1 to postpone a decision on a new ordinance regarding the demolition of structures in historic districts. The motion to postpone, made by vice-chair Ann Bagley, also urged Preservation Dallas and other interested parties to voice any concerns and provide examples of how other cities have successfully addressed the issue before it reconsiders the ordinance August 20.

Katherine Seale, executive director of Preservation Dallas, and board member Scott Potter spoke to the committee, stressing that the city aims to address the difficulties it faces razing residential properties, yet commercial structures are included in the ordinance. Seale also said the 30-day window for the Landmark Commission to find someone willing to renovate a large commercial project is unrealistic, and she claimed the Landmark Commission has been "unfairly thrown under the bus."

After the two-hour meeting, we asked Seale if she thought the ordinance has anything to do with Mayor Tom Leppert's plans to demolish 36 vacant downtown buildings, including the Statler. "I really don't know, but it makes you wonder," she says.

City plan commissioner Neil Emmons, who isn't a committee member but was recognized several times during the meeting, warned ZOAC members to pay close attention to the amount of attention the city is giving the ordinance.

"The fact that we have six attorneys here representing and doing backup on this case is incredible, as [City Manager] Mary Suhm has told us that 20 to 30 percent of our civilian workforce is going to be laid off in less than a month," he said.

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Sam Merten
Chris Bowers, first assistant city attorney
The room was not only filled with lawyers, but first assistant city attorney Chris Bowers gave the PowerPoint presentation and fielded questions from the committee. Bowers stressed that a "very delicately approved compromise" was reached between city staff, attorneys and the Landmark Commission, which unanimously approved the ordinance.

"I would discourage this body from tinkering with that compromise for fear that this process gets stalled," he said. "I would instead urge this body to approve it, and if there are problems in practice, we can come right back and solve and deal with those problems."

Emmons said he's concerned that the city will operate under a different set of rules from the citizens and that the ordinance could be used as a tool for collusion between a politician and a property owner hoping to slip one quickly past the Landmark Commission: "Let's say we don't have the good, honest people we have in every elected office in the city today, and we get some rats."

Bowers countered that structuring the ordinance as applying only to court-ordered demolitions should allay concerns about playing by different rules, and he stressed that everything would still go through the Landmark Commission.

ZOAC, an advisory committee of plan commission, also unanimously approved an ordinance changing the Board of Adjustment from three five-member panels with a chair and two vice-chairs to two eight-member panels with a chair and vice-chair, each of which would be appointed by the mayor.ZOAC -- demolition and BOA draft ordinances


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