If This Goes On Any Longer, Maybe Dallas's Historic Structures Will Just Raze Themselves

Categories: Politics

Sam Merten
Katherine Seale speaking to ZOAC last month
Representatives from Preservation Dallas and the Landmark Commission met yesterday morning with the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee and first assistant city attorney Chris Bowers to hammer out the details of a proposed ordinance aimed at expediting the demolition of historic structures, but once again, the committee voted to delay the item -- this time until September 10.

Committee members disagreed on three issues, the first of which is when the Landmark Commission should receive notification of demolition. Katherine Seale, executive director of Preservation Dallas, recommended a "parallel track," giving the Landmark Commission notice as the city attorney files a request for demolition in municipal court. This would provide the Landmark Commission a greater amount of time to find an alternative plan to rehab the structure.

However, the reason the city files with the court is because it isn't authorized for demolition approval through the Landmark Commission and doesn't own the property. Once it receives legal authorization, the city hopes the new ordinance will partially cut the Landmark Commission out of the process, in some cases with the court issuing repair agreements as opposed to demolition orders.

"I would ask the city attorneys how many cases actually end up in a repair agreement," Seale told Unfair Park. "My guess is that none of them are."

Seale says she's concerned because a municipal judge wouldn't have any interest in hearing arguments from Preservation Dallas regarding the analysis of a property's historical significance. "[To] the court it's a code issue; they are not considering the historic value, or if it's feasible to rehabilitate."

The presence of a written transcript for city plan commission members' use while considering appeals after a court order for demolition also was a point of contention. Plan commissioner Neil Emmons, who's not on the committee but attended the meeting, said it was "wrong" not to have a transcript because there was no way they could look at evidence from the Landmark Commission. In response to a suggestion that they listen to the meeting's audio, a few committee members asked, "Who has time to listen to two hours of uhhh's and but's?"

Paul Ridley, chair of the Landmark Commission's Demolition Ordinance Amendment Task Force, said the city's position -- that the CPC should consider the court proceedings rather than Landmark Commission's studies, and therefore not waste money on making a formal transcript -- would basically eliminate the vast range of expertise involved in forming the commission's judgments.

Finally, the committee couldn't agree on how long Landmark Commission or a new property owner could have to formalize a plan for rehabilitation, though the city attorney did make a new, well-received amendment to give larger properties (exceeding 3,000 sq. ft.) a longer feasibility period to come up with a rehab plan.

Seale predicts one of two things will happen when the committee reconsiders the ordinance next month: Either there's going to be a version that the city attorney, Preservation Dallas and Landmark Commission can all agree on, or there will be a "boxed version that will have the city attorney's version and [next to it] alternate suggestions boxed out."

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