What We Learned About Sylvan Thirty, And Development in Dallas, at Tuesday's Town Hall

Categories: Development
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A view of Sylvan Thirty from the Belmont, as conceptually rendered at last night's meeting
We began the broadcast day by discussing Sylvan Thirty's funding; we end it by looking back at last night's town hall meeting concerning its layout and, more broadly, the future of street and development design in Dallas. And based on the build-up, it was shaping up to be a pretty fun-to-watch shouting match. After all, Fort Worth Avenue Development Group president David Lyles and Brent Jackson, Sylvan Thirty's developer, couldn't even agree yesterday about whether or not Jackson had been invited to the thing.

What the evening became, though, was more polite bickering between the two sides, while the occasional baffled neighborhood resident stepped up to the mic to ask questions neither side could really answer.

In the main room at Salon Las Americas, which featured both a crystal chandelier and the most god-awfully uncomfortable chairs you can imagine, Lyles introduced the evening's panelists: Keith Manoy, head of transportation for the city; Jason Claunch, president of Catalyst Commercial Inc; and Brent Brown, head of CityDesign Studio at Dallas City Hall. Lyles said that in an effort to be "non-partisan," FWADG board members and Sylvan Thirty reps had both been "intentionally excluded" from the stage.

Lyles then went through a brief presentation about the history of Special Purpose District 714, stressing the same highlights we've heard before: This neighborhood is supposed to be about broad sidewalks, street trees, parallel parking on the street, off-street parking tucked behind buildings, protecting the downtown views, a nice mixture of business and residential spaces and, of course, front doors that "address" the street.

Then he very non-partisanly added -- just as a matter of reference, you understand -- that Sylvan Thirty "challenges virtually every aspect" of the PD, as well as not corresponding to "fundamental and sound design principles." He specifically mentioned the proposed eight stories involved, the four-foot-wide sidewalks, the lack of street-facing facades and the requested zoning changes that he said would eliminate the limits on the use of stucco and metal materials throughout the PD.

Manoy talked a bit about the Complete Streets principle, and mentioned the improvements the city is trying to make in the area: a $2.3-million plan that's scheduled to begin construction in June 2012. A final design hasn't been reached yet, but there are supposed to be bike lanes, street parking and "enhanced" sidewalks in big portions of Sylvan, Commerce, Fort Worth and Beckley. They're going to need another $5 million from the county for that, though, not all of which will be available until 2014. Currently, he said, "We don't have the money for Fort Worth Avenue," or for Sylvan from Colorado to I-30.

Sitting next to him, Claunch talked a bit about "why developments fail." In his view, he said, Sylvan Thirty entailed "a lot of risk ahead, although I certainly want to applaud the development group" for being forward-thinking, he said. He cautioned that mixed-use developments like Sylvan Thirty are "extremely risky," expensive, hard to complete in the estimated time period and, once completed, hard-pressed to find tenants who can actually pay the rents needed to keep them open.

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Photo by Anna Merlan
Brent Brown at the town hall
For his part, Brown wanted to talk about what he termed "the real death of public space in America" and thank FWADG for their concern with making more spaces in the city that had a "public benefit" -- developments with spaces for such things as parks and schools. He talked about the West Dallas Urban Structure and Guidelines and the importance of sticking to it to make "a road map" for a better city.

"In Dallas, from a development standpoint, we're unlearning a way of doing things that we've done for a very long time," he said.

With that, the floor was opened for questions, and David Marquis, who's been consulting for Sylvan Thirty stood up, clearly a little exasperated. "Many of the issues raised tonight we've already dealt with," he said. Though no one has seen the next draft the project, Sylan Thirty reps promised it would be available sometime in the next week or so. He added that the final project would be in line with the spirit of the PD.

"We're working hard with the city to bring in developers south of the river and to West Dallas," he added, "all the way to southeast Oak Cliff." He mentioned Cox Farms specifically (still the only tenant for the project the public knows about), saying, "It'll be the best grocery store ever to come to this part of West Dallas." He added later that it would "end the food desert in the area, bring good quality development and shift the paradigm" of the neighborhood.

The real issue, Marquis said, is that the entire presentation was based on outdated visuals that don't match up with the most current plan. "A simple phone call to Sylvan Thirty, and we could have told you when those documents were ready," he told Lyles. "But we were not consulted, and we were not invited to this meeting."

As for the height of the project, yes, it would be eight stories: three for parking, one for retail and four for residential. But he promised it would be 79 feet at its highest point. "You can still see the skyline of downtown Dallas from Bar Belmont," he promised. "The buildings are not 95 feet," he said. He promised too that the whole project will be "completely green" and LEED certified.

"We're Oak Cliff people," he told the crowd toward the end of the night. "And we're dedicated to Oak Cliff and to West Dallas."

Brown acknowledged Marquis's points but added, "With no disrespect to the applicant, we still haven't seen the final product," which is, apparently, still tied up in the City Attorney's Office. He praised the "open and blunt" conversation he said CityDesign has had with Jackson and other Sylvan Thirty reps.

That wasn't quite enough for Monte Anderson from the Belmont, who, when it was his turn at the mic, wanted to know two things (to which he seemed to already know the answer). Does the current plan, the one from August 19 that everyone has actually seen, meet the PD's sidewalk guidelines? No, said Brown, after some hemming and hawing. Do we know where the front door of Cox Farms is going to be? Well, no, at least not from the Lake Flato renderings projected on the wall next to the panelists.

"Monte," protested Brown. "You're mixing up the zoning map with this image."

"I'm confused," Anderson replied. "Because I'm looking at pictures, and then I'm reading text."

"Let me help," Brown replied. He explained that CityDesign Studio supports projects they think meet the guidelines. "And we've not been helping to expedite this project," he added.

Anderson wanted the same statement from Lyles: "Does the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group support this project?" he asked.

"As it stands right now, no, we wouldn't back this project," Lyles replied. It's not that FWADG is anti-development, Lyles explained. Far from it. "We're very interested in bringing development to our community. We're not trying to prevent it, we're just trying to improve it."

Sprinkled among all this back-and-forth between the two sides, the neighborhood residents in the audience had a few questions throughout the night. They were, by necessity, directed at the panel, but were really aimed at Sylvan Thirty. What about traffic control? Are utilities going to be brought underground? Is Cox Farms going to accept food stamps, to make themselves accessible to residents of Oak Cliff who don't hang out at the Belmont? Who the heck are the other tenants going to be, anyway?

The panelists didn't have a lot of solid answers, and neither did Sylvan Thirty. When Brent Jackson approached the mic at the end of the night, he really just had one thing to tell the audience. "God Bless America," he said. "As corny as it may sound, I really believe that," because, he explained, we're able to have debates like these. He added that his office has an open-door policy. "We will continue to accept and encourage input," he promised. He said Sylvan Thirty would have "a diverse tenant mix" and that "we've got some not everyone's gonna like, but it's a good, healthy balance."

When Lyles asked for specifics, Jackson said he still "wasn't at liberty to disclose" who the new tenants were, although he promised the project would create "500 to 600 new jobs."

Ultimately, Jackson said, "the market's the ultimate decider" of who will fill Sylvan Thirty. "All I ask for," he told the crowd, and the panelists, "is your patience and your understanding."

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23 comments
Radiogirl
Radiogirl

 Do Whole Foods and Central Market take food stamps?

Here, You build it!
Here, You build it!

These people act as if there is a line of developers waiting to build in NOC with their demands. Mr. Jackson should just tell them, "here! You do it! And here my demands:this is the budget $And this is how much money I want to make $And I want a guarantee backed by all you who opposed.Deal?

Cliff Newbie
Cliff Newbie

I'd like to know if Lucia, Hattie's, Oddfellows and Eno's accept food stamps. Because of course, this poor guy should definitely have to live up to a set of standards and demands that other biznesses in North Oak Cliff dont have to, shouldn't he? Yeah let's shut him down and then go have a cup o' Joe at the place with the $30,000 espresso machine...

Jessie Pollak
Jessie Pollak

Wow. I'm sorry, but I just can't. David Marquis thinks Cox farms is going end the food deserts, even though the store in question does NOT take food stamps?! "Reasonably-priced organic food" is all in the eye of the beholder. In this case, that beholder is severely confused and well-to-do. If you want to make a bunch of money, fine. That's cool. This is a capitalistic country. Just please don't tell us you're contributing to the community, being all-inclusive and creating 500-600 jobs (?), especially when you are referring to an area that was not even in question at this public forum. His argument was generally non-factual, unorganized and passive-aggressive. I was one of the few, "...occasional baffled neighborhood resident(s) (that) stepped up to the mic." I sincerely wish that more baffled people showed up though. Good article Anna!

bobbyv
bobbyv

" Claunch talked a bit about "why developments fail."

See VICTORY and try like hell not to repeat!!!!!

Edgar
Edgar

Salon Los Americas is one of the most underutilized facilities in NOC.  They need to repurpose it as a strip club.  It already looks like one.  Right now the only strip-club options in NOC are impromptu pop-up strip clubs organized by Jason Roberts.

Anonymous
Anonymous

So they're asking that the maximum height allowance be 95 feet but they are claiming they will only build up to 79 feet under their proposed plan? Am I reading that right? I hate to agree w/ Monte Anderson, but pictures are pictures. The words are what you have to follow. Because there are a bunch of pretty pictures collecting dust somewhere that show how great Victory Park is going to be too.

Mountain Creek
Mountain Creek

1. In an effort to be "non-partisan", I'm going to stop wearing my Cowboys gear when I visit people from other states.

2. I'm hoping those in NOC are "non-partisan" in their approach to Jackson and this project.

3. I'm hoping Jackson is "non-partisan" in his approach to, and respect of NOC culture and community.

4. Let's build this sucka already.  At some point in time "anticipation fatigue" (I think I just made that up) will set in and folks will stop caring about this project. Hopefully everyone can be "non-partisan" for just long enough to get the thing built.

Rangers100
Rangers100

Hopefully the new designs will truly show the positive corrections.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Yes, they do. It doesn't really cost Central Market anything, logistics-wise, because they are part of HEB, and if Whole Foods didn't take them I don't even want to imagine how big the public relations nightmare would be.

Anon
Anon

Though I'd add that he can't complain about questions concerning food stamps and such as long as he's looking for public money. Can't have that part of it both ways. 

Anon
Anon

You forgot Smoke and Bar Belmont, the biggest objectors to Sylvan 30. I make 6 figures and I still feel like their $12 drinks are supposed to taste better than that.

Anna Merlan
Anna Merlan

Hey Jessie -- Nice to meet you the other night, and thanks for your thoughts. Just to clarify, I just called the Cox Farms location in Duncanville and they DO accept food stamps. I'll confirm as soon as I'm able that the Oak Cliff location is planning to do the same, but I did want to note that here. 

Mountain Creek
Mountain Creek

Yes, from all accounts I've been reading, this is definitely the next Victory Park. Seriously, the jump between a height allowance and Victory Park is a big one.

Jessie Pollak
Jessie Pollak

Only time will tell is right, but after East Austin happened, I'm gonna have to take the more pessimistic approach:)

CliffNewbie
CliffNewbie

So the word is Cox Farms Market takes food stamps. End of concern. Build the sucka!

Tyler
Tyler

Yea I basically agree, altho I cant decide if I want him looking to get funded by public money or by drug money, the way some of the other establishments mentioned on this page are. Or is that the same thing these days?

And as I understand it, it isnt like he just gets taxpayer money for nothing. He is advanced upfront the taxes he would be paying later to build the project, and then as the land values increase, he pays less. Or something like that (my brother has explained it to me) and it's not like free taxpayer money altho that's what the h8ers want you to think.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Reading comprehension. Try some. All I said was Victory Park had nice renderings that bear no resemblance to the reality that we now have. Did I call it the next Victory Park? You are swatting at arguments that were not made. My point is that NOTHING looks in reality like the rendering, and that the language of permissible uses/structures is more important. It's like asking for 100% lot coverage permission but telling the public that really, you just intend to use about 70% of that. In my mind, you think about the most egregious structure that would be allowable under the proposal and assume that's what you're getting. Because once you've changed the rule, you can almost never go back and say "hey, now that you're allowed to do 95 feet and have changed your mind and want to use it, we're reconsidering our initial stance". That day will never come. NEVER trust someone who is asking for more than they want to use based on the promise that they won't use it.

Anonymous
Anonymous

the fact that TIFs seem to be created in areas where politically connected groups own and/or want to develop property would indicate to me that they are infrequently used in their purest form, where I agree there is a possibility for mutual benefit. and you are correct, this property already benefits enormously from proximity to the public's investment in I-30, and probably doesn't merit TIF financing. that is especially true because the Belmont and Jack's Backyard have already proven that the area can attract people with disposable income. Jack's didn't go out of business for lack of customers - it went out of business because the landlord looked at Sylvan 30's effect on value and decided it wanted more money.

Edgar
Edgar

Maybe it's fair to characterize it as a handout, but TIFs exist because the benefits go both ways.  It's calculated to compensate the developer for assuming the risk undertaking development in an area that would not otherwise support that kind of development.  The municipality benefits if the development introduces a public good that would not have come to pass but for the "handout."

In an ideal world, TIFs should only be used where development would not occur but for the incentive.  In my opinion, this property falls far short of that standard.  Its proximity to NOCesidens and its position on I-30 and Sylvan would make profitable development eminently viable.  The stretches further down Fort Worth Ave. and on Singleton are much better TIF candidates.

Cliff Newbie
Cliff Newbie

Anonymous -- Yes, but if the project is a nice one, you also improve the property values of the people around you as well. It's not JUST your property that improves -- values in the whole TIF district rise.

Which would be ludicrous in a place like University Park but seems worthwhile in this location where values are not thathot. And suddenly there are businesses employing people where before there was an empty lot that did not.

Sure, the project could fail. So where exactly is the place where a guarantee of long-term viability is insisted upon before one is allowed to build something? I was in Uptown in the 1990s and everyone said The Meridian would be a disaster. Instead, it leased out like in 6months max and the area took off like a shot. There are no guarantees. But he should respect the plans created for the area by the CityDesign group fer sure. 

Anonymous
Anonymous

Developers would love your logic. TIFs generally contribute the money they would pay in taxes into a fund that builds out improvements in their immediate area. So basically instead of paying taxes you are funding your own development, usually in things like infrastructure that, in theory, benefit others and the city by making the area more attractive to other investment. But it still means removing money from the city's revenue line to spend on things that will increase your own property value. Taking tax money out of the revenue line to support your own development is called getting a handout from the taxpaying public. But you hear this logic all the time.

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