This ForwardDallas talk was presented to the North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance of 50 Homeowners Associations.
Thank you for allowing me to join you this evening. It is fitting that we are meeting in a church as Sharon Grigsby, a Dallas Morning News columnist who I have admired and considered a friend for many years, wrote: “Mapping our city’s future neighborhoods requires open minds and hearts.“
Then she reverses course and writes: “Get a grip.“
Single-Family Zoning is One Lot – One Home
Single-family zoning as we have all known it is One Lot – One Home. The City Manager has given us a mathematical equation to explain his new definition of single-family zoning. Please let me know if any of you know the answer to this equation.
1 house + 1 house = ?
City Manager Math
You might think the answer would be two houses, but remember this is City Manager math. According to the City Manager, the answer to this equation would be:
1 house + 1 house = 1 house
His ForwardDallas plan, if passed, would allow any single-family zoned home in Dallas to be torn down and replaced by two homes. But the zoning would still be called single-family zoning. So, picture the home next door to you torn down and two houses built in its place, one in the front and one in the back of the lot. Now picture the same thing on the other side of your home, and then visualize the home behind you being torn down and a new house built on the front of that lot and another new house on the back of that lot. You would now have three 2-story or 3-story ADU houses on the back of each of these lots looming over your back yard. These back houses would block the sun and the breezes that used to come through the trees before they were replaced by these 2-story or 3-story ADUs.
This would all be made possible if the ForwardDallas plan passes. You will find the defining statement buried in the 36-page ForwardDallas plan in Chapter 4 under Objective 2:
“Update the development code (our zoning) to allow context sensitive accessory dwelling units (ADUs) by right in all neighborhoods.”
This statement would in effect be a zoning change across all neighborhoods of Dallas by allowing ADUs by right – two houses on one lot.
ForwardDallas Liberalization of Single-Use Zoning
But that is just the beginning of the assault on single-family zoning. They do not want to just eliminate single-family zoning, but they are recommending zoning that would allow duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes and up to eight apartment units on each lot. Or as Patrick Kennedy, a frequent speaker for Generic Urbanists, in a Dallas Morning News op-ed recently advocated for ForwardDallas to liberalize single-use zoning (which is a gentle way to say eradicate single-family zoning and add apartments to single-family home neighborhoods). He also supports the proposal before the City Council to eliminate mandatory off-street parking minimums. If passed, in some neighborhoods, this would make neighborhoods so jammed with parked cars on both curbs, that one can’t park in front of one’s own home. He also supports some City Council members’ proposal that lot sizes be reduced. So, instead of allowing two houses to be built on a lot next door, the next door lot could be divided into two lots or maybe even five lots, each with two houses. Obviously, this creates a neighborhood with no trees, no place to walk or ride a bike in the streets, and no place to park.
Liberalizing Single-Use Zoning Means Apartments On Any Lot
Patrick Kennedy in his Dallas Morning News op-ed comforts us by writing:
“Liberalizing single-use zoning” (which means allowing apartments on any lot) “does not force anybody to change anything on their own property.” Instead, it just empowers investors to build apartments next door to you if they desire. He also suggests this is a good thing as it would generate more taxes. Presumably he wants more taxes to further subsidize developers to increase affordable apartment housing.
This density strategy of more apartments is supposed to increase homeownership in Dallas which has dropped from 46% to 41% from the 2010 census to the 2020 census. This idea flies in the face of logic. The acceleration of people that are fleeing dense cities for more space has been increasing over the last several years. At the same time homeownership was decreasing in Dallas decreasing, population of Dallas has decreased by 100,000 people, with people moving to the growing suburbs in the last census period.
City Planners Admit ForwardDallas Burdens Neighborhoods
It is easy to understand the horrors that come with the elimination of single-family zoning and parking requirements and also by reducing lot sizes. Even the ForwardDallas planners admit that adding apartments to single-family zoned neighborhoods adds a burden to each neighborhood. However, they justify this burden on high moral grounds. Some might even think that these density hucksters would make Elmer Gantry, a tent revivalist played by Burt Lancaster, seem legit.
The spiritual leaders of density and the liberators of single-use zoning, while acknowledging ForwardDallas will create a burden on your neighborhood, assure us that in the name of equity every neighborhood will share this burden. They justify this burden by telling us all the good things the ForwardDallas will do for the city. But actually, ForwardDallas gives Dallas the opposite of what they are promising.
ForwardDallas Reduces Affordable Housing
1) City planners say Forward Dallas will provide more affordable housing and that ADUs will help seniors financially stay in their home – This is FALSE.
What is TRUE is that allowing apartments to be built in single-family neighborhoods creates a financial incentive to tear down affordable single-family homes to make room to build expensive apartments. While the City Manager and ForwardDallas planners tout ADUs as the silver bullet for affordable housing, it turns out that ADUs are the most expensive housing type per square foot. The City Manager and the Assistant Director of Housing are wrong that ADUs help seniors offset their expenses and help them remain in their home. If a senior finances the construction of an ADU over ten years, they will lose $20,000 a year renting the ADU. Losing money on an ADU does not help seniors stay in their home.
ForwardDallas Does Not Provide More Middle Housing
2) City planners say Forward Dallas will provide more middle housing.
Brent Rubin, Vice Chair, Dallas City Plan Commission, and Chair, Comprehensive Land Use Plan Committee, says that Forward Dallas includes strategies for missing-middle housing. He even wrote a letter to the Editor of the Dallas Morning News that states, “Newby vehemently opposes expanding missing-middle housing.” – This is FALSE.
What is TRUE is that I have spoken and written for many years on organic urbanism and that we need to protect our middle housing for workforce families – firefighters, police officers and teachers. When they are single, they can always rent an apartment. But once they start families, they generally want a single-family home with a yard. These affordable homes for workforce families are increasingly being torn down by apartment developers subsidized by the city. Rather than subsidizing developers, I have encouraged the city to invest in the infrastructure of potential single-family neighborhoods to attract the building of more middle housing for workforce families.
In truth, Brent Rubin has not offered one strategy in ForwardDallas that does anything other than promote new expensive apartments. He does not point to a strategy in ForwardDallas that preserves affordable homes or creates new affordable single-family homes on inexpensive land.
ForwardDallas Harms Neighborhoods of Color
3) City planners say Forward Dallas will create racial equity. – This is FALSE.
What is TRUE is that the leaders in the communities of color say that ForwardDallas harms neighborhoods of color more than any other neighborhoods. History shows us that white neighborhoods, through zoning, could exclude nuisance uses including apartments. At the same time there is a history of nuisance uses, including apartments, being allowed in Black neighborhoods. Nuisance uses in single-family home neighborhoods contributed to neighborhoods being redlined, and they still do today. ForwardDallas planners are in effect proposing to again take away the right of people of color to exclude nuisance uses, including apartments, in their single-family neighborhoods.
ForwardDallas Adds Cost to City Budget
4) City planners and density advocates say Forward Dallas will add density, which will lower our taxes. – This is FALSE.
Patrick Kennedy argues in his Dallas Morning News op-ed that more density will create more tax revenue. However, this argument overlooks the costs involved in creating that revenue. The City Manager and ForwardDallas planners have never provided an estimate of the cost required to totally reinstall the infrastructure in single-family neighborhoods in which great density is created.
Water lines, sewer lines, electrical lines and roads will all need to be rebuilt to accommodate the additional density, which these single-family neighborhoods were not intended for. Sewer lines are already beyond capacity just because single-family homes have more bathrooms and swimming pools. Can you imagine the impact on the sewer system if density simply doubles as council member Chad West says is possible if we allow ADUs by right? FEMA keeps changing its 100-year floodplain maps because Dallas has more and more impervious land. Adding density just compounds this problem and increases the likelihood of flooding. What will the cost of flooding be to the city with the density they propose in single-family neighborhoods?
ForwardDallas Reduces Housing Options
5) City planners say Forward Dallas will provide more housing options. – This is FALSE.
What is TRUE is that every housing option the planners are proposing in ForwardDallas can already be built in areas zoned for mixed use, or in areas that could be downsized for mixed use, or areas zoned for major density. The only thing different about ForwardDallas is the interjection of apartments into single-family home neighborhoods. This directs development away from the very areas of Dallas that are in the most need for development.
Also, most importantly, ForwardDallas actually reduces housing options. Affordable single-family homes will be increasingly torn down for new apartments or expensive new houses on smaller lots. Also, the housing option that people most desire is a single-family home in a single-family neighborhood. ForwardDallas no longer gives anyone that option to live in a single-family home in a single-family zoned neighborhood.
ForwardDallas Raises Housing Costs
6) City planners say Forward Dallas will reduce housing costs. – This is FALSE.
What is TRUE is that the Dallas City Manager and planners have not pointed to an example of one new apartment that costs less than the affordable home that it replaced. Apartments replacing affordable homes reduces affordable homes.
A Single-Family Home is an American Dream – ForwardDallas is a City Planner’s Dream
7) Patrick Kennedy says Forward Dallas will create a true American dream. – This is FALSE.
ForwardDallas Makes Walking and Riding a Bike Treacherous
8) Generic Urbanists say Forward Dallas will make the city more walkable and bike-friendly. – This is FALSE.
What is TRUE is that currently Dallas has many incredible tree-lined neighborhood streets that are filled with cyclists, runners and parents strolling with their children. Exponentially increasing density will change that. Eliminating parking requirements jams both sides of the streets with parked cars, making riding or walking on the street dangerous.
ForwardDallas Makes the City Harsh
9) Planners and Generic Urbanists say Forward Dallas will make the city more livable. – This is FALSE.
What is TRUE is that removing trees and making our streets less walkable make the city less livable. Eliminating our most desired neighborhoods – single-family neighborhoods – as an option, makes our city less livable.
ForwardDallas Will Create a Housing Shortage
10) City planners say ForwardDallas will reduce our housing shortage. –
This is FALSE.
What is TRUE is that even if ForwardDallas is successful in having many new apartments built and the planners are successful in using bond money and other city tax money to subsidize rents, this will only attract renters from the booming population of the suburbs to move into these apartments, causing a housing shortage in Dallas.
Homeowners Create a Greater Benefit to Neighborhoods Than Absentee Owners and Renters
11) The City Manager, planners and some members of the City Council think that absentee owners and renters contribute as much to homes, neighborhoods, schools, safety and stability as the contribution homeowners make. As a result, the City Manager and planners think ForwardDallas will benefit Dallas if it can encourage more apartments and attract more renters. – This is FALSE.
What is TRUE is that absentee owners and renters do not offer the long-term stability or the benefit to neighborhoods that homeowners do. Attracting and retaining homeowners is essential to the health of a city. Dallas should not strive to be an urban reservation of renters. Dallas should make it easier not harder for renters to become homeowners.
ForwardDallas is a 19th Century Solution to a 21st Century City
12) The City Manager and planners say ForwardDallas is a 21st century solution for a 21st century city. – This is FALSE.
What is TRUE is that 21st century cities are vulnerable and declining. Middle income families are fleeing cities. Even Dallas has lost homeowners. Rather than throw in the towel and say homeownership is no longer attainable for most people and we need more apartments, we need a 21st century solution that puts policies in place that will protect existing homeowners and attract more homeowners.
City Manager and City Planners Pretend Homeowners Desire ForwardDallas
How has a plan like ForwardDallas, that’s this destructive to our neighborhoods and our city, advanced so far? The City Manager and planning staff and some City Council members have been confident that this is going to be voted on and implemented in June. The City Manager and planning staff explain that this ForwardDallas plan came from holding 200 meetings and listening to the desires of the community. First, an average of less than 20 people attended each of those meetings. And from what the City Manager and planning staff are telling us, I can imagine that the meetings went something like this:
At the first community meeting, a city planner asked one of the handful of people gathered what they would like to see in Dallas.
One attendee responds, I would love to see some gentle density in my neighborhood.
The planner then asked the person next to him what she would like to see in her neighborhood.
She responds, Oh, I am tired of single-use zoning and would like to see the liberalization of it.
And then the planner asks the next man at the meeting, what would he like in his neighborhood.
And he says, I live in the Preston Hollow estate area, so my home is surrounded by homes on two acres. It gets lonely having neighbors so far away. Every time I need to borrow a cup of sugar from my neighbor, it is such a long walk down their winding driveway to the motor court before I get to the front door, I almost wish I had not decided to bake a cake. It would really be nice if the city would reduce lot sizes to 1,500 square feet so I could have 58 new houses on both sides of me.
The next woman, when asked about her desires for the neighborhood, said,
I would like more equity zoning in my neighborhood.
After a little bit more discussion, the planner says, thank you for your input. We have listened to your desires. In ForwardDallas, we will propose the liberalization of single-use zoning by right to create a Place Type of context sensitive equity on mini lots to allow homeowners to be more productive with their land.
Then all the homeowners applaud because their desires have been heard.
The planners then continued to meet with 199 other small groups and upon hearing the same homeowner requests over and over, they submitted with confidence ForwardDallas to the city officials to begin the process of being voted on and implemented.
Homeowners are Overwhelmingly Opposed to Apartments in Single-Family Zoned Neighborhoods
However, these imagined meetings are far different than the meeting I attended. The planning staff met with 12 very experienced neighborhood leaders who were outraged that the City Manager and planning staff would even consider allowing apartments in single-family neighborhoods, much less proposing that ADUs could be built by right in every neighborhood. The planning staff’s response to our meeting was to eradicate a single-family home place type altogether from ForwardDallas. This action was opposite every one of our requests.
Homeowner Opposition Grows as Homeowners Become Aware of ForwardDallas
The reason it is so important that you inform your neighborhood associations, friends and business associates about this assault on single-family zoned neighborhoods is because the City planning staff have repeatedly said that they have held 200 meetings and in every one of these meetings the homeowners they have talked to are onboard with their ForwardDallas proposal. There might be a few homeowners that theoretically want apartments built in someone else’s single-family home neighborhood, but I have not met a homeowner that would prefer an apartment be built next to their single-family home.
The City planning staff are peddling platitudes and disguising the real effect of their proposals. That may have some people confused and sympathetic to this multifamily assault on single-family neighborhoods. This misinformation needs to be corrected. Homeowners and most renters want the option to live in a single-family zoned neighborhood.
Thank you for your interest in this issue. I think it is the most important issue that neighborhoods and the city has faced in the past 50 years. ForwardDallas is a bad plan, bad process and prepared in bad faith. ForwardDallas needs to be stopped from disrupting single-family zoning, One Lot – One Home, in single-family zoned neighborhoods.