This afternoon, following speakers offering their pros and cons, the Dallas Planning Commission overwhelmingly approved the new “urban structure” that the Dallas CityDesign Studio has been working on for more than a year. The plan hopes to make “incremental” and “organic” the massive changes that may well hit the low-income neighborhoods north of I-30 and west of the Trinity River — now that the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge will be coming for a long visit. One of the prime goals of the plan is to “preserve, conserve, enhance” La Bajada, the mostly Hispanic community of older, single-family homes that exists north of Singleton and east of Sylvan. As one speaker, a La Bajada homeowner, noted, it’s an area that has been utterly neglected by the city — leaving it, in some cases, with dirt roads and decaying infrastructure. Now, it may instantly become a highly desirable location because of its proximity to downtown Dallas. The same speaker noted that investors have already “swarmed” the area, looking to buy up homes.
La Bajada homeowners have already started the process to gain a conservation district designation — a vital tool, given the fact that the CityDesign Studio’s guidelines make no changes to zoning or other ordinances. In other words, it has no real enforcement power; it’s a series of detailed, agreed-upon guidelines for the future that neighborhoods, the commission and real estate interests must implement. As one commission member said, this means that for the next few months at least, it’s still “open season for teardowns” — precisely the kind of development many in the neighborhood fear. The two historic examples everyone wished to avoid are Little Mexico and Uptown (formerly State-Thomas) — instances of ethnic, residential, downtown neighborhoods more or less wiped out by upscale developers. CityDesign Studio leader Brent Brown — with significant input from well-known urban planner Larry Beasley — has worked to get the city to put a “stabilization overlay” in place that would slow down any runaway development. But that was not part of the plan voted on today; it’s a matter for the City Council.
Instead of completely changing the nature of La Bajada and Los Altos, the CityDesign Studio’s plan hopes to re-direct the construction of high-density, residential and retail towers to the south, along the Trinity. It also seeks to develop new north-south corridors — turning Herbert Street, in particular, into a ‘High Street’ from Singleton to West Commerce that will help focus traffic, mass transit and commercial interests. It also includes specifications for street design, facade details, public parks and mixed-use areas that could feature artists’ work spaces. Issues of design and the participation of artists in the area have been a topic of discussion.