By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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Debates are now forming around such weighty issues as the appropriateness of red brick, circular drives, metal windows and various species of trees. Even the definition of an M Street Tudor--itself a suburban, developer-built home of three generations ago--is now being called into question. Then there's the touchier subject of home renovation, which in its most grandiose form can mean a three-story "blowout" soaring from the back yard. How, people are asking, can they have their walk-in closets, Southern Living kitchens, master suites and garages big enough for two outsized sport utility vehicles and still keep the whole place looking as cozy and quaint as a Cotswold village?
Eisenberg says if a majority of his neighbors want a district, then it is their right to create one. In the meantime, he wonders whether the conservation movement isn't, ironically, a sign that Dallas may be forgetting its history.
"What made Dallas great was we had this can-do attitude. The city has gotten political, and we seem to have lost that," says Eisenberg, who is not personally offended by the arrival of the McMansion in urban Dallas. He, for one, thinks they make the neighborhood look fresher. "Really," he says, "what this boils down to is taste."
"There is a history here that you simply don't find in suburban neighborhoods. A palpable history," Hunt says. "Most of us have open-air front porches, and it really does make for a friendly neighborhood because you can sit out there and wave to people. It's just really very homey. I think that's the main thing. It's homey, and it's authentic."
Hunt, a 30-year-old attorney, recently explained her motivation while seated on a purple couch inside her Mercedes Avenue Tudor, which she and Sims bought in January 2001. In the dining room, painted a formal red, Sims is cleaning a new piano the couple acquired from a neighbor lady, a longtime M Streets resident who recently moved into a nursing home. Hunt does not play the piano, but her musical talents are on display: Two violins hang on the living room wall, above a music stand that holds open an Antonio Vivaldi concerto.
The home is the couple's first, and they found it after spending many a weekend scouring the neighborhood in 2000--right at the peak of the recent economic boom, which had caused the sales prices of many an M Street Tudor to reach jaw-dropping heights. Back then, Hunt says, she fell in love with the area because of its "gingerbread" houses, which is what she called the Tudors before she learned more about them.
"We would come back every couple of Sundays and we would see a house had been razed and a suburban-type home had been built, and it was kind of depressing to us because we like the little gingerbread houses. They were quaint," Hunt says. "The more we looked, the more we realized we really were losing some gems to new, incompatible construction."
Today, Hunt's group has identified two types of Tudors in the neighborhood--the High Tudors, built in the 1920s and identified by their multiple high-peaked gables, front-facing chimneys and arch work; and the "Tudor Cottages," built in the 1930s or 1940s, which "share some characteristics of High Tudors but are typically less ornate." (Hunt's group has recognized the presence of five additional types of architectural styles in the neighborhood, including Spanish Eclectic and Craftsman, but has not bothered to formally define them.)
Shortly after the moving van was unloaded, Hunt says, she began thinking seriously about how to resolve the problem. Her first step was to broach the subject with her new neighbors.
"I just kind of said, you know, 'What do y'all think about some of these new houses?' And they'd say, 'Oh, no, we really wish they wouldn't tear down these cute ones, or if they did, they'd build something that fit in, but they're just too tall and they don't look right and they look like they belong in Plano,'" Hunt recalls. "And so I thought, 'I'm on the right track here.'"
One neighbor informed Hunt about the existence of conservation districts in Dallas (there are currently seven), and Hunt began contacting city officials to learn more. Thus "Save the M Streets" was born.
The proposed district is called Greenland Hills because that is what the developers who built it in the 1920s called it. Then, it was one of Dallas' first suburbs. ("Isn't that funny?" says Hunt, who adds that her group is still in the process of researching the neighborhood's history.) Using those original borders as the new district's proposed boundaries, Hunt began circulating a petition that asked residents to support her idea.
Three months later, more than 75 percent of the area's property owners had signed on. The turnout, which happens to reflect the actual number of Tudor homes in the neighborhood, met the super majority threshold city planners typically require before they commit their resources to the process. In the coming months, city staff will hold several public hearings to discuss new zoning restrictions specifically tailored to the neighborhood. Afterward, they'll draft a proposed ordinance.