Land Banks

Preservation Dallas is in the middle of its Summer Preservation Institute, described on its Web site as "professional adult education classes that offer various introductions to local preservation issues and history." Courses are $20 each, except for the two—day professional courses, which run $175 a pop. One course, which takes place Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at PD's Wilson House headquarters, 2922 Swiss Ave., looks especially interesting: Titled "Economics of Preservation: The Background and Use of Economic Impact Studies," it will deal specifically with a study being conducted this very moment comparing five of Dallas' conservation districts with comparable neighborhoods that don't have that designation--which, more or less, is like a historical neighborhood designation, only with fewer restrictions.

Dwayne Jones, PD's executive director, says the study's being funded in part with a $10,000 grant from the Washington, D.C.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation; it's a first-of-its-kind effort to see whether neighborhoods that have some safeguards in place to protect their homes are worth more than comparable areas in which anyone can do anything to any place they like. The study's also getting some funding from the conservation districts involved in the study, which are: Kings Highway and North Cliff, both in Oak Cliff; the Hollywood/Santa Monica area; North Bishop Avenue, which encompasses some but not all of the Bishop Arts District; and a small area of Lakewood near the Lakewood Country Club. All the conservation districts being looked at are at least 10 years old.

"The study is comparing those conservation districts to nondesignated areas to see the impact on residential property values," Jones says. "No one has done a conservation district study in the country before. The National Trust has been doing historic landmark district studies in other parts of the country, but this is the first of its kind. That's why the National Trust is interested: They want to see what the impact has been."

This is what the National Trust had to say about the grant and the study in its most recent annual report:

"The city of Dallas has used historic zoning overlays to protect neighborhoods from inappropriate changes, including 'teardowns'--the practice of tearing down smaller historic homes and replacing them with 'monster houses.' Many homebuilders and real estate agents, however, claim that such overlays hurt property values and restrict their ability to maximize profits. Preservation Dallas used a $10,000 grant from the Southwest Intervention Fund to conduct a study on the economic value of historic overlays. The grant will also allow Preservation Dallas to disseminate the results of the study as part of an education outreach strategy to the media and elected officials."

So what's a conservation district? Well, they've been around since 1988 and are created with the approval of the City Plan Commission and city council; they also exist mostly in East Dallas and Oak Cliff. And, to put it simply, a conservation district's like a historic district, but with one major change: If a homeowner wants to alter a property, he or she doesn't have to deal with the Dallas Landmark Commision, only with city staff, which help "maintain certain standards of an area," according to the city. Which is to say if you want to alter a property in a conservation district, you have to pick materials similiar to those originally used. If you really want to know the difference, the city's Web site outlines them here.

The study's being conducted by Clarion Associates of Denver, a national land-use and real estate consulting firm. Their reps, and folks from the conservation districts being studied, will be there Wednesday to talk about the work. The study ought to take six months, and they're only a few weeks into seeing whether, oh, Kings Highway is worth more than the nearby neighborhood that belonged to Dallas Land & Loan some 100 years back. Quick, very uneducated guess: It probably is. --Robert Wilonsky