City Hall

A Way You and I Could Afford to Live Across from Klyde Warren. Really.

Hey, wouldn’t it be great to be able to walk from your apartment to Klyde Warren Park, the hugely successful new deck over a downtown freeway named for a rich kid? You can. Really. Just be rich.

But what about this? What if you could get a really nice, pretty cheap apartment right across the street from the Klydosphere? That’s what Dallas plan commissioner Paul Ridley wants to see happen, and he thinks he’s got a fairly painless way to make it happen.

Ridley, an attorney who is the Plan Commission appointee of District 14 City Council representative Philip Kingston, will unveil a plan at this Thursday’s commission meeting that would offer incentives to developers who agree to include affordable housing in luxury tower developments.

Ridley told me he had been troubled for some time by a process at City Hall in which developers ask the Plan Commission to let them put up much bigger buildings than normally would be allowed by zoning on their land. The city often consents, doubling or tripling the profit on the land for the developer.

In effect when the city gives permission for added density, it is gifting the developer with an extremely valuable commodity. So when it does that, why shouldn’t the city seek some help with its own issues in return?

“I was concerned about the situation that we’re facing particularly in some high development areas of the city,” Ridley said, “where developers come in and ask for big density increases and give nothing back to the city in exchange for that density.”

When Ridley attended a national planning convention in Seattle recently, he said, “The light bulb came on.” He heard of successful initiatives in Tysons Corner, Virginia, New York, Los Angeles and other cities where zoning bodies trade additional development rights in exchange for a developer’s agreement to devote a portion of the project to affordable housing.

An example elsewhere would be the 2.2.-million-square-foot Astoria Cove development on the East River in Queens, New York, where a developer has agreed to include 345 apartments at affordable rents. An example here where the Ridley model might work is the 900,000-square-foot-project across the street from Klyde Warren Park that Trammell Crow Co. is developing.

Although Ridley didn’t bring it up when I spoke with him, I noticed on the agenda that the Dallas Plan Commission meeting this Thursday where Ridley will present his proposal also happens to be the meeting where Trammell Crow Co. will ask the Plan Commission to increase the zoning density on its land by almost 75 percent.

Modeled on programs that have worked elsewhere, Ridley’s idea is that Dallas should adopt a regular policy of asking developers seeking significant new density to provide affordable housing in trade for that density.

Don’t want to do the affordable? That’s easy. Just don’t ask for the extra zoning.

Given the city’s long-term difficulties with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on this score and its promises to do better, the Ridley proposal will be interesting to watch. It’s a way for Dallas to provide affordable rents in desirable areas without putting a gun to anybody’s heads.