City Hall

Dallas City Council to Vote on Zoning Changes Some Say Could Save Elm Thicket-Northpark

You can find signs for and against the proposed zoning changes all over the Elm Thicket-Northpark neighborhood.
You can find signs for and against the proposed zoning changes all over the Elm Thicket-Northpark neighborhood. Jacob Vaughn
The Elm Thicket-Northpark neighborhood has changed a lot over the years. For one thing, it’s become more expensive, with longtime residents getting priced out right and left. Median real estate taxes shot up at least 33% between 2005 and 2019, according to the city. In some areas of the neighborhood, median home prices have doubled in the last 12 years, and increasingly the original, more affordable homes have been torn down and replaced by bigger, more expensive ones.

The neighborhood is a former Freedmen community and was once home to the first municipal golf course in the south for Black people. The Hilliard Memorial Golf Park sat in the neighborhood from 1950 to 1954, when the land was taken for the expansion of Love Field Airport.

Residents who planted their roots in Elm Thicket-Northpark decades ago say the neighborhood needs protection from it all. They may get it in a zoning case the City Council is taking up Wednesday.

If approved, the neighborhood would see lot coverage and height restrictions on new homes. These homes wouldn’t be allowed to exceed 25 feet in height. Single story homes would be limited to 45% lot coverage, while multiple story structures would be capped at 35%. These measures are meant to protect the neighborhood from new development that could displace longtime residents.

Throughout the last year, residents in the area have been taking part in fiery debates in city and community meetings over the changes. Generally speaking, newer residents are against the restrictions, saying they infringe on their property rights and could create a dip in property values. Longtime residents, however, say without the restrictions, their neighborhood and history will be erased. 

“This is an attempted hostile takeover disguised as gentrification wrapped in racism." – Jonathan Maples, Elm Thicket-Northpark Association

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The zoning case goes to council after the City Plan Commission approved the changes during its July 21 meeting. At the meeting, many longtime residents, like Elm Thicket-Northpark Association leader Jonathan Maples, said they felt the proposed changes could stop what they called a takeover of their neighborhood.

“This is an attempted hostile takeover disguised as gentrification wrapped in racism,” Maples, who has lived in the neighborhood for about 60 years, said. He said the neighborhood has been faced with the possibility of displacement before.

“I would like to also bring to your attention that this is the second time Elm Thicket-Northpark has faced displacement,” Maples added. “The first time was with the expansion of Love Field Airport and deregulation, moving us across what is now known as Lemmon Avenue, destroying a Black community and uprooting the first African American golf course where African Americans could play in the southern sector of America.”

He also said he didn’t care about the opposition’s concerns over property rights. “Property rights fall on deaf ears when you’re talking to people that look like me because we were told where we could live in America and we lived in those places,” Maples said, “and we prospered in those places and we want to hold on to our history and our name no matter what.”

Others, like Allison Silveira, argued that the changes would hurt the neighborhood and only a small group of residents wanted them.

​​“A small group of people have been given the go-ahead by the city of Dallas to potentially change rules for an entire neighborhood without using the proper channels,” Silveira said. She said the older residents could have tried to create a conservation district to offer the protection they’re looking for but didn’t “because there was no way the group that wants these changes could have gotten more than 50% of property owners to agree to all of this.”

“These changes will decrease desirability of the Elm Thicket area, thereby devaluing homes,” she said.

The City Council’s vote on the changes is about six years in the making. In 2016, Adam Medrano, then-City Council member for this part of town, chose Elm Thicket-Northpark to be one of the city’s Neighborhood Plus target areas. This set in motion a series of meetings at which residents and city staff could come up with a plan to shape the future of their neighborhood while keeping residents in it. This planning led the neighborhood to the proposed changes City Council will be voting on today.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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