City Hall

Communities in Dallas Formed a Coalition for Neighborhood Self-Determination

West Dallas and Floral Farms, the latter the previous home to Shingle Mountain, are working on neighborhood-led development plans; the question is whether the city will listen.
West Dallas and Floral Farms, the latter the previous home to Shingle Mountain, are working on neighborhood-led development plans; the question is whether the city will listen. Lauren Drewes Daniels
All around Dallas, residents are stretched thin fighting for change in zoning, education, transportation and planning, among other issues. Meanwhile, the gap between what residents want and what private and public bodies are doing grows wider.

Neighborhood-led plans could help fill that gap.

But chances are the city won't take them seriously: A recent change to the city’s comprehensive land-use plan, Forward Dallas, seemingly makes neighborhood-led plans obsolete.

That’s why several neighborhoods and organizations from across Dallas have banded together to form what they’re calling the Coalition for Neighborhood Self-Determination. They announced the coalition during a virtual event on Thursday.

So far, the list includes:

East Dallas Greater Good
Coalición de West Oak Cliff/West Oak Cliff Coalition
Downwinders at Risk
Southern Dallas Progress CDC
Do Right By The Streets
Inclusive Communities Project
Ethos Equity Consulting
Texas Organizing Project
District 8 Community Leadership Coalition
Southern Sector Rising
Raul Reyes, Resident West Dallas
Fair Share for all Dallas
Tenth Street Residential Association
West Dallas and Floral Farms, the previous home to Shingle Mountain, are just a couple of the communities pursuing neighborhood-led plans.

In West Dallas, industrial development is stinking up the place. The population's grown denser by the year, and property taxes have continued to rise, prompting fears that some may be priced out of their own neighborhoods. In Floral Farms, residents on Bird Lane have complained about debris and other materials washing off nearby industrial lots onto their land. When it rains, the infill next to residential land on Rhodes Lane also causes flooding.

Together, the communities hope to correct these other problems in their neighborhoods.

Evelyn Mayo, chair of Downwinders at Risk, said these plans are an “opportunity for you and your neighbors to come together and outline a vision that speaks to your collective values.” It can be used to communicate to the City Council a neighborhood’s priorities and goals, and as a tool to acquire funding and develop partnerships to support their community’s future.

But she said the recent change will hurt democratic participation in major city decisions that affect the lives of all Dallas residents. Mayo is also a paralegal and a fellow at Paul Quinn College’s Urban Research Initiative.

Area plans come in three kinds in Dallas: city-initiated, interagency and neighborhood-led.

City-initiated plans are pursued where the city recognizes robust growth or is predicting high real-estate and economic potential. Interagency plans are done in collaboration with other public or nonprofit entities that partially or fully fund the plan and usually lead its development.

Neighborhood-led plans are generally spearheaded by neighborhood organizations in collaboration with the city and adopted by City Council.

The Planning and Urban Design Department provides technical assistance, review and guidance through the process. There are over 20 city-initiated plans, nine interagency and two neighborhood-led plans listed on the city’s website. The two adopted neighborhood-led plans are for communities in the Northern part of the city.

“We followed the same rules the North Dallas neighborhoods did, but when we try to work with the city on passing our neighborhood plan, suddenly the rules have changed,” Marsha Jackson, a Floral Farms resident, said. Jackson led the fight to remove Shingle Mountain from her neighborhood.

Usually, the Urban Design Advisory Committee (UDAC), reviews area plans and neighborhood plans and recommends action to the city plan commission. However, the city is working on an update to Forward Dallas, the city’s comprehensive land-use plan, and in preparation, the plan commission is acting on amended rules.

The rules replace the urban design advisory committee with a new comprehensive land-use plan committee to guide the Forward Dallas update and to review and recommend action on future area plans/neighborhood plans. The idea is to have broader area plans in which the goals of a neighborhood plan are considered.

“Neighborhood-driven plans are important and are the right tool for residents to shape policy and the future of their communities/neighborhoods,” Peer F. Chacko, director of planning and urban development, said. “It is not staff’s recommendation to exclude neighborhood-driven plans from the policy making process.”

He said integrating neighborhood plans into their broader area planning will help resolve contradictions in existing policy. They don’t want a bunch of contradictory and inconsistent plans.

This often leads to plans sitting on the shelf, not being implemented. In a presentation for the city plan commission about these changes, on a slide labeled “neighborhood planning role,” it says neighborhood-driven plans “do not establish city policy.”

The coalition says that's unacceptable. So, members are asking residents to reach out to their City Council members to tell them to restore the path to policy for neighborhood-led plans. Residents should also urge their council members to expand residential representation in city-initiated plans. Lastly, the whole planning process needs to be more inclusive, Mayo said, with bilingual meetings and more community outreach.

“This should make you angry,” Mayo said. “But we should channel that anger into action. So, we encourage you to join us. We have your back and it’s going to take all of us.”

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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