Stop me if you've heard this one before. A developer wants to build some apartments on an extremely valuable yet bizarrely underdeveloped major North Dallas intersection. These apartments will be very classy, as evidenced by the slick, full-color brochures zoning/PR consultant Sarah Dodd is distributing as part of a campaign to woo neighbors. Homeowners in the tony subdivisions surrounding the proposed apartments, worried about property values and traffic, revolt.
This is the plot of the zoning drama that just played out on the northeast corner of Preston Road and Northwest Highway, where neighbors killed Transwestern's plans for a multi-story luxury apartment complex. It's also what's currently unfolding four miles to the northwest at the intersection of Forest Lane and Inwood Road, where last month developer Greystar and Regency Centers unveiled plans to replace 30 acres of aging town homes with a mixed-use residential/retail complex.
I met Tim Mallad, one of the concerned homeowners, at a nearby Starbuck's on Monday morning. We dodged across Inwood and walked around through the sprawling Forestwood Townhomes being eyed for replacement. They shown signs of wear but are far from dilapidated. Mostly they just look beige and like they were built in the 1970s.
We walked to where a wooden foot bridge crosses the creek that cuts across the property. He pointed to a plastic grocery bag caught in some brush about 10 yards upstream, a rough marker for where his property began. Currently abutting his backyard is a two-story town home building. The new plans call for a three-story town home building to built there.
It's a modest increase in scale --total residential density on the property, which will jump from the current 208 units on 30 acres to 350 units on 12 acres, is only marginally more significant -- but for Mallad and his neighbors it's the difference between having the privacy he expected when he bought into the neighborhood 15 years ago and feeling like something is looming over his backyard.
The retail and the traffic it will pour onto Inwood and Forest is also a concern for Mallad. Details have been scarce, but plans right now include a grocery store -- there's supposedly a letter of intent with a grocery chain whose anonymity has led residents to assume it has something to do with Wal-Mart -- flanked by several smaller storefronts. There's a general expectation that, however hip and idyllic the stores might look in the renderings, they will be filled with dry cleaners, nail salons and fast food restaurants. That a McDonald's is being planned for the corner is the most persistent conspiracy theory among neighbors. Dodd says in an email both rumors are unfounded. "Walmart will not be part of this development. McDonald's will not be part of this development."
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Two things seem to be fueling the opposition. One is the general suspicion with which well-off single-family neighborhoods tend to greet nearby development proposals, generally on the assumption that it will drive down property values and increase traffic. That suspicion is particularly acute when the proposed development includes apartments. The other factor is latent distrust between the neighbors and the Daniels family, an old North Dallas pioneer clan that owns the three Forest and Inwood corners not occupied by Hockaday/Lamplighter and has since the mid-19th century. The blah town homes on the northwest and and the antique mall/car wash/strip mall across the street in particular have left Mallad and neighbors uninspired by the family's stewardship.
All of which is to say that there will be a zoning battle. The question is how bloody it will be. The Inwood/Forest neighborhood has the distinct disadvantage of being (we assume) too far from Laura Miller's house for the former mayor to aggressively wade in like she did at Preston and Northwest Highway, but this is not a neighborhood that will shrink from a fight. The town homes that stand on the northwest corner now were supposed to be apartments when the development was conceived in the late 1960s, but then this happened:
It was also the site of one of the bitterest zoning fights in modern Dallas history. In 1994, neighbors convinced the City Council to kill plans for Cinemark Tinseltown theater around where the Lowe's is. The city wound up paying $5 million to settle claims that doing so violated Cinemark's development rights.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.