After City Council voted against an unpopular high rise overlooking the Katy Trail in January 2019, Amanda Popken had a feeling developer Lincoln Property Co. would be back. Many Oak Lawn community members opposed the development, but they knew the war hadn't yet been won.
Now the project is back. Despite the opposition, the Dallas Plan Commission recently approved the project, which will go to City Council for another vote on April 28.
Popken, an economic development specialist, was hired to help the community communicate their desires with the representative for the developer, Lincoln Property Co. The company wants to develop an apartment building that is nearly twice the 36-foot height limit zoning allows. The company also wants fill up a larger portion of the 3.8-acre plot, and some in the community worry about density, traffic, the height of the development and destruction of some sensitive ecological areas.
The company wants to be able to upzone the land so they can build taller structures, increase density and get more bang for their buck for a multi-family development. The developer did not respond for comment.
The development would raze 115 multiple family units and replace them with 315 rental multi-family units, including a number of more affordable apartments.
Lincoln brought the plans to the Oak Lawn Committee a couple of times already, but Popken said it became clear they were going to push hard on doing whatever they wanted to do.
Anthony Page, former vice president of the Oak Lawn Committee, said there were 700 official ballots cast against the project. Additionally, seven HOAs, a nearby senior living center and the Dallas Homeowners League oppose the development. The Oak Lawn Committee voted it down on three occasions. Both the Dallas Plan Commission and the City Council previously opposed it. Page is still a member of the Oak Lawn Committee and is also president of the Vine Condominium Owners Association, which also opposes the project.
Oak Lawn residents put together the Oak Lawn Plan in the '80s in alignment with the city’s Urban Planning Department, mapping out the potential development of the area in a way that would maintain the neighborhood's character. The Oak Lawn Committee was created to carry this plan to fruition. As part of the plan, Planned Development District 193 was put in place as a safeguard and guide to development.
Popken said the developer is trying to subvert the processes lined out in the Oak Lawn Plan. It usually entails a developer doing community outreach then bringing their proposed project to the Oak Lawn Committee to see if it aligns with the neighborhood plan.
“There are so many developers who go through this process in PD 193 that meet with neighbors and a lot of different stakeholders in the community before even going to the Oak Lawn Committee, and sometimes after they go to the Oak Lawn Committee the first time,” Popken said. But Lincoln Property decided to go straight back to the Plan Commission on Feb. 4 to try to get the project approved.
Popken has her own firm. She worked for the city for six years in the office of economic development. She also has a masters in city and regional planning. Her company, Amanda Popken Development, primarily does this kind of community engagement.
With this project, Popken said, “There was no attempt to work with the community to make any improvements on the project.”
Besides a very contentious email, Popken said, they never got much of a response out of Lincoln Property. “It reemphasized that they were not interested in having a civil relationship with the community,” she said.
Despite this, David Blewett, City Council member for District 14, and his city plan commissioner Wayne Garcia encouraged them to keep trying to work with the developer. Popken said Garcia recommended putting together a list of specific things the community wants the developer to change.
They had to hire Richard Brown, a former senior planner for the city, to help them make their requests for the development.
But after they put together their requests, they were told the developers had no intention of making changes and they were bringing it to the plan commission on Feb. 4 as is. “It’s a weird dance,” Popken said. “This is not the typical way that things have gone in this neighborhood.”
They met with Blewett after he was elected, anticipating the project would come back up. Popken said the conversations with him and Garcia seemed positive at the time. “We found a lot of common ground with the way Wayne Garcia wanted to rule on zoning cases,” she said.
However, the developers didn’t change anything significant “and somehow the commissioner is in support of the project and boasts about it for 20 minutes,” Popken said. Garcia and Blewett did not respond for comment.
David Hairston said he stands to lose his home at the Turtle Creek Terrace Condominiums if the project is approved. “Once this closes, the sheriff can literally come into my home at gunpoint and physically and forcefully move me and my family out of our home,” Hairston said. “This is not me talking. This is my attorney.”
Although some of the building's property owners don't live there, they support the project because it would increase their property's value, he said. Hairston tried talking to Garcia about his worries but felt the commissioner had already made up his mind on the project.
“It’s completely unfair,” Hairston said. “The whole neighborhood could change if you put this huge structure up.”
That’s the real concern, Popken said. If Lincoln is able to subvert the informal process that has helped shape Oak Lawn since the '80s, it will set a precedent for developers to do the same thing in the future.
“That plan has had a huge impact on this neighborhood,” Popken said.
For decades, the Plan Commission has relied on the due diligence done by the Oak Lawn Committee, but some plan commissioners don’t think the neighborhood plan is relevant anymore. If the plan crumbles, the community won't have much of a say in the fate of their neighborhood.
Community members showed up to speak for and against the project at the Feb. 4 commission meeting, hoping for a final vote in their favor.
“I represent the super majority of property owners who support the Lincoln Katy Trail project,” said John Beasely, a member of the board of directors of the Turtle Creek Terrace Homeowners Association. Beasely said he and other association members were pleased with Lincoln’s work on the proposed development.
Suzan Kedron, one of the representatives for Lincoln Property, said, “I believe this has always been a good project, and now it’s even better thanks to the thoughtful and constructive community feedback we received and incorporated into the design.”
The opposition maintains that Lincoln ignored them and changes made to the development do not significantly address their longstanding concerns.
Some commissioners said they were troubled by the amount of opposition to the project and that it does not comply with the Oak Lawn Plan. Those commissioners also said that some of the opposing points about the development were the same ones made when they took up the case in 2018.
But it was approved because Lincoln made certain concessions, such as a further distance from the property line on one of the streets and the affordable housing it could provide. The opposition says that the distance still is not enough under the Oak Lawn Plan. The reason for setback requirements is to avoid excessive shadows on surrounding properties.
Since the developer didn’t seek approval from the Oak Lawn Committee, the community is putting together their own hearing on the project April 13. They will take their argument to City Council when the project is up for a vote in hopes they will deny it again. However, Popken worries that even if it gets denied, there will be more battles against the developers of the Lincoln Katy Trail proposal.
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