City Hall

The Fight Over Sylvan Thirty's Design

So, back to that Sylvan Thirty item from earlier in the week. Got an email this morning from Monte Anderson, the man who resurrected the Belmont. Said he wanted to talk about the development going in catty-corner from his -- one he's long supported. Matter of fact, says Anderson, he helped Sylvan Thirty president Brent Jackson "get that land, and I introduced him to Cox Farms," so far the only tenant announced for the mixed-use development scheduled to go where once the Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts stood.

Anderson still wants Sylvan Thirty: "I'm kinda lonely over there by myself," he tells Unfair Park." He just doesn't want it the way it's configured in zoning plans scheduled to go to the City Plan Commission come fall. (Word is the scheduled September hearing regarding Sylvan Thirty's zoning has been pushed till October.)

Specifically, says Anderson: "The biggest problem is he's building a suburban-style development with pad sites that have their backs to the road. He won't put it in the code where the front doors can face the major roads, and he's made the sidewalks so narrow it looks like the backside of a building. It's like an outlet mall where you have these blank walls on the front and all the life happens inside."

He dismisses those Lake-Flato renderings we looked at earlier this week. "I am not talking about the pretty pictures," Anderson says. "I am talking about the zoning. Those are pictures."

Anderson's opposition comes as the West Dallas and Oak Cliff chambers of commerce sent their respective letters of support to the city. Former council member Bob Stimson, head of the Oak Cliff chamber, tells Unfair Park today his group's just fine with the plan: "Our goal is to make sure good things happen, investments get made and businesses move in." And Sylvan Thirty does that.

As for Jackson, well, he insists all will be well.

"Until all information is known from city staff and is published and made public," he tells Unfair Park, "there will continue to be questions, and that's understandable."

Jackson says his zoning ordinance for Sylvan Thirty will ultimately adhere to the West Dallas Urban Structure and Guidelines crafted over many months and during myriad public meetings by the CityDesign Studio out of City Hall. And city officials acknowledge: Yes, there's been a brewing storm over Sylvan Thirty for quite some time. But, they insist, they have faith it'll all be fine once everyone gets to see what's what. The zoning request at City Hall is being tweaked, and the one to which Anderson's referring may be an outdated plan. (A new version was turned in to zoning officials just last week, and the CityDesign Studio has yet to even see it.)

I asked Jackson about some things with which Anderson has major issues -- like four-foot-wide sidewalks (as opposed to, say, 15 feet wide) and a proposed 96-foot-tall building and a stoplight between Fort Worth Avenue and I-30 on Sylvan (which is a blink-of-an-eye drive already). He says, again, "Once folks have a chance to see what CityDesign Studio came up with in compliance with their urban structure and form, you'll see they tied us to specific performance, and kudos to them for doing that."

Stimson says if it's good enough for the CityDesign Studio, it's good enough for the Oak Cliff chamber. Simple as that.

"Our position is as long as the plan they're submitting complies with and gets the blessing of CityDesign Studio, because we spent an incredible amount of energy working with them on the West Dallas plan, we're good with it," Stimson says. "My understanding is the CityDesign Studio is happy with the design and working with them on it. I am not a traffic engineer, and we won't put ourselves in the role of seeing if the sidewalks are the exact width. We have people who do that at City Hall, and they did a pretty good job of it."

Others who support the current design say, look, the fact is there's no residential around the property at present. So while the idea of having storefronts facing Sylvan and Fort Worth is a nice idea, "everyone's going to come by car," says one supporter who'd rather stay out of the fight for now. "If there was other residential with pedestrians, it'd make all the sense in the world. But we don't have that now and won't for the foreseeable future."

Brent Brown, head of the CityDesign Studio, says he met with Jackson and his zoning attorneys a few weeks ago, and did point out several problems with the proposed zoning ordinance that need to be fixed. Among the key issues: "entrances fronting the street, increased transparancy within the building face -- which would mean requiring more windows -- and a required build-to loine that helps to activiste the lot. Plus, there were a series of other items involving supporting the public realm."

He says Jackson listened intently, agreed wholeheartedly and said he'd come back with a new and improved plan, which should be made available shortly.

Meanwhile, Anderson, a past chair of the Oak Cliff chamber, and Jackson aren't talking to each other -- at least, that's Anderson's take. Jackson says they see each other all the time. (Didn't say they spoke.) Anderson says he's gathering folks to oppose the zoning; he says Jackson's trying to "marginalize and demonize" opposition. But at the same time, he does acknowledge: Perhaps the city should have retooled the streets over there before this even became an issue.

"In his defense," says Anderson, "the roads should have already been designed, and zoning should have come after." Didn't happen that way. And it won't.

Jackson, meanwhile, is hoping this will all blow over: "CityDesign Studio implemented the West Dallas guidelines, and we adhered to it," he says. "Simple as that. In short, there's a process where you go through the CityDesign Studio, and it worked. They ID'd places where we could strengthen our urban form, and we did. This will all come out in the wash."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky