Trouble in the House of Tudor

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One neighbor informed Hunt about the existence of conservation districts in Dallas (there are currently seven), and Hunt began contacting city officials to learn more. Thus "Save the M Streets" was born.

The proposed district is called Greenland Hills because that is what the developers who built it in the 1920s called it. Then, it was one of Dallas' first suburbs. ("Isn't that funny?" says Hunt, who adds that her group is still in the process of researching the neighborhood's history.) Using those original borders as the new district's proposed boundaries, Hunt began circulating a petition that asked residents to support her idea.

Three months later, more than 75 percent of the area's property owners had signed on. The turnout, which happens to reflect the actual number of Tudor homes in the neighborhood, met the super majority threshold city planners typically require before they commit their resources to the process. In the coming months, city staff will hold several public hearings to discuss new zoning restrictions specifically tailored to the neighborhood. Afterward, they'll draft a proposed ordinance.

In the meantime, informal debate has taken place during a series of neighborhood meetings, the first of which was held last September and attracted about 100 residents. At that meeting, Hunt says, people were mainly concerned that the district wouldn't be retroactive or limit their right to renovate. Hunt assured them the district isn't going to be that restrictive. The main goal, she says, is to make sure all the houses, particularly new ones, look the same from the front.

"We're trying to conserve an atmosphere," Hunt says. "We don't want to make it so builders don't want to build in this neighborhood. We just want them to build in such a way that their houses fit in. And if that means they want to use materials on the inside that I wouldn't choose, I don't care. That's their clients."

With that, Hunt ticks off a number of exterior design problems she has identified with the new homes, even the ones modeled after existing Tudors: They're too tall; they lack stained-glass windows and front-facing chimneys; their bricks are too big and too fire-engine red; and they have front-facing garages or, worse, circular drives.

"Typically the style is modern suburban," Hunt explains. "They might try to have half-timbering, but they're not Tudor. They just simply don't have the steep gables of a Tudor. And the materials are another huge thing. We use a size of brick called modular or standard. You often see king-sized bricks on the newer homes. They're larger, and they just have a different aesthetic. They're more suburban."

These are just a few examples of the smaller details the proposed ordinance would address. More significant rules require future homes to be built in the High Tudor style (or in a few rare cases, Craftsman style), while renovations must not be visible from the front. No metal roofs would be permitted, and porch enclosures must be done with see-through glass. In addition, any existing High Tudor may not be demolished unless its owner can prove that a repair job would cost a minimum 120 percent of the structure's appraised value. Other homes may be razed at will.

As the effort advances, Hunt stresses that her supporters are going out of their way to make the new-home people feel welcome. The practice, she says, was established at the first neighborhood meeting after someone made an unfortunate "crack" about the McMansions. Hunt can't recall the exact comment but says the name-calling ended there.

"Someone said, 'Stop. We're neighbors first and foremost. That's more important than anything else we're doing,'" Hunt recalls, adding that, "this isn't something that has been divisive, and I think we've intentionally tried to keep it that way."

Colin Weeks has received fliers about Hunt's proposed district but hasn't attended any of the meetings. "I think I'm what they're trying to avoid," Weeks says. "If they don't like my home, I'm sorry."

Less than a year ago, Weeks considered himself lucky when he bought his house at 5301 Merrimac Avenue, a block over from Hunt's place. The house, custom built in 1999, is precisely the type of "modern suburban" construction that sparked Hunt's rebellion. With 3,000 square feet of living area, standard for the new homes, the red-brick house is portly compared to its neighbors. Its façade does not include a front porch, and its multiple gables are less dramatic than those of its neighbors. To Weeks, however, the house is simply a modern version of the old.

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley