After years of blithe stagnation, a long-forgotten lot near the Dallas North Tollway finally received a bid. The lot, held by the city to build a library with bond dollars, was never developed. Instead, since 2006, the Forest Lane lot has been vacant. But that is about to change.
Dallas scrapped the idea of building a library on the lot and, in 2018, decided to sell it and use those funds to renovate the Preston Royal Library a short drive away from Forest Lane. It wasn’t until recently that the city received a reasonable offer, but there was a catch. The developer, Forest Park Development LLC, requested that the three-acre lot be rezoned to allow more density.
What is Zoning?
Before we continue, it’s important to familiarize yourself with zoning laws and their purpose in a county, city, or municipality. Zoning laws in Dallas divide the land into districts; these districts have consistent regulations on what the land can be used for, the height of buildings, setbacks, lot sizes, and floor area ratio.
According to Dallas City Hall, “Zoning Regulations help ensure a city will grow and change in a managed and predictable way to help safeguard the health, safety and welfare of the general public.”
To develop land, the project must be in accordance with present zoning or, as in the case of Forest Park Development LLC, the developer must request a rezoning. In this case, the developer requested a rezoning to allow for more density.
Why Zoning matters for Forest Lane
Prior to the request, the zoning decreed that the lot could hold no more than nine single-family homes, with at least 16,000 square feet per lot. However, with the rezoning, the lot would hold 26 single-family homes on a minimum of 4,300 square foot lots. That is a 65% decrease in lot size. Despite the downsized lots, the homes will still be priced at $1 million or more.
The request did not pass unchallenged, however, and the neighboring Melshire Estates had numerous concerns.
The Case Against Rezoning Forest Lane
Residents of Melshire Estates brought their grievances to the City Council regarding the proposed zoning change. Their concerns consisted of:
- Worries about privacy and windows facing their properties.
- Increased traffic on the already busy Forest Lane.
- A desire for the lot to be rezoned to allow for mixed-use development and improve walkability in the area.
But, above all, the rezoning request itself was the issue. The developers and City Council want to see the area rezoned, but the City Staff and neighborhood are less confident it’s the right fit.
Naysayers fear the incongruity between zoning within a walkable area will be not only improper usage of the land (per prior zoning) but also an eyesore: a neighborhood lacking symmetry and continuity. In their eyes, the present zoning is proper, or at least preferable to the proposed change. They are not merely trying to stand in the way of progress nor maintain the stagnant life of the lot, but carefully determine the course of neighborhood evolution. This, in essence, is why zoning laws exist.
The Case for Rezoning Forest Lane
Despite the recommendation of City Staff and the brouhaha of neighbors, most City Council members thought the rezoning proposition was a good idea. Some positive considerations include:
- Profits from the land sale will be used to redevelop a nearby library.
- Transforming a stagnant property into a productive one.
- Developers addressed some negative feedback, such as widening sidewalks to six feet, adding more trees, and restricting north-facing windows so no views encroach on neighbors’ privacy.
- The addition of pricey homes will increase the tax revenue.
Ultimately, the City Council believes density is the ideal growth strategy for North Dallas. And the opposition symbolizes a cultural resistance to change that could stall future developments of other homes at every price point. These are expensive homes, and even they are receiving pushback; what does this mean for low-income housing? The frustrated Councilman Jamie Resendez said: “This is an area of opportunity.”
The Resolution of the Forest Lane Zoning Battle
All in all, the request passed. The city rezoned Forest Lane, and the developers are clear to produce more densely packed homes on the long-neglected lot. Change is headed to Forest Lane, and more change is to come in Dallas. This rezoning win marks the City’s excitement for more density and sets a precedent for more approved density rezoning requests in the future.