The Dallas City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a rezoning plan that will reshape a stretch of Henderson Avenue.
While the plan had strong support from neighbors, it faced fierce opposition from some vocal East Dallas residents who believe the project is too big and will bring too much traffic to the area. But the developer, Mark Masinter, agreed to scale back portions of the project.
That was enough to win Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano’s support.
"I know a lot of people are going to still be upset," he said. "I think a lot of folks wanted to deny it outright."
Masinter had sold the plan for retail, offices, green space, greenhouses and restaurants as an antidote to "stick-built apartments and bars" that the area could get with zoning in place. But some active residents, such as musician Bruce Richardson, decried it as ruinous to the area. Richardson said Wednesday that the project’s size and scope caused him "abject terror."
The vote on the case had been postponed several times as Medrano and council member Philip Kingston tried to work out a compromise.
"This was a hard zoning case, and I have friends on both sides," Medrano said. He said he received 51 emails in support of Masinter’s plans and 29 opposed.
The 4.5-acre development will be along the north side of Henderson between Glencoe Street to McMillan Ave. Since the City Plan Commission approved it last June, the buildings have been scaled back both in height and size during negotiations with residents and city officials.
The square footage has been cut twice from 190,000 square feet to the 156,500-square-foot project that was approved Wednesday. That breaks down to about 72,500 square feet of office, 72,000 square feet of retail and 12,000 square feet of restaurant space. The total retail space is equivalent to the size of a traditional supermarket, but the plan is to have several small shops facing Henderson. There’s a two-level underground parking garage with 575 spaces, down from the 820 originally proposed.
"I’m incredibly relieved. We’ve worked so hard and long on this," Masinter said after the approval.
"I started having conversations with the community about five years ago, and I received strong points of view for what people wanted to see there." He started out going door-to-door meeting with residents, he said, "because it’s a very precious part of Dallas."
That’s the same reason that some residents used to object to the development.
Cheryl Kellis has lived in the Lower Greenville area since 1980 and said she’s concerned that the characteristics of the area that make it desirable — the old homes and mature trees — are going away.
"Developers are calling the shots. They want to turn the area into Plano," she said.
She and others spoke up during the meeting about concerns that cars will cut through the neighborhood side streets and create traffic problems. There was a request for another traffic study to be done.
Virginia McAlester, a preservationist and longtime resident of East Dallas, said the project’s height and size of the buildings break with the design of the area. "What’s most depressing to me is that this will set a precedent for other zoning changes," she said.
The Plan Commission rezoned the parcel from residential to commercial. Other residents said the zoning that carefully crafted stretches of residential with commercial districts in the 1990s is being disregarded.
But younger residents moving in said they would like to see Henderson have more of a walkable feel to it, with more places to shop and eat. Some who spoke in support of the project said they shared Masinter’s vision.
"What I see is a cluster of properties that are disjointed. The area lacks any daytime activities. There are only bars and apartments, and no one is there during the day," said Ian Blair, owner of a four-plex near Masinter’s planned development.
The City Plan Commission staff sent 214 notices to property owners within 500 feet of the development and 126 were in favor with 22 in opposition.
Masinter wanted to put an urban garden on top of the office building, but that idea died when the building was lowered. Instead, there will be about 2,000 square feet of garden at street level, he said.
"There’s still a lot to do before construction can begin," Masinter said. The renderings have to be turned into construction plans. Work could start by the end of this year. Construction will take about 20 months, so the buildings will be completed by the end of 2020, he said.
Masinter’s project is moving ahead as ownership of several buildings on the other side of the N. Central Expressway has changed hands. The family investment arm of Austin tech billionaire Michael Dell has purchased several blocks along Knox and Travis streets and McKinney and Cole avenues.