Dallas has several tools to preserve the character of neighborhoods: Neighborhoods Stabilization Overlays, Conservation Districts, and Historic Districts.
Historic districts are intended to preserve the distinctive architecture of a neighborhood and are generally the most regulated and strictly controlled. The homes must be fifty years or older for the neighborhood to qualify. Changes to a home’s exterior are subject to both Dallas regulations and national standards. The approval process includes review by a neighborhood taskforce, city staff, and in some cases, the landmark commission. Tax abatements are available for homes in historic districts.
A conservation district is intended to preserve a neighborhood’s character and include regulations developed by the neighborhood. The conservation district may be as simple or complex as the neighborhood desires. Typically, conservation districts preserve the massing and scale of the original homes, and often the architectural style as well. Changes to a home’s exterior must be approved by city staff, which usually takes only a few days if simple, and up to 30 days if complex. Conservation districts allow demolition and remodeling, though some require expansions to be to the back of the home not visible from the street. A petition signed by 75% of the property owners is required to begin the process. This document explains the process for conservation districts and also the difference between the various preservation tools.
Neighborhood stabilization overlays are a relatively new zoning tool that I’m proud to have had a hand in creating. Many neighborhoods aren’t interested in detailed architectural protections provided by conservation or historic districts, but want to address more basic issues like height and setback. Overlays may regulate front yard setbacks, side and corner yard setbacks, garage placement, and height. A petition signed by 75% of the property owners is required to begin the process. Once an overlay is in place, any modifications to a home require only a building permit.
All of these zoning tools go through a similar approval process, requiring a hearing before the City Plan Commission, then ultimate consideration by the City Council. This website provides more information about these zoning tools.
One final note: Some opponents of preservation districts have argued that these tools reduce property values and the ability to resell the property. The facts belie that argument. In Dallas, homes in these districts equal or exceed the resale value of similar homes on streets right outside the district’s boundaries.