Explainer A data-driven story that provides background, definition and detail on a specific topic.

Civic explainer: What is a ‘placetype’?

By Renee Umsted,
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February 15, 2024

Dallas News

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After years of work, the City of Dallas is months away from having an updated land use policy, called ForwardDallas.

This long-term plan will set guidelines about how public and private land throughout the city should be used and developed. The plan will be used, along with zoning, to ensure that the city’s goals for development are met.

There are several elements to ForwardDallas, and “placetypes” are central to understanding the plan and how it will affect Dallas residents and property owners.

What is a ‘placetype’?

Placetypes are descriptors; they identify areas based on the components of an area. According to the city’s ForwardDallas website, “a placetype represents a holistic, larger scale vision for a community or place that incorporates a desired mix of land uses, design, and density.”

Zoning determines whether a parcel of land can be a house, a retail store, an office space and so on. A placetype wouldn’t do that; rather, it identifies a mix of different land uses that could or should be in a designated area.

Planners at the City of Dallas have released two drafts of the ForwardDallas plan (in September 2023 and December 2023), and each has a list of placetypes. The most recent plan has 13 placetypes.

Explore the placetypes from both plans in the document viewer below.

The Community Residential placetype, which is primarily comprised of single-family homes, represents the largest percentage of land in Dallas, according to the latest version of the ForwardDallas draft plan. Examples of Community Residential include neighborhoods like Lakewood, Queen City and Los Altos.

Each placetype has primary and supporting land uses, which are indicated by black and white circles in the above documents, respectively. The Community Mixed Use placetype, for example, has primary uses of apartments (multi-family), mixed-use structures, lodging, commercial and office. Its supporting uses are private open space, public open space, single family detached, single family attached, multiplex, civic/public institutional, transportation, utility and light industrial.

Primary and supporting uses identify the types of buildings and settings that could be included in a given placetype. Primary uses are more prominent and prevalent than supporting uses.

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What is a placetype map?

A placetype map is one of the components of the ForwardDallas plan. It shows where placetypes are located throughout Dallas.   

Use the slider below to compare the maps from the September 2023 and December 2023 ForwardDallas draft plans. View a larger version of the September map here (scroll to page 46-47), and view a larger version of the December map here.

At a Feb. 7 council briefing, Andrea Gilles, the interim director for Planning & Urban Design, said the placetype map was not finalized and a handful of areas are still being discussed.

How do placetypes work together?

The ForwardDallas plan includes guidelines for which placetypes should and should not be adjacent to each other, and how development along placetype boundaries should work.

For example, according to the plan, the Industrial Hub placetype should not be next to the Community Residential placetype. And any placetypes that are adjacent to Community Residential areas “should match the low-rise scale of this placetype at or along the adjacency before rising to mid or high rise.”

What’s the difference between placetypes and zoning?

Dallas’ land use plan and zoning are related, but they’re not the same.

Placetypes — and the land use plan — are meant to be used as guides, a vision for what an area should look like. Zoning regulations, however, dictate how specific properties have to be developed.

“A plan cannot tell you, ‘You must do this,'” Gilles said at the Feb. 7 council briefing.

For example, according to the FowardDallas Draft Plan from December, the Community Residential placetype is made up mostly of single-family homes. But parks, schools and places of worship are scattered throughout it, along with local commercial and office spaces. There also are different housing choices, such as “neighborhood-scaled apartments” and “sensitively integrated missing middle housing, such as duplexes and smaller-scaled multiplexes.”

All of these land uses are in the same placetype. But they do not all share the same zoning classifications.

After ForwardDallas is adopted, the city can use placetypes to identify where rezoning should happen or which rezoning requests are appropriate, Gilles said.

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She provided an example: Suppose an applicant requested a rezone to build an industrial manufacturing facility on a parcel within the Community Mixed Use placetype. A city planner would then consult ForwardDallas — specifically, the character description and future land use mix for the Community Mixed Use placetype. The plan shows that heavy industrial uses are not compatible in the placetype, nor do they align with the character description. This would make the planner question whether the rezone request is appropriate for that parcel, Giles said.

Another example she gave: Suppose an applicant requested a rezone to build a tall tower, set back far from the street with ample parking in front of the building, within the Community Mixed Use placetype. While the use — perhaps an apartment or a mixed-use structure — is appropriate for the placetype, the scale and form may not match the placetype’s urban design guidelines. In Community Mixed Use areas, walkability is prioritized. Parking lots are not recommended along roadway frontage, and landscaping is encouraged to screen parking from public rights-of-way. Again, in this case, ForwardDallas would help a planner make recommendations to approve or deny the rezone, Giles said.

But she added that while planners on the City’s staff are limited to consulting just the plan, the City Plan Commission and City Council can consider other factors.

“You can grow the scope of what goes into your decision,” Gilles said. “Again, the land use plan, hopefully, will help you with making that decision.”

And according to the FowardDallas website, “zoning will become a critical tool for ensuring that development aligns with the goals and objectives set forth in ForwardDallas.”

What will happen to neighborhood plans once ForwardDallas is adopted?

ForwardDallas won’t be in competition with neighborhood or corridor plans. Instead, smaller-scale plans, such as the West Dallas community vision plan and the South Dallas/Fair Park Area Plan, can be incorporated into the citywide plan.

“We know that there are certain areas in the City that need more fine-grain planning,” Gilles said. “And once we have the citywide plan in place, we can go ahead and follow up with a neighborhood plan or a corridor plan, whatever’s applicable. And then once adopted, that becomes a component of the citywide comprehensive plan. So they carry the same weight.”

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Besides placetypes, what else is included in ForwardDallas?

ForwardDallas has five land use themes, or goals: environmental justice, transit-oriented development and connectivity, housing choice and access, economic development and revitalization, and community and urban design.

Accompanying each goal is a series of specific objectives and corresponding action steps.

These themes indicate that the City intends to address several of the concerns highlighted by South Dallas and West Dallas stakeholders — such as problems with proximity to industrial facilities and a lack of affordable housing options.

For example, the environmental justice goal is to: “Actively and equitably protect communities from the effects of environmental hazards while furthering environmental quality through protection, conservation, and sustainable practices within the natural and built environments.” To achieve that, according to the plan, the city should support environmental justice goals, lessen negative environmental effects from new development and support protection of natural assets.

What’s next in the ForwardDallas update process?

Dallas Planning and Urban Design briefed the City Plan Commission on the land use plan Thursday, Feb. 15. During that meeting, staff said the next ForwardDallas draft plan would be released in February. However, the plan would include the same placetype map that was included in the December draft. A new placetype map is expected to be released in early spring.

Staff are also updating the draft plan with feedback from the Comprehensive Land Use Policy Commitee, and they’ll give that draft to the plan commission.

Gilles said the goal is to have a plan commission-recommended document to city councilmembers by May, in hopes of having an adopted land use plan by June. Even after the plan is adopted, though, the City will need to periodically update it.

Dallas residents can still offer feedback on ForwardDallas, including by speaking at City Plan Commission meetings.

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