West Dallas 400-foot tower: How it started and how it’s going

By |Published On: December 7, 2021|Categories: West Dallas|

Editor’s note: This timeline originally published on Dec. 7. On Dec. 8, City Council voted to send this zoning proposal back to the City Plan Commission. We’ll be updating the timeline as the case progresses and sharing updates via social media (@dallasfreepress), email and texts, in both English and Spanish.

The developer of Trinity GrovesWest Dallas Investments, has been buying parcels in the West Dallas neighborhood for more than a decade with 127 properties now in its portfolio, according to a Dallas Free Press analysis of Dallas Central Appraisal District records. Most of their holdings are south of Singleton Avenue, where they have few zoning restrictions, height or otherwise, on what they can build.

There is one lot, however, just north of Singleton where West Dallas Investments doesn’t have carte blanche — a vacant 3.76-acre lot at the base of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge that currently acts as a parking lot for Trinity Groves restaurants. The developers want to build a 400-foot office tower that they believe will entice the likes of a Fortune 500 company such as Amazon, AT&T, Google and Toyota. The current zoning only allows a height of up to 200 feet, but the homes across the street in the historic La Bajada neighborhood limit the height even more.

For more than two years, West Dallas Investments has been trying to win favor from La Bajada neighbors, its board, the West Dallas community, and the City Plan Commission. They’ve run into opposition from almost every direction, but despite this, the developers have appealed their case to City Council, where it is on the agenda this Wednesday, Dec. 8.

District 6 Councilman Omar Narvaez, who represents West Dallas, told Dallas Free Press he won’t publicly comment on the case until it is heard by council. We reached out to the newly elected La Bajada board for their thoughts but haven’t yet received a response.

Nearly a year ago, we wrote a story about whether the fate of West Dallas rests on a 400-foot tower. A year later, that fate is still uncertain. We’ve pulled together a timeline of how it started and how’s it’s going.

Jan. 9, 2007: West Dallas Investments purchases its first of nine parcels that will ultimately form the triangular-shaped lot north of Singleton and east of Gulden, with the Trinity River levee forming its hypotenuse.

March 2, 2012: The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge opens, connecting Downtown to West Dallas.

May 23, 2012: The City of Dallas expands the Sports Arena Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, adding an 89.2-acre subdistrict in West Dallas and roughly $226 million to the pool of tax dollars developers can recoup when investing in property and increasing its taxable value.

Nov. 20, 2015: West Dallas Investments purchases the last of nine parcels at Gulden and Singleton, completing its amassing of 163,966 square feet to create a 3.76-acre lot. The parcels’ total taxable value, according to Dallas Central Appraisal District (DCAD), was $572,610 at the time of each purchase. West Dallas Investments bulldozed any remaining residential homes and commercial structures, and DCAD says the vacant land is now worth $2,668,226.

Nov. 19, 2019: West Dallas Investments hosts a Thanksgiving dinner for residents of La Bajada, the historic neighborhood adjacent to the lot at Singleton and Gulden, and pitches the idea of a 400-foot office tower flanked by a community tribute plaza dedicated to West Dallas veterans. The neighbors at the dinner vote to support the project.

Dec. 6, 2019: West Dallas Investments files its zoning change application, requesting a public development district (PD) to allow a “special office project and community memorial plaza.” The parcels’ current zoning designation is “industrial research district,” which allows for a height of 200 feet but also submits to a residential “proximity slope” to protect single family homes from having to be right next to tall buildings. Because of single-family homes across the street from the lot along Gulden, the height limitation is closer to 115 feet.

ENZ190-158_sent_12-23-19 (1) by Dallas Free Press on Scribd

January 15, 2020: The City of Dallas mails public notices to 60 property owners within 500 feet of the Singleton-Gulden lot, which is required by law when property owners request a zoning change. One owner responded in favor; 59 owners don’t respond at all.

City of Dallas Zoning Case … by Dallas Free Press

Nov. 2, 2020: West Dallas 1, a grassroots umbrella group for West Dallas neighborhoods, votes to oppose the proposed zoning change during its general meeting.

Nov. 5, 2020: Delayed by the pandemic, zoning case Z190-158 first appears on a City Plan Commission agenda, where 15 commissioners, appointed by the city council and mayor, review and make recommendations on zoning changes before they are heard by city council. The case is held under advisement until Dec. 3, 2020.

November 2020: The seven board members of the La Bajada Neighborhood Community Association send a letter to La Bajada homeowners telling them they have solidified a “community benefits agreement” with West Dallas Investments. The letter notes that, along with the Veterans Tribute Plaza offered during the November 2019 community meetings, the developers also will fund items such as “home repair assistance for La Bajada Residents” and “funding assistance and collaboration for community and cultural events.” In return, the board agreed to support West Dallas Investments’ “two proposed development projects and their pending zoning cases,” — an 8-story office building on Singleton and Herbert, and a 400-foot, 28- to 32-story office building on Singleton and Gulden.

Letter to La Bajada Neighbo… by Dallas Free Press

Nov. 30, 2020: Councilman Omar Narvaez hosts a meeting where West Dallas Investments can present their plans to the larger West Dallas community. Neighbors overwhelmingly express concerns about their property taxes increasing and traffic worsening as a result of the office tower. Managing partner Jim Reynolds responds by emphasizing all of the perks for La Bajada and West Dallas that will accompany the office tower. When neighbors press him to see the community benefits agreement between the La Bajada board and West Dallas Investments, Reynolds tells them he is “not at liberty” to share the contract, and the board later confirms that West Dallas Investments “included a confidentiality clause” in the legal document.

Dec. 3, 2020: District 6 City Plan Commissioner Debra Carpenter again moves to hold the zoning case under advisement, this time until Dec. 17, 2020.

Dec. 17, 2020: Eleven people sign up to speak on the zoning case, seven in favor and four against. Case delays and unclear agenda wording meant few West Dallas neighbors signed up to speak by the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline before the Thursday meeting. After a long debate, Carpenter motions for approval, but in a rare move, her fellow commissioners don’t follow their colleague’s lead, recommending denial of the change with a 6-8 vote. Carpenter makes a second motion for approval, this time with a height of 300 feet, but another commissioner encourages her to withdraw the motion and hold the case. Carpenter heeds her suggestion.

Jan. 12, 2021: Dallas Free Press files an open records request with the City of Dallas, asking for the “West Dallas Investments’ community benefits agreement with the La Bajada neighborhood association board (legal document provided to city plan commissioners concerning two zoning cases).” If the document has been shared with city staff, appointed commissioners or elected city councilmembers, then it is subject to public review, according to open records laws.

Jan. 21, 2021: The morning that zoning case Z190-158 is set to be heard again by the City Plan Commissioner, commissioners are sent a letter from La Bajada neighbors with 139 signatures opposing the zoning change. Thirty-seven people sign up to speak on the case, 18 for and 19 against, many of whom have requested time off work to do so. Carpenter pulls the case hearing from the agenda at the request of West Dallas Investments, moving it to the April 22 agenda.

La Bajada neighbors opposit… by Dallas Free Press

La Bajada signatures opposi… by Dallas Free Press

Feb. 5, 2021: After several exchanges, the City responds to Dallas Free Press’ open records request with a document West Dallas Investments released, summarizing the benefits in the agreement with La Bajada. The full legal contract is not provided. The city stated it “reviewed its files and has located responsive records to your request. There was no additional information from other city departments.”

La Bajada community benefit… by Dallas Free Press

April 22, 2021: The case appears on the April 22 City Plan Commission agenda but is held until July 15.

July 15, 2021: Though staff recommends approving the zoning change with some revisions, Carpenter moves instead to deny the change without prejudice. She notes that West Dallas Investments has “hit the reset button on this particular site” and established a new steering committee to see if a consensus can be reached with neighbors in terms of what can be done on the site. West Dallas Investments will “refile if and when a consensus is reached,” she says. Laura Hoffmann, which represents West Dallas Investments, notes that they support Carpenter’s motion. Commissioners vote unanimously to recommend denial.

Oct. 30, 2021: La Bajada Neighborhood Community Association holds board elections, and an almost entirely new slate of officers now leads the neighborhood, only one of whom signed the community benefits agreement.

Nov. 10, 2021: Zoning case Z190-158 appears on the City Council agenda, with staff recommending approval. Rather than returning to the City Plan Commission with a revised zoning proposal, West Dallas Investments filed a request to appeal zoning case Z190-158 to the City Council, according to a city spokeswoman, who adds that even if the the City Plan Commission recommends the denial of a zoning proposal, only City Council has the authority to deny a zoning change. Narvaez asks for the case to be held until the Dec. 8 council meeting.

Nov. 30, 2021: Councilman Omar Narvaez tells Dallas Free Press via email that he has “a long-standing policy to not give public comments on zoning cases ahead of them being heard by the council.” Dallas Free Press calls the city planning department asking to speak with the planner assigned to case Z190-158. Neva Dean, who originally handled the case, is no longer with the city. We are told that the case is inactive and unassigned. When we raise the question with a city spokeswoman, we’re told the case has been reassigned to city planner Ryan Mulkey, and that “staff has not conducted further review of the request since it went before the City Plan Commission.”

Dec. 8, 2021: West Dallas Councilman Omar Narvaez moved to defer the decision until Feb. 23, but many of his council colleagues expressed doubt about whether the City Plan Commission had thoroughly vetted the zoning change. After 30 minutes of back-and-forth, Narvaez pulled his motion to defer the case. He told council he had been texting with West Dallas Investments, and he moved to send the case back to the City Plan Commission. The council unanimously agreed.

To weigh in on this zoning proposal, contact District 6 Councilman Omar Narvaez at 214.670.6931 or omar.narvaez@dallascityhall.com.

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