May 27, 2008

From the desk of Rep. Allen Vaught

In recent years, zoning issues have been a prevalent concern in East Dallas due to the history and charm of our neighborhoods. Although zoning is typically an issue handled at the county or city level, several bills were introduced in Austin during the last legislative session that would have changed how local entities handle zoning. These bills did not complete the legislative process. Had they become law, they would have stripped away the local control that neighborhoods rely on for zoning protection. This article is the first of three where I hope to provide some insight on the different zoning processes, summarize the current zoning of District 107, and outline recent proposed changes that have brought about community discussion.

Zoning Basics

Zoning was initially designed as a way to divide up land according to types of use, such as residential, commercial, recreational or industrial. Through zoning land, a municipality can protect people from large-scale sudden changes and help to keep areas cohesive.

Each type of zoning has a set of regulations that controls different variables for property. These regulations cover the use, size, and the placement of structures on a lot. Zoning also controls such details as the height of structures, parking requirements, and the proportion of land that is landscaped or paved.

There are both application and hearing processes that must be completed in order to change the zoning regulations of an area. Having both of these steps ensures that growth and change is possible, yet in a predictable, stable and organized manner. In the city of Dallas, the entire process usually takes around 10-12 weeks and includes two public hearings.

Residential Zoning

Residential neighborhoods all have underlying zoning regulations that give basic guidelines as to the size of the lot and the yard, and use of the space. In general, residential neighborhoods include the distinctions of single family, townhouse, duplex, and multi-family dwellings. More information may be found on the City of Dallas website

In addition to this underlying zoning, an “overlay” may be placed to add further restrictions. The three types of overlays are the Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay, the Conservation District, and the Historic District. Each overlay comes with different rules governing its implementation, and each regulates different aspects of development.

Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay

The easiest overlay to obtain is the Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay or NSO. This type of overlay was created by an ordinance passed by the city in November of 2005. This overlay may only be obtained by areas designated as single-family residences. NSOs were created in response to complaints that the process to create conservation or historic districts was too lengthy, in some cases taking years. Thus, NSOs were designed to be simpler and more expedient than the more traditional zoning alternatives so that residents might have a more immediate voice in the use of land in their neighborhoods.

Since being able to apply for an NSO is a relatively new development, the city staff is making a few changes to the process. Current recommendations include adding an additional public hearing to the process in order to facilitate communication and help minimize tension between neighbors. Although the current process is not perfect, it encourages residents to become more involved in their neighborhoods, and provides an opportunity for many to gain a deeper understanding of how their city government functions.

Neighborhood Stabilization Overlays are handled through the City of Dallas Current Planning Division. You may contact this division at (214) 670-4209 or get more information at

Neighborhood Preservation - Conservation and Historic Districts

For additional regulations, neighborhoods often try to create Conservation or Historic Districts. Both Conservation and Historic Districts can include other buildings besides single-family homes within their districts. These two zoning types are handled through the city’s Long Range Planning Division. This division may be reached at (214) 670-3972, and more information can be obtained at

Conservation Districts have been around since 1988, and exist prevalently in East Dallas. Creating this type of district generally takes between 12-18 months or occasionally longer. A Conservation District usually aims to preserve architectural styles, setbacks, density, and height of structures, but is tailored to the desires of the neighborhood. Alterations to structures must be approved by city staff, but the approval process is typically completed within two business days. More information can be obtained at the Conservation District website at

Historic Districts are also known as City Designated Landmark Districts. The City of Dallas defines Landmark Districts as areas with a significant concentration of structures unified by their architectural style or related historical events. The significance of the district is recognized by its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as being a City of Dallas Landmark District. These areas are protected by historic district ordinances with preservation criteria, specific to each district, administered by the Dallas Landmark Commission. Please visit for more information.

Most of the city’s landmark districts lie in the central areas of the city such as in Oak Cliff, Fair Park, and Old East Dallas. None of these areas fall within the boundaries of District 107.

In the next article, I will explore the zoning in District 107 and provide a brief overview of both the proposed and actual zoning changes that have recently taken place.