Dallas Discusses Historic Preservation Tools

Dallas Historic Preservation
Dallas Historic Preservation | Image by City of Dallas

Dallas City Council was recently briefed on strategies to preserve historic and cultural communities around the metroplex.

The action plan consists of new strategies to create a clear vision and mission for preserving Dallas neighborhoods without historic buildings.

Initially founded in 1963 following the John F. Kennedy assassination, the program was intended to help restore Dallas’ pride during turbulent times.

“The preservation program was created 50 years ago and has saved many important neighborhoods and landmarks despite, at times, inconsistent funding and political support,” said Arturo Del Castillo, assistant director of the Department of Planning + Urban Design (P+UD) at the April 3 city council briefing.

While preservation challenges have evolved, the tools have not evolved along with them to address the challenges and circumstances communities now face 50 years later, stated Castillo.

The goal of updating the City’s strategy is to clarify and outline the preservation program’s role and relationship to other City services, including collaboration and implementation of steps necessary to achieve the vision for the program.

One essential step in going forward is targeting the committee’s staffing shortages.

“We need help,” said Andrea Gilles, interim director of P+UD. Gilles noted that increasing staffing allows the department to augment core functions already being done and gives staff more bandwidth to do more work in neighborhoods.

“It’s hard to take a breather to think about the future of our core functions,” said Gilles.

The strategy includes a first-year action plan consisting of an implementation roadmap and a summary of resources that could be used in upcoming budget processes to allocate enough funds to implement proposed strategies.

At the city council’s request, the committee has been meeting at least monthly for the past year, taking input from Dallas citizens and preservation experts. According to the committee, over 100 residents representing all 14 Dallas districts expressed their opinions, and over 30 community-based organizations provided input. In addition, 12 City departments were interviewed to discuss recommended design, and 14 workshops were held to meet with diverse historic preservation advocates. The committee joined forces with numerous landmark commissioners to gain insight into what changes they believe need to be seen.

Kas Tebbetts, an analyst with HR&A Advisors, emphasized the value of communities looking at non-zoning preservation tools.

“Folks need assistance navigating the preservation process,” said Tebbetts at the briefing. She told the story of a Dallas woman who needed help preserving her church and had a list of 40 different people she had already spoken to about it once she found Tebbetts, yet the woman still did not know what to do next.

Tebbetts echoed additional staffing needs to provide public education on preservation processes.

“I think this is a huge step forward,” said Council Member Paula Blackmon (District 9). Blackmon suggested the creation of a tool to assist every neighborhood in identifying historic areas and learning about the town’s history, stating, “I think it could deepen every resident’s relationship with our city.”

Council Member Paul Ridley (District 14) described some of the plan’s goals as “aspirational,” calling for a more detailed approach to achieving them.

The city council is scheduled to vote on the strategy on April 10.

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