A Debate Develops Over Buildings In Bishop Arts
The Bishop Arts District in North Oak Cliff has emerged as one of Dallas’ hottest neighborhoods. With developers swooping in, it’s become ground zero in a hot debate about exactly how the new Bishop Arts should look.
This summer, a company called Alamo Manhattan lit the fuse with plans to build a five-story “Gateway" to the mostly one-story neighborhood. The original design had 57,000 square feet of apartments, retail and parking. After a public outcry, the developer pulled back the proposal, and promised a revised plan that will be unveiled Thursday.
Some longtime residents are worried they’ll be pushed out.
What residents say
One recent day, Ramon Mejia drove down Davis Street, the main street of Bishop Arts. He rolled by the low-slung shops this area is known for. He pointed to a few stand-alone restaurants and bars where the Bishop Arts Gateway would go.
Mejia’s lived a few miles south of here for almost his whole life. He was born up the street, at Methodist Hospital.
His mom and dad and aunts and uncles still live in the same houses, in the mostly Latino, working-class areas.
Mejia, an activist who’s fighting against development in the area, thinks projects like the one proposed by Alamo Manhattan are going to push out people who look like him.
“I’m not concerned about aesthetics. If a big building was being built but it was being for the community and it was going to be used for community members, and I’d be totally for it,” Mejia says. “But if it’s going to be built as just incentive to bring people from North Dallas or Uptown or people have money … why would I want it here?”
Rents go up; people move out
The city requires Alamo Manhattan to make 20 percent of its units part of the affordable housing program. The group’s apartment/retail complex is also designed to include “micro units,” which it touts as more cost-effective.
But Mejia says he’s already seen places and people go, including La Original Michoacana, an ice cream shop that was shuttered when its rent shot up from $1,600 to $6,000. He points out that Latino families in the blocks surrounding the arts district are starting to sell out to lock in profits and avoid rising property taxes.
Other critics -- like landscape architect and UT-Arlington professor Kevin Sloan -- say several Bishop Arts development proposals have followed a 2010 zoning change that allows denser, five- to eight- story buildings.
Keep Bishop Arts distinctive, supporters say
And it’s causing a big problem, Sloan told KERA earlier this summer.
“If Dallas is going to compete more on a world stage with other North American and global cities, it needs to not turn Bishop Arts into a place that looks like everywhere else,” he says. “We need to turn everywhere else into their version of a Bishop Arts.”
Developer says: We like Bishop Arts
But Matt Segrest, president of the Alamo Manhattan group, argues thathis group isn’t trying to change the neighborhood.
“One of the reasons why we want to be in Bishop Arts area is because we like it, we’re trying to connect with that, to conform to that, to complement that,” he says.
According to Segrest, the new round of plans set to be released Thursday night will include changes to the buildings’ form and scale, as well as more architectural detail. He hopes the new plans will prove he’s trying to fit into the neighborhood’s character. A community meeting about the plan starts Thursday at at 7 p.m. at Methodist Hospital’s Hitt Auditorium.
“That public feedback is part of the process, it’s a very rigorous process, where you’ve got to kind of submit yourself to the community and hopefully take it with no ego and learn from it,” Segrest says.
If his timeline goes according to plan, Segrest says construction will start next year.
Update: On Sept. 3, Alamo Manhattan presented its revised plans -- and some skeptics are happy about the changes. Learn more here.