The Aldredge House seems to be all things to many people. To some neighbors, it is a nuisance with absentee owners. To friends, it is a historic home that should be preserved for educational purposes and the enjoyment of the community.
After years of infighting, the two sides found some peace in the past two years, but a revised request for nighttime events has put that tepid alliance back on shaky ground.
Friends of the Aldredge House (FOAH) formed recently with the goal to transform the property into a historic home open to the public. “We want it to always be open to the public, in more fun and exciting ways than it has been in the past. It is one of the few things that hasn’t changed in Dallas,” says Marianne Howells, FOAH president.
The organization came to be after Swiss Avenue neighbors got together to discuss the home’s future. It has served as an event venue whose late and rowdy weddings have bothered neighbors and brought complaints. This caused FOAH to search for a middle path between the concerns of the neighbors and the needs of an aging property. They plan to raise funds from historic events and big donors, rather than raucous parties as in past years.
“We haven’t done weddings and late night stuff in over a year,” says Howell. “We don’t want it to be unpleasant for the neighbors, we want them to be happy.”
Neighbors agree the stately street has been quieter in recent years, but many remain skeptical of FOAH and its mission. The same week the nonprofit group formed, planning conditions were submitted to the city that requests approval for a large number of events at the Aldrege House.
Specifically, the Dallas County Medical Society Alliance, which owns and manages the home, is asking annually for two events with up to 150 people, 10 events with up to 120 people, 48 events with up to 60 people, and an unlimited number of events with up to 30 people. With a special use permit, the parties have the potential to last all night, with hours set from 6 p.m.-8 a.m. the next day, although “general hours” are 9 a.m.-10 p.m. The Dallas Plan Commission has not yet ruled on the new conditions.
When asked about the perceived conflict between the FOAH intentions and the revised application, Howells says there is a need for immediate maintenance funds while the new group develops long-term fundraising plans. “We want to begin an endowment so that they won’t have to do big events, but it will take a little time. The alliance wants to make sure that they can still pay for the house in the meantime. … What I want to see is a compromise, where everybody gets a good part of what they want. Where the neighborhood is not being bothered and the house is being maintained.”
David Dean, adjacent neighbor and former Texas Secretary of State, says that these new conditions would legalize illegal activities. “It’s not about the parties, we all love to entertain,” Dean says. “It’s about making money and the ‘quiet enjoyment’ of the home.”
“Quiet enjoyment” is a legal term that guarantees “the right to exclude others from the premises, the right to peace and quiet, the right to clean premises” for a landowner. Dean and others say the Aldredge House has violated that covenant.
There is, potentially, a lot of money on the line.
Wedding-spot.com lists the Aldredge House rental rate as between $7,364 and $19,697 per wedding. It hosted 26 weddings in 2015, which means a revenue of anywhere from $191,464-$512,122. That’s down from 2014, when more than 40 weddings were held on the residential street. Plus there’s the rehearsal dinners, photo shoots, bridal showers and other events throughout the year.
Barbara McDaniel, who lives across the street from the Aldredge House, says her ideal owner for the house would be “someone to take care of it, restore it, preserve it, and occupy it on some level. We want the house to join into the neighborhood in another way, not commercialize it.”
Even the skeptical neighbors agree that if FOAH uses the house as promised, they would become its biggest supporters. “We love their house more than they do. I sent in my membership of the Friends application,” McDaniel says.
But the historic bad blood, mixed with this new planning condition request, have many neighbors waiting to see what happens next.
Correction: This version clarifies two points: That late night events are only allowed with a special use permit, and that this request for planning conditions is a revision of planning conditions submitted in Aug. 2015.
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