It’s been a City ordinance for years.

Many homeowners believe it helps them keep their neighborhoods free of the riffraff. Many non-conforming-use property owners believe it’s a tool that can be used unjustly by residents to take away their rights.

Either way, the ordinance allows a Dallas property owner or resident to write a $500 check, file a complaint with the City and have a non-conforming use terminated by the Board of Adjustments.

Here’s a walk-through about how the process works.

  • A Dallas citizen or property owner writes a $500 check and files a complaint to have a non-conforming use terminated with the City’s Building Inspection Department at 320 E. Jefferson. To find out if a structure is non-conforming, call the department first at 948-4480 and ask.

A member of the department investigates the complaint to make sure the property is non-conforming. If it is not, the check and complaint are returned.

  • If the property is non-conforming, the case is forwarded to Elias Martinez, a senior planner with the Planning & Development Services of the City. Martinez is the administrator for the Board of Adjustments and handles use-termination cases.

Martinez sends the property owner a letter explaining the property is non-conforming and is going through the termination process. Martinez also subpoenas, on behalf of the Board of Adjustment, the owner’s financial statements regarding the property.

The property owner can either ignore the letter or call Martinez’s office and find out the process to get proper zoning.

  • If the property owner opts to try to get rezoned, Martinez files the complaint until the result is known.

To get rezoned, it costs from $400 to $1,000, and the property owner has to go through the Plan Commission.

If the property is successfully rezoned, the complaint is thrown out and the filer loses $500. If the property does not get rezoned, the complaint picks up where it left off.

  • If the property owner ignores the letter, Martinez goes to the Board of Adjustment for the first hearing on terminating the use. At this time, there are two things the board can do.

It can determine the property is non-conforming and go through the process to set a termination date. Or the board can determine the property is non-conforming but is not a nuisance, in which case it refers the property to the Plan Commission for rezoning.

If the Plan Commission approves the rezoning, it goes to the City Council for final approval.

However, if either the Plan Commission or the City Council does not approve the rezoning, it goes back to the Board of Adjustment and is terminated.

  • The termination date is determined by how much the owner paid for and invested in the property. The owner is allowed to operate until the investment has been recaptured.

If the property was purchased while it was non-conforming, the owner is not eligible to recapture the investment. If there is no investment to be recaptured, normally the board gives the property owner six months to terminate.

  • Once termination has been decided, the property owner can appeal the decision to the State District Court or apply for proper zoning through the Plan Commission.

However, the district court has yet to reverse a Board of Adjustment decision. The only thing the court has done is say the Board misinterpreted the financial information and needs to readjust the termination date.

  • If neither appeal process works, then the termination is executed.

The whole process takes anywhere from several months to several years.

(Sources for this information were Chris Bowers, an assistant city attorney, and Elias Martinez, a senior planner with the Planning & Development Development Services of the City.)

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