The home at 6016 Gaston, along with the two vacant lots next door, will soon be apartments. (Photo by Emily Charrier)

The home at 6016 Gaston, along with the two vacant lots next door, will soon be apartments. (Photo by Emily Charrier)

New apartments are coming to Gaston at Glasgow, with either a design some neighbors don’t like, or one they really don’t like. Which one will prevail will depend on how the city interprets Planning District 99, with neighbors hoping it votes to keep the single-family character of the area.

The boundaries of PD-99. (City of Dallas)

The boundaries of PD-99. (City of Dallas)

First, some history: PD 99 was created in 1978, a time of rapid growth in the neighborhood. The 74-acre site stretches down Gaston, forming a general rectangle between Fitzhugh and Nesbitt Street (see map). It has your basic restrictions on things like yard setbacks and height, but it also has a somewhat unusual clause that states, “Development of lots that become vacant after the passage of the ordinance, but having contained a structure originally built as a single family structure and in existence at the time of the passage of the ordinance, is limited to single family structures for single family uses.” Basically, if a single-family house once sat on the land, the only structure that can be built on that parcel in another single-family home. But what exactly constitutes a single-family house will be up for discussion. 

The two-story brick home at 6016 Gaston once served as a residential center for Timberlawn Mental Health System. To avoid institutionalizing patients, a movement in the 1970s and ’80s relocated dozens to group homes, an attempt to create a family-like setting. But the house has long been vacant, left neglected to rot on the market for almost five years before it was purchased earlier this year by Magnolia Property Company, a boutique developer with apartment projects all over Dallas.

“[Timberlawn] didn’t realize a water line busted and let it run for three months,” Randy Primrose, principal of Magnolia, told a group of concerned neighbors who met with the developers last night at Times Ten Cellars to discuss the project.

6016 Gaston was once a group home for Timberlawn Mental Health Services. (photo by Emily Charrier)

6016 Gaston was once a group home for Timberlawn Mental Health Services. (Photo by Emily Charrier)

The neighbors were united behind David Bailey, a nearly 30-year resident who raised his children on Gaston and organized the opposition to the proposed apartments. “There’s not that much single-family on Gaston, I’m trying to retain it,” he says.

But the question is: Does the five-bedroom, 3,700-square-foot home count as single-family, thus triggering the PD-99 clause that says the only allowable structure is another home? Yes, according to Bailey, who points to the original PD-99 map that lists the property as a single-family dwelling. No, says the developer and Rob Baldwin, of the zoning consulting firm Baldwin and Associates, hired by Magnolia to help usher the project through City Hall.

“None of the city records we could find showed it as single-family,” Baldwin says, pointing to building permits that list the property as multi family. It was also listed as multi family when it was put for sale, likely because a group homes like the one Timberlawn was operating usually require a multi-family zoning designation.

“I will bet you all the wine tonight that it wasn’t built as multi family because no one was building multi family on Gaston back then,” Bailey snaps at Baldwin.

It is a question the city has to decide, but one that will directly influence the design.

Magnolia's building plans at Gaston and Glasgow. (City of Dallas)

Magnolia’s preferred building plans at Gaston and Glasgow. (City of Dallas)

Magnolia, which also bought the two vacant lots next door for a total of nearly 40,000 square feet, plans to build a two-story complex with between 36-38 units and 45 parking spaces. If the city sides with them, the developers plan to move forward with their initial design, a building that stretches across the back of all three parcels, with a 25-foot setback facing Gaston. That keeps in line with the character of the neighborhood, since all homes in PD-99 are required to have a 25-foot setback in their front yard, creating more visual green space.

“I’m trying to create the right project for this neighborhood with the right scale,” Primrose says. “There’s no viability for single family on Gaston.”

If the city sides with the neighbors, who are asking for the spirit of the PD to be protected, Primrose says he’ll be forced to “build a project no one wants.” If the parcel at 6016 Gaston must be kept vacant, it will become a parking lot (which is not considered a structure but support infrastructure), while the building will sit on the remaining two parcel. This would switch the front and side yard, meaning the design would need a 25-setback on Glasgow, and only an 8-foot setback on Gaston.

“Nobody wants an 8-foot setback on Gaston,” Primrose says. The neighbors agreed, but clearly weren’t satisfied with either of the options.

“We don’t want it to look like Live Oak,” Bailey says, later adding, “I don’t think there’s any bad guys here. Just a difference of opinions.”

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