The Plan Commission Oct. 15 heard a fairly unusual case. In fact, it was the first case of its kind heard during the past 18 months. You could call it the “Case of the Aluminum Roof”.

The case involved regulations in Conservation District No. 6, which is the Hollywood/Santa Monica Conservation District governing the Hollywood Heights and Santa Monica neighborhoods.

The background of the case is that among the regulations set forth in the ordinance creating the conservation district is a prohibition against the “new construction or remodeling’ using metal as a roofing material.

Our story begins with a neighborhood resident who has lived in the 600 block of Monte Vista for about 20 years. The resident hired a contractor to replace her roof earlier this year. At that time, the Planning department began receiving calls from unidentified neighbors complaining about the white aluminum roof installation.

Inspectors from the Department of Housing and Neighborhood Services visited the site and discovered that work on the roof was under way.

The property owner was notified that the metal roof was not allowed in the conservation district, and she was told that work should cease immediately.

Although there was some discussion between the property owner and the Planning Department, the property owner decided to complete the roof despite the warnings.

On July 30, the property owner asked that her metal roof be approved. The planning director responded in mid-August by saying the conservation district ordinance specifically prohibited metal roofs and that she could either remove the roof, try to gain approval to amend the ordinance to allow metal roofs, or appeal the planning director’s decision to the Plan Commission.

She appealed the decision to the commission, which discussed the matter extensively and heard from the property owner, as well as neighborhood representatives.

Neighborhood residents testifying supported upholding the planning director’s decision because it was believed that making an exception might become a “foot in the door” for others to plead for additional conservation district exceptions.

In this particular instance, the property owner swayed many Plan Commission votes by arguing that she “didn’t know” about the regulations and saying the roofing contractor charged her about $9,000 for the roof, which would be a loss to her if she had to replace it.

The commissioner representing the area argued that the Commission existed to foster good planning decisions, not to allow piece-meal exceptions to land-use regulations on the basis of alleged economic hardship. The commissioner’s arguments failed to sway the rest of the Commission.

It was pointed out during the discussion that the City sent written notices to all property owners in the conservation district several times, beginning in 1988, and that a complete copy of the approved ordinance was mailed to all property owners lsited on the tax rolls, including the property owner in question.

When all was said and done, the Commission overturned the director’s decision by a 14-1 vote.

Representatives of the neighborhood association worried after the vote about the precedent established for unscrupulous homeowners who wanted to “dodge” regulations.

If Dallas is serious about trying to conserve its historic and architecturally significant neighborhoods, the representatives argued, the City must ensure that property owners are fully informed about the rules applying to their neighborhoods.

Most people in neighborhoods that have conservation districts believe the ordinance is good from both an esthetic and property-value standpoint.

If you are concerned about this issue, contact your City Council representative and tellhim your views.

PARKING WOES: The Plan Commission heard another confusing zone case Oct. 15 involving a parking lot on the south side of Longview, just off Greenville. The 15-space parking lot is behind the florist shop and greenhouse across from the Aw Shucks restaurant.

The parking lot was zoned for “duplex”, so technically it was nonconforming use. Apparently, the lot was constructed around 1951 and had been used for parking ever since.

City planning staff, in evaluating the application, discovered a permit had been issued in 1957 to make the parking lot a legal use. Then in 1965, when the City went through a transition in its zoning ordinance, the parking lot became non-conforming.

Although the 1957 records show the propert permit was applied for, no evidence existed to indicate the Council granted the permit. Questions arose regarding whether the City’s records were fully researched, and even if the records had been misplaced.

Existence of the permit is important because it would indicate the parking lot was legal and then was made non-conforming by the City – a much stronger argument in favor of a zoning change.

As you may know, neighborhoods along Lower Greenville typically argue against losing residential zoning in favor of commercial or parking use.

However, based upon the available information, the surrounding neighborhoods were “lukewarm” in support of the application, and the Plan Commission approved it by a 14-1 vote, despite some opposition from Greenland Hills residents who lived near the parking lot.

The Council is expected to act on the application in several weeks.

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