Oak Cliff redevelopment plan met with contention, fears

Dallas Golf Club community meeting
Dallas Golf Club community meeting

The Dallas Examiner

Notable and historic sites, such as the Freedman’s Cemetery, Forest Theater and McKinney Avenue Baptist Church – turned Hard Rock Cafe – had fallen into neglect before their rediscovery, while others ended up fully demolished, such as the Bluitt’s Sanitarium, the city’s first African American hospital.

Similar fears manifested about the fate of The Golf Club of Dallas during a Sept. 6 community meeting regarding its potential redevelopment.

The gathering drew hundreds of locals, filling the club’s Green Room beyond capacity many times over. Supporters hoped an “upgrade” to the area would bring improved businesses and renew property values. Those opposed had concerns that the location – which opened in the Wynnwood Hills development in 1953 – may be next for the proverbial wrecking ball.

District 3 Councilman Casey Thomas II headed the meeting, The Future of the Golf Club of Dallas, along with District 8 Councilman Tennell Atkins, District 3 County Commissioner John Wiley Price, city of Dallas staff and Philip Huffines, founder and co-owner of Huffines Communities Real Estate Company.

The general outline of the development plan is that the Huffines company would purchase the formerly-named Oak Cliff Country Club from its current owners and the area then be turned into a housing community. Huffines would not build houses, but rather develop the land – remove trees, form lots, provide sewer services, etc. – then sell the land to builders.

“There’s been a lot of rumors, a lot of misinformation, and so what we wanted to do tonight is give you an opportunity to hear directly from the developer,” Thomas, a supporter of plan, announced as he began the session.

The first official speaker was Matt Houston of the City Plan Commission.

“About a week and a half ago, I heard about a day before the rest of the citizens … about the potential closing of the Golf Club of Dallas and changing it into a residential establishment where there are various-types housing, creating some kind of density of about 400 or 500 units here,” he began. “At that time … I specifically called the city of Dallas to ask… what exactly is the zoning here with this golf course. And this zoning is currently under R75.”

R75 is a code referring to residential single-family lots that are a minimum of 7500 square feet.

“That means if someone wants to create something that’s smaller or denser, like 3800 square feet, which I’ve heard, they will have to go into Planning and Zoning” to file an application, he explained.

He added should such an application be submitted to the city, a planner is assigned to the application to offer a professional opinion and the city has to publicize the proposal to the community. After that, it has to go through the city planning commission.

“And me, as vice-chair, I’ll tell you now, I am not going to support a downzoning from R75,” Houston stated.

After a burst of applause, he said that such smaller houses would be inconsistent with the mid-century Modern custom homes that have been in the area as long as the club itself.

Houston did consider not opposing an upzoning of the property for million-dollar homes. He lives in the area and confirmed he understood why there is mistrust of city government but offered, “at the same time, I want to be part of the solution, too.”

It was made clear through the night that smaller-sized lots and the number of houses “stacked” – as some warned – onto such lots were of great concern to residents.

Photos of past Huffines developments were on display, but exact details of what might come to the area were not available. In fact, the meeting was intended to be a sounding board, the founder himself there to learn what the neighborhoods were willing to accept.

“If there’s housing here, what kind of housing do you want?” Huffines asked at one point.

The answers throughout the rest of the evening were filled with emotion. Suggestions ran the spectrum from no deal at all to the city buying the club with a bond election; specialized yet minimal development to total approval of full development. Joyce Foreman pointed out that the Neighborhood Plus revitalization plan lists the golf club first as one of the amenities of living in the Red Bird area.

“I think there’s been a lot of misconceptions about the people in this community. We don’t mind new homes. We want development, just not on this property,” she spoke out against the proposal. “There’s a lot of vacant land in this area. I would direct you to Red Bird Lane and 67, which I believe is owned by the city. That’s a lot of land.”

“’It’s a great community. We’re going to build there – and make it completely different than what makes it great,’” another resident in opposition mockingly called out on potential changes. “Charming,” was how she described both the homes and the people in the surrounding communities.

“My kids are seventh generation Oak Cliff. We live here, we die here. Brother, sister, grandmother, grandfather. Everyone is always in Oak Cliff. And it’s because there are plenty of White people, plenty of Black people, plenty of Mexicans. Spanish-speaking, non-Spanish-speaking,” she exclaimed. “If I wanted to go live in a poor man’s Plano, I’d go to The Colony, but I want to be here in Oak Cliff with a bunch of people that I care about.”

After hearing more comments against development than in support, Huffines stated with apparent pessimism, “You haven’t related to me that you would like any kind of nice community here,” in reference to the club.

Others backed the development. One woman who identified herself at a past president of the Women’s Council of Realtors believes change is inevitable and supported the plan, but acknowledged that residents needed be involved in the decision-making.

“Mr. Huffines is a businessman. He’s done his homework. He knows what the property values are,” she affirmed. “If we don’t see some development in this community – houses bring shops and stores and restaurants. I for one would love another store, an H-E-B… but houses bring stores. We can’t tell somebody not to develop on the golf course. It’s going to happen, whether we allow it or not, whether we vote for it or not.”

Her statement was supported by applause.

“Embrace it, be a part of it, support it, be gracious to the developer that wants to come into this spectacular community. I’m part of the mayor’s GrowSouth Community and they want to debunk … those statements about crime and poverty and bad schools. We’ve got colleges right here off of Houston School Road. We got a lot going on in the Great Southwest,” she asserted, urging locals not to fight change. “I looked at comps last week. There’s a house on Bar Harbor selling for half a million dollars. It raises your property value.”

But to Huffines, it had become clear from feedback during the three-hour meeting the plan was not to be.

“I think there is a demand for $300,000 homes here. I think there’s a pent-up demand to live in this area and close to town and close to community and so I think this would be very well received by the community,” the developer asserted.

“Once again, guys – I’m not pushing anything. I’m not pushing the plan. I just came tonight to hear what your thoughts and your concerns are, and I’ve heard you loud and clear, so I apologize if in any way, any of my comments, or my questions, or my manner or whatever, in any way, offended or did something I wasn’t supposed to, so I apologize,” he submitted to the audience. “My job tonight was to talk to you as much as possible, one-on-one, and what it is you would like to see here if housing was developed. Right now, it looks like housing is not ever going to…”

As he spoke, his voice was drowned out by those in favor of careful, deliberate redevelopment. Thomas, who hinted at separate development involving the nearby Square 67 shopping center, intervened with the suggestion that he, the current club owners, and leaders of the local neighborhood associations all confer at a future date to work out details of plans, possibilities, and options the residents may have in guiding any local project. After this meeting-to-be, the councilman would then call a second community gathering in a larger venue to discuss results.

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