After an often contentious planning process with high local interest, a Sprouts grocery store is finally on the way to a major intersection at the north end of Oak Cliff.
Sprouts will replace the current Elrod’s Cost Plus Foods at the northwest corner of Fort Worth Avenue and Hampton Road. The project, which involves demolishing Elrod’s and leveling out the ground beneath it, drew unusual attention from neighbors, politicians, and the media. In the end, locals say, it represents a near-total win for the neighborhood—near, but not total.
The original plan submitted by developers contradicted many of the area’s zoning requirements, which are designed to create a healthier, more walkable, less polluted streetscape. The developers’ plan featured sidewalks narrower than standard, just one small pedestrian access point, and potentially two fast-food restaurants. In August, the Dallas City Plan and Zoning Commission voted down that plan, recommending a series of changes.
Last week, City Council voted to exempt Sprouts from some planning requirements, allowing the development to proceed.
“What was changed was for us to allow Sprouts to move its [building] site back,” said Councilman Chad West, who represents District 1 in North Oak Cliff. “That’s really the only thing that the developer was asking for. The zoning was going to require the building up in front, facing Fort Worth Avenue, with the parking in the back. The developer said they can’t do that because of the elevation and grading changes.” (Sprouts prefers to build on flat sites so shopping carts do not roll around the parking lot.)
Some members of the Plan Commission disagreed, as did Dallas’ City Design Studio. But the question of whether the grocery could have been built successfully at the front of the property is now moot.
In exchange for moving the grocery back, West’s team secured a new public lawn and patio space along Fort Worth Avenue, next to a potential future restaurant. Although the new plan, like the original one, calls for narrower sidewalks on Fort Worth and a retaining wall to contain the sloping hillside, West plans to use future negotiations and public funds to create a “colorful, bright, welcoming staircase” and ramp to welcome pedestrians onto the property.
West said that the idea for the lawn space came from a neighborhood resident at a public feedback meeting.
“It is next to impossible to find places where grownups can have fun and kids can run around too,” West said. “If you go to a play gym, you stand around watching your kids. If you go to McDonald’s—I hate McDonald’s. There’s one restaurant, Hat Creek Burger Company, up north, where kids can play. And in Oak Cliff, we’ve got CiboDivino with the lawn out front. It’s packed. It’s the only place that I can think of that I can take my kids, turn them loose, have a glass of wine, and have an adult conversation.”
Some aspects of the zoning rules took negotiating power out of the city’s hands. The developer technically had the right to convert the entire plot into fast food restaurants, for example, and it was possible that if Sprouts backed out, the result would be a cluster of chains with drive-thrus. One drive-thru building does remain in the plan, but its traffic line will be angled so that any line of cars will snake through the parking lot, rather than spilling out onto Hampton Road.
Given Dallas’ limited negotiating power, the final design can be seen as a mixed success. No, there will not be a sidewalk connection to Hampton for pedestrian customers who take the 101 bus. But, at the community’s urging, Dallas authorities negotiated not just the lawn space and environmental improvements, but a mandate that shopping carts lock up upon leaving the property. Too, parking lot lights will face away from nearby neighborhoods.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the future Sprouts is the overwhelming civic engagement it inspired. In a city that often posts single-digit voter turnout numbers, more than a thousand people who live within a mile of the future Sprouts provided feedback on the design of this plot of land. Two-thirds of respondents to a community survey said that an organic grocery was “very important” to them on the property. Fewer than half said that a drive-thru business, like a coffee shop or national chain restaurant, was important to them at all.
West said that more people filled out the grocery survey than filled out his surveys for the last three city budgets, combined.
Less heartening were two editorials about the grocery in the Morning News, both of which misstated and misrepresented the situation. The most recent, published Monday, falsely claims that parking lot size was a significant holdup, incorrectly reports that the alternative to Sprouts was to leave the remaining buildings standing, and misleadingly portrays northern Oak Cliff as a near food desert that “badly wants more access to fresh produce.”
The parking lot will exceed city minimum size, the land was going to be redeveloped in some fashion even without Sprouts, and Sprouts will stand on the site of a grocery that currently already sells fresh produce, a mile from a rival organic produce store, Cox Farms Market.
Sprouts told the Morning News it plans to open the store some time in 2024.