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City Council Repeals Ordinance That Allowed Easier Demolitions for Historic Homes

The Council unanimously decided to walk back a 2010 ordinance that allowed smaller historic homes to be demolished.
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A home at 1008 Betterton Circle overlooks an empty lot where a home burned nearby in 2023. Eboni Johnson

The Dallas City Council, which met for the third time in as many days Wednesday, voted unanimously to repeal an ordinance that advocates say allowed the demolition of dozens of historic homes in Black neighborhoods.

Since 2010, a section of the Dallas Development Code allowed for the demolition of homes smaller than 3,000 square feet within a Landmark District. Homes within these districts are designated as historic, and the distinction comes with design guidelines and preservation criteria meant to protect the existing structures.

The small piece of the code has disproportionately impacted Black neighborhoods, like Tenth Street, which began in the 1880s as a Freedman’s town. The clause was also immediately unpopular with preservationists and the neighborhood, both of which accurately predicted the ordinance would be used to bring down habitable homes that needed repair.

“The default for these homes became demolition, rather than consideration for rehabilitation,” assistant city manager Majed Al-Ghafry wrote in a memo about the matter earlier this month. The 3,000-square-foot rule, he said, “is unnecessary and has in effect, resulted in unintended consequences and disproportionate impact on communities of color.”

In a City Plan Commission meeting in January, Kate Singleton, Dallas’ chief preservation planner, said city code would still allow for the demolition of unsafe structures. City staff recommended removing the 3,000-square-foot rule.

“These regulations actually impact about 90 percent of the houses in the 21 historic districts that are 3,000 square feet or less,” she told commissioners. “Once you start demolishing in a neighborhood, the only thing that happens is more demolitions.”

Council Member Carolyn King Arnold, whose district includes the Freedman’s town, has long advocated for better protections for Tenth Street.

 “I want to make sure I thank, first of all, this Council for supporting us when we ask for your support on initiatives that impact Tenth Street,” she said. “We continue to need you as we continue to protect — as much as we can — that community from rapid gentrification.” 

Council Member Jaynie Schultz agreed with Arnold, saying that the code was “something that was so wrong for way too long” and was abused by many people. She also noted that the move to repeal it would protect other historic homes in the city, too.

A lawsuit alleges that upwards of 72 homes in the Tenth Street Historic District were demolished since the code was enacted. Neighbors know Wednesday’s vote won’t bring those homes back, but it will help protect the rest of the neighborhood.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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