In Dallas, as in some other cities throughout the nation, a trend in city planning is the creation of conservation districts that are distinct from more familiar historic districts. The difference between the two may seem minimal at first, but the concerns for anyone planning a home remodel are quite different. Historic districts reflect the architectural integrity of a neighborhood by requiring adherence to strict exterior guidelines, preserving the design, form, materials, and colors of original structures to the greatest possible extent. Interior updates are allowed as long as the exterior appearance conforms to standards that are often highly restrictive.
On the other hand, conservation districts are designed to maintain the distinctive character and culture of specific neighborhoods. Regulations focus on design but allow the community itself to regulate changes based on a collective vision. Neighborhood groups must petition for the status and can pick from a long list of items to regulate.
Typically, a petition to become an officially designated conservation district can span 12-18 months from application to approval. It involves extensive community support and input. The first conservation districts were established in Dallas in 1988. There are currently 15 such districts in Dallas, primarily in East Dallas and Oak Cliff. Examples are the popular “M Streets,” the Belmont Addition, and the Lakewood Conservation District in East Dallas, along with Kessler Park and the Bishop/8th Conservation District in Oak Cliff.
Historic district designation involves another detailed application and review process, which can often take much longer and requires staff review in Dallas, as well as approval by the neighborhood, Landmark Commission, City Planning Commission, and City Council. It involves the restoration or recreation of historical details.
Things to Know About Remodeling in a Conservation District
The review of a request to remodel a home in a Dallas conservation district is performed by city staff according to the guidelines established by each community. Enforcement is somewhat more lenient than approval for changes to homes in historic areas. It’s important to note that permission is needed only for changes considered for the exterior, whether the project entails updating, repairs, or a planned addition. The intent is to preserve neighborhood history and integrity and honor past traditions, but not to recreate the past precisely. More individuality is typically allowed than would be permitted in a designated historic zone.
Some of the features a designated conservation district may choose to regulate include:
- Lot Coverage and/or Density
- Structure Height or Width
- Land Uses and Lot Width
- Non-conforming Uses
- Accessory Structures
- Building Materials
- Sidewalks, Fences, Walls and Retaining Walls
- Landscaping and Appearance of Front Yard and Parkway
- Architectural Styles and Neighborhood Compatibility
- Doors and Windows
- Roofing Style and Materials
- Wrought Iron and Metal Elements
Not every district opts to regulate every available category. Final permit review of renovation plans typically requires only one day. The plan review needed for conservation districts is limited to building exteriors and any part of the structure that can be viewed from the street. Interior updates are not subject to review and approval. However, work must still be performed in compliance with current building codes, including plumbing, electrical, and safety requirements.
Before planning a remodel, it is wise to check on your own community’s requirements and schedule a consultation with a knowledgeable contractor. Blackline Renovations is an award-winning design-build firm with a great deal of experience working with owners of historic homes and residences in Dallas conservation districts.
Typical Requirements for a Conservation District Home Remodel
City planning and zoning requirements are relatively straightforward, but approval is easier if requirements are followed carefully. That applies no matter what type of request is submitted. Before purchasing a home in a Dallas neighborhood, it is wise to consider what zoning requirements apply to it. Consult with your real estate professional to find out if it’s in a community designated as a historic or conservation district. Your options for renovation might be severely limited in such areas.
However, there is infinite charm about such neighborhoods. If you enjoy the ambiance and the character, then delve into the details of what might be required for a future remodel. Again, the knowledge and expertise of a qualified remodeler is invaluable. The team at Blackline Renovations has nearly two decades of experience working in Dallas’ premier neighborhoods. We will be pleased to discuss your options with you before you sign a contract.
Basic zoning principles apply to most neighborhoods. Zoning governs requirements such as lot coverage, authorized uses, home businesses, off-street parking and garage requirements, height restrictions, and the general appearance of each neighborhood, among other considerations. Historic and conservation district designations typically add another layer of rules to basic zoning policies. You should familiarize yourself with those special requirements in advance, even if an exterior renovation is not currently on the agenda.
Setback requirements govern the minimum allowable distance of a structure or other lot improvements from front, rear and side lot lines. It is important to understand how a home is placed on a lot — a survey graphically illustrates lot placement — before contemplating any improvements. Enlarging the “footprint” of any home may or may not be possible, depending on setback requirements. Still, there are also usually other options we can explore. Other factors that may prove limiting include existing utility easements and restrictions that govern walls, walkways, driveways, and local landscaping requirements.
The style of well-preserved older homes largely determines the neighborhood character. It’s not always necessary that they reflect similar styles or even a particular era. In Dallas, many fine older neighborhoods contain a mix of large and small homes. They have benefited from decades of growth to morph into desirable modern communities. Residents of these unique areas respect the heritage and honor the diversity of culture. Conservation districts attempt to build on that foundation and monitor renovation efforts to ensure the continuance of time-honored traditions.
Blackline takes great pride in preserving the historic feeling in these distinctive Dallas neighborhoods. We invite you to browse through our portfolio of completed projects and see how seamlessly we meld the present with the past.
We also encourage you to subscribe to our Blackline Renovations Newsletter for helpful tips and ideas on all things remodeling. When you’re ready to discuss your renovation project, schedule a consultation with one of our design experts.