Neighbors are opposed to the plan to replace the church with apartments

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It was the ugliest church meeting I’ve ever attended in Dallas.

The April 12 Town Hall, ostensibly organized to provide facts about a proposed multi-family development on the site of what is now Shoreline City Church on Garland Road, fell to a disgustingly low spot.

A church whose only sin is being so successful that it needs a bigger home has been ridiculed for not having a “Christian conscience.” Threats have been made against the “prostitutes and drug addicts” the Lochwood area would soon have as neighbours.

Local officials, particularly City Council Member Paula Blackmon, were repeatedly harassed.

All to the delight of cheering and roaring crowds, enraged at the proposal to demolish the church to make way for apartments and townhouses.

Two hours of fellowship gone wild was all I could take. The fleeting session – people chattering, hijacking the microphone and shouting insults – was no way to come to any resolutions.

Shoreline City Church, which has owned this property on Garland Road for six years, is the latest in a line of congregations to call the 65-year-old building home.(Liesbeth Powers / Featured Contributor)

Perhaps the disorganized way this meeting, where anything was possible, was conducted contributed to the outcome. But it made me sick that people here got so angry and rude to each other.

I know many Lochwood residents, and they are better than much I have heard tonight.

But here’s the thing. Once past the nasty tone and misinformation of the meeting – and admittedly it dragged on for a few days – some of those in attendance raised legitimate concerns about an issue brewing for residents throughout Dallas and surrounding cities.

The battles between single-family homes and multi-family homes are heating up as North Texas desperately needs housing for the working class.

Rents are rising everywhere. Housing is scarce. Dense – and vertical – is often the best answer, especially where land is sky-high. The right density creates energy and stimulates business growth, something this corner of Northeast Dallas needs.

Still, we need to be careful when designing our communities and, for the taxpayer, go the extra mile to ensure each project is appropriate for the surrounding neighborhoods.

A rear parking lot at Shoreline City Church opens onto a green space lined with homes and...
A rear parking lot at Shoreline City Church opens onto a green space lined with houses and apartments.(Liesbeth Powers / Featured Contributor)

I admit to being at odds as to whether the Shoreline City Church site is the right place for this particular development. The fact that the zoning would transition from single-family homes to apartment buildings, albeit on busy Garland Road, is not to be taken lightly.

If only the leading opponents of this development would stick to the facts and get involved constructively.

This controversy began when Shoreline City Church, which has owned this distinctive spired building for six years, decided to purchase the much larger campus of Highland Oaks Church of Christ, 3 miles north.

Among the potential buyers Shoreline approached for its current home north of Easton Road was Dallas-based developer Ojala Partners.

Ojala didn’t buy the 7.25-acre property, but it did get the city’s initial approval for a public-private partnership deal — 75 years of tax-free operation — if the project clears all other necessary hurdles.

Under the terms of the agreement, 49% of the homes will be rented at the highest market price Ojala can achieve and 51% will be earmarked for residents earning 80% of the Area Median Income, a federally set guideline that provides for a total on-site income of $54,000 -$74,000.

Suggested rents for these units range from $1,250 to $1,750, with market apartments costing about $300 more.

The latest site plan for the proposed Class A mixed-income, mixed-use development...
The latest site plan for Ojala Partners’ proposed Grade A mixed-income, mixed-use development for the 7.25-acre Garland Road property.(Ojala Partner)

The no taxes for 75 years deal is a tough sell for neighbors stung by their own shockingly high property valuations.

The city has argued that it must offer the subsidy — permitted under the Public Facility Corporation instrument approved two years ago — to help alleviate the 20,000-unit affordable housing shortage Dallas is facing.

The proposal for Garland Road, a Class A, mixed-income, mixed-use development, targets what housing advocates call “the missing middle,” residents whose rates will be downgraded from Dallas rents, but whose incomes will is too high to qualify for housing vouchers.

Ojala now faces a daunting challenge of convincing the City Planning Commission and City Council to change the zoning of the property to multi-family housing. It has long been referred to as a family home, which gives churches the right to work there as well.

A two-story apartment complex, Estancia Hills Apartments, already stands between a few streets of Lochwood and properties along Garland Road.

Neither Blackmon nor District 9 Planning Commissioner Michael Jung have offered their support for the project, and no date has yet been set for the zoning application.

Even before the community meeting, Ojala had changed its plan significantly, adding a parking garage, two-story townhouses for rent as buffers, and a retention pond to mitigate flooding in the neighborhood.

Ojala chief executive Daniel Smith told me Thursday that the April 12 meeting resulted in even more work: reducing housing units from 310 to 300 and refining the landscape screen to protect the privacy of residents at Lochwood and the adjacent child care center to protect.

Smith also said that while the apartment building will remain four stories, his team is considering reducing the overall height from 66 feet to 55 feet.

The four-story design is problematic because the Garland Road Vision Plan, approved by the city council in 2011 to guide the development, recommends a maximum of three stories.

Among the roughly 125 residents at the community meeting, many appeared to have already decided to oppose a multi-family plan. Others clearly wanted to like the proposal but still had major concerns.

Lochwood's neighbor Stephanie Ruibal, the mother of four, explained her concerns at the April...
Lochwood’s neighbor, Stephanie Ruibal, the mother of four, expressed concern at the April 12 meeting about the proximity of her backyard to the windows and balconies of the proposed multi-family project.(Jason Janik / Featured Contributor)

One of them is Stephanie Ruibal, who is raising four children with husband Mark at Yorkmont Circle next to the church property. She understandably doesn’t want balconies and windows looming over her backyard.

“I like the idea of ​​the plan but not the details,” she said. “People will be able to see right into my garden and right into my bedroom.”

Another woman who lives nearby was focused on the mass of lighting the new project will bring, but said she is willing to work with developers to try and find a solution.

Scott Robson, President of the Lochwood Neighborhood Association, which represents 1,800 homes west of Garland Road, began the community meeting with a barely polite introduction from Ojala officials: “They will be doing their dog and pony show about their concerns for teachers, nurses and firefighters. … It’s a show worthy of the big screen.”

Most of the audience loved that jab and every subsequent one.

What bothered me the most were the comments addressed to Shoreline City Church. Robson appealed to the “Christian conscience and the duty of the church to live peacefully with all,” before finally equating the Bible’s “love thy neighbor as thyself” with Shoreline’s responsibility not to sell to Ojala.

Daniel Poku, who works in real estate and was a Shoreline employee, later responded that his booming church can’t keep the current location working. As he began telling his own story — as a student at SMU, Poku said his life was transformed by Shoreline — he was momentarily interrupted by mocking murmurs and whistles from the audience.

“We thought about it, we prayed about it and we considered the best decision,” he continued, before shouting, “They sold us” and “Do you really think this is a quality project?” escaped.

The latest rendering of Ojala Partners' proposed Garland Road development has just...
The latest rendering of the Garland Road development proposed by Ojala Partners north of Easton Road.(Ojala Partner)

A woman posing as a veteran teacher and resident of a nearby apartment later spoke out against the anti-Ojala faction when she said her rent increased by $300 last year. “I am the missing middle. … Where do we live?”

Then she turned the tables on the scriptures: “Who is your neighbor? The person who shows mercy. And I don’t hear much grace here.”

She did it. Much of the substance of the neighbors was true, but the style in which it was conveyed varied between mean and downright hateful.

It’s a great strategy if your goal is to be marked as NIMBY – but hardly the way to do what’s best for your neighborhood.

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