Monday, December 5, 2011
Sylvan Thirty hopes to reinvigorate Dallas neighborhood
One of the highlights in the plan is the site’s organic grocery store, Cox Farms Market.
Alex Burton has lived on Kessler Parkway in Oak Cliff for the past 40 years. He remembers the way nearby Ft. Worth Avenue used to be.
“That was the playground of Dallas,” Burton said.
He said there were bars, strip joints, and several gambling places along the avenue. It was the main road leading into downtown Dallas and the life-blood of the city.
The addition of Interstate 30 changed everything, pushing traffic away from Ft. Worth Avenue. The once-vibrant atmosphere slowly began to fade until it became a hodge-podge of run-down buildings, apartments, service stations, and motels.
“The whole character of that particular strip has changed enormously,” Burton said. “It just sat there for years and years.”
But all of that is about to change.
New development is coming to the intersection of Ft. Worth and Sylvan Avenue. By fall 2012, the now razed 6-acre piece of land will be filled with a mixed-use area including 200 apartments, restaurants, retail stores, a park area, and a grocery store. The development is called Sylvan Thirty.
Burton lives just around the corner from the development site and next door to its developer, Brent Jackson.
Jackson is the founder and president of Oaxaca Interests LLC and has been in real estate more than 12 years. He began working on the Sylvan Thirty development in November 2007. He said the existing demand for grocery stores and more retail in the neighborhood was grossly underserved.
“We felt there was clearly a need to provide that supply,” Jackson said.
Jackson also said he thinks the project will help bridge west Dallas and Oak Cliff neighborhoods.
“People often ask me, ‘Is this an Oak Cliff project or a West Dallas project?’ And I say, ‘yes,’” Jackson said.
Sylvan Thirty’s zoning application went before the Dallas planning and zoning commission on October 6 and passed with a 10-3 vote and a recommendation from the city staff. The zoning application is tentatively scheduled to be voted on by the city council on December 14.
Many residents and surrounding businesses are happy to see growth in the area, but some have voiced concerns regarding the development’s zoning standards. Monte Anderson, owner of the Belmont Hotel, is one of them. His hotel sits on the opposite corner of the Sylvan Thirty development site.
Anderson is a real estate developer and broker who has lived in southern Dallas County his entire life. He bought the Belmont Hotel on St. Patrick’s Day in 2004 and remodeled it in 2005.
“We were the catalyst project over here,” Anderson said.
He also said it is good to see development in the area, but would like Jackson to have a more urban design. According to Anderson, urban design consists of elements like three-story buildings with retail below and residential above, wide sidewalks, street parking, bike lanes, and store-fronts facing the street. Anderson said Jackson has not adhered to these standards.
“He doesn’t value the urbanism,” Anderson said. “If he did he wouldn’t build like he’s building.”
One of the most contentious issues is the height of Sylvan Thirty. Anderson said its tall buildings would block the view of downtown from his hotel patio at the Bar Belmont. He is asking that the development’s building height be lowered to 60 feet. Because Anderson’s hotel is within 200 feet of the development site, he was able to pay a $150 city fee to have the City Council vote postponed until December.
“We’ll fight them ‘til hell freezes over, and then we’ll fight them on the ice,” Anderson said his lawyer told him.
Jackson said the minimum height the development can live with is 70 feet.
Despite their differences, Anderson said he would like to have more neighbors. He said he needs places his guests can walk to. The hotel currently has a shuttle service that takes people into the Bishop Arts District because it is the closest attraction.
“We’re an island out here by ourselves right now,” Anderson said.
The Sylvan Thirty development was designed by Lake Flato Architects. Lake Flato is a design firm that has gained national recognition for architecture. In 2004, the company received the Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects, the highest honor an architecture firm can receive.
Jackson said he believes Lake Flato has designed a development that is in keeping with the existing community and meets the needs for the site.
“They are very gifted at creating a unique space,” Jackson said.
Jackson would also like to fill the site with basic retail like a bank, dry cleaners, pet stores, and maybe a nail salon. Sylvan Thirty will also have an on-site concierge service for its residents. The park will be used for things like community functions, music, plays, and other outdoor events. Jackson said he is currently looking for businesses to lease space.
“Without leasing, you don’t have a project,” he said.
One of the highlights in Jackson’s plan is the site’s organic grocery store, Cox Farms Market. Jackson said much of the community has been asking for a grocery store like this. The market focuses on providing quality produce, service and fair price. Owner Mark Cox also said he buys local as much as possible.
Cox has been in the produce business his whole life. He grew up in West Texas and his grandfather had fruit stands that sent produce as far as California and Florida. Cox said he thought that was how everyone operated. One day he realized, it was more than a typical fruit stand.
“Nobody did it like us,” Cox said.
Cox Farms Market is not a chain. The only current location is in Duncanville; however, Cox said he has several customers that come from Oak Cliff and some from as far as Waxahachie.
“This grocer attracts from a pretty wide radius,” Jackson said about Cox.
Cox was hesitant to join the Sylvan Thirty development at first because he wanted to own his own property. Cox had been looking to expand several years ago, but started backing off in late 2006 because he worried about the economy. Less than two years later, the economy crashed.
“I was right. I knew I was,” Cox said.
Around that same time, Jackson started approaching Cox about joining the development. Cox said it took about two years for him to agree to be part of the site, but he is now excited and ready to go.
“There’s no hesitation from me,” Cox said. “Just hurry up and get it done.”
As of now, the Sylvan Thirty land is an empty field. Everything on it has been demolished. All that remains is a sign that reads, “Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts.”
“Oh, it’s gone,” Desoto resident Willie Sanders said when he realized the Alamo hotel had been removed. “That’s why there’s so much space over there.”
Jackson said his company made a commitment to Preservation Dallas, a non-profit dedicated to saving some of the communities finest landmarks, to keep the Alamo hotel sign and somehow integrate it into the site.
Sanders drove past that intersection almost every day for 20 years. He took his daughters from Desoto to school every day at Trinity Street Christian Academy in the heart of Oak Cliff. This was the first time he had been in the area in about a year.
“It was somewhat of a shock to see it all gone,” Sanders said in an interview at the Chase Bank across the street.
Now that he isn’t driving his girls to school anymore, Sanders said the Sylvan Thirty site would give him a reason to come to Oak Cliff.
“I’m not in this area often, but if I knew it was here, I would certainly come.”
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