Dallas, Texas, population 1,197,816 (2010), experienced a downtown office construction boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This boom resulted in the destruction of numerous historic structures. The Dallas historic preservation ordinance allows the City to designate a property as a landmark without the consent of the owner. But the City Council is generally reluctant to impose the restrictions placed on a landmark without the owner’s agreement.
In 1981, a task force composed of City officials, preservationists and members of the business community was appointed to develop incentives to encourage owners to allow their properties to be designated as historic landmarks. The task force came up with a menu of preservation incentives which included: an eight-year tax freeze on property tax assessments for renovated landmarks, flexibility in applying the building code to landmarks, the ability of owners to donate facade easements to the City as a charitable contribution eligible for tax deductions, federal tax credits and other incentives including transfer of development rights.
The Dallas TDR ordinance has been amended at least four times but retains many of the features initially adopted in 1984. This profile uses the description of the program provided in Section 51A-11.302 of the Dallas Development Code available on the American Legal Publishing web site on August 22, 2011.
Properties are eligible to become sending sites if:
- the historic property is within an urban historic district;
- the historic property is a contributing structure listed in the National Register of Historic Places if it is located in the West End Historic District; and
- the historic property has been rehabilitated within the last five years and the total value of the rehabilitation exceeds 50 percent of the property’s pre-rehabilitation value.
The floor area which can be transferred from a sending site is the difference between the existing floor area of the landmark building and the amount of floor area allowed by the zoning of the sending site. For example, in the West End Historic District, the maximum floor area ratio is eight times the lot area, consequently a 10,000 square foot building on a 10,000 square foot lot could transfer 70,000 square feet of unused development potential. A minimum of 20,000 square feet of floor area must be transferred.
Receiving sites are located in the Central Area, CA-1(A) and CA-2(A) districts. No single receiving site can obtain more than a 4:1 increase in floor area ratio (FAR) as a result of a transfer. The transfer ratio is one-to-one; the amount of unused development potential transferred from the sending site is the additional development allowed above the base zoning density on the receiving site.
The Dallas transfer process is simple and completely administrative. To be granted a transfer of development rights, a property owner must submit a form to the Planning Director indicating the sending site, the receiving site and the amount of development rights to be transferred. After being checked for compliance, the applicant files the form with the county deed recorder. When the developer of the receiving site requests a building permit for a project using development rights, the recorded transferring form is checked and the building permit is issued.
There are some promising features in the Dallas TDR program. Unlike many other historic preservation TDR programs, the sending and receiving sites do not have to be contiguous or even nearby. Furthermore, there are relatively few restrictions placed on the properties that qualify as receiving sites and the approval process is completely administrative.
However, the program lacks two important success factors. As reported by Planner Jim Anderson in 1994, Dallas provides non-TDR means for developers to exceed baseline. In 1994, Anderson also noted that Dallas allowed so much development potential as a matter of right that few builders had much need for transferred floor area. This still appears to be the case. In 2011, properties zoned CA-1(A) and CA-2(A), the receiving areas, are allowed a 20 FAR as a matter or right and can get a bonus to 24 FAR by using an on-site building setback bonus.