SMU Zoning Change Request Heading To UP City Council

A request by SMU to rezone property bounded by McFarlin Boulevard to the south, University Boulevard to the north, Airline Road to the west, and Dublin Street to the east is headed to the city council.

The university requested the western portion of the property to be rezoned UC-1 (which allows for a maximum building height of 120 feet), the middle portion to be rezoned UC-2 (which allows for a maximum nonresidential building height of 55 feet), and the eastern portion along Dublin to be rezoned UC-3 (which allows for a maximum building height of 35 feet). 

SMU owns 45 individual lots totaling 440,944 square feet of property between McFarlin Boulevard, University Boulevard, Airline Road, and Dublin Street. The proposed plan calls to leave the existing parking lot off of University, demolish the parking lot off of Airline to build a four-story institutional building — Frances Anne Moody Hall — and replace part of the single-family residences to the west of Dublin with a surface parking lot and leave the other section as a green space.

The University Park Planning and Zoning Commission earlier this month approved sending the request on to the city council by a 3-2 vote. The issue had previously come before the planning and zoning commission last December and in April, but was tabled.

“Since … we’d seen the request in April, the minor change to the request is that UC-3 zoning district — SMU is requesting that eastern portion to be zoned UC-3 instead of UC-2. All the rest of it stayed the same up until that … section. So the number of parking spaces in that parking lot has obviously decreased since more would be used towards green space,” City Planner Jessica Rees said.

SMU Associate Vice President of Facilities Planning and Management/University Architect Michael Molina added that the size of the proposed parking lot was reduced by about 80 spaces.

Some nearby residents, though, said during a public hearing on the case during a planning and zoning commission’s meeting in May that they still had concerns.

Banu Bilhan, who lives near the area in question said she was concerned about parking and limited green space.

Signs have popped up around SMU in opposition to the zoning change. Photo: Kim Hurmis

“Mr. Molina, right now there’s a parking lot on Airline, you are replacing it with a graduate school and you are moving that parking lot to the neighborhood side,” Bilhan said. “Our position as a neighborhood has been clear; we don’t want parking on the neighborhood side, and I don’t think you have made any meaningful changes to the plan.”

Bilhan also started a change.org petition about the zoning change request.

She also asked that the university consider underground parking.

Another nearby resident, Susan Clarkson, said she was concerned about what might happen in the future and potential impact on property values in the neighborhood.

“We are not opposed to the UC-1 rezoning of that … portion. What is amazing to me is that SMU is requiring or requesting rezoning for a potential use down the road of the eastern tract….When SMU knows what they want to build on that property, have them come before the P&Z and the neighborhood at that time and disclose what it is that they want … They’re not building on it now … but they can build on that and that is a huge unknown,” Clarkson said. “SMU does not need the zoning on this eastern tract whatsoever. They do not need the parking, they have ample parking on campus for the Moody building as it stands now.”

Nearby resident John Calhoun said he was concerned about the potential traffic impact.

“This issue is not new and it remains unresolved. Another parking lot with more than 100 additional … cars will only exacerbate the problem,” Calhoun said.

UP Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Bob West tried to alleviate concerns about potential impact on home values and parking in the future.

“This city is full of institutions that have been built and rebuilt and that really has very little effect on property values because they’re high quality buildings and we live in an urban city,” West said. “We keep hearing talk about a parking garage. That could happen, but it’s not part of this discussion, and the parking lot that they’re proposing replaces the parking lot that they’re taking away so it’s not like they’re adding something that they don’t already have … I think SMU has really made some reasonable compromise.”

A motion by to deny the zoning change request by James Bristow and seconded by John Walsh failed 3-2, but a subsequent motion by commissioner Phillip Philbin and seconded by commissioner Doug Roach passed in a 3-2 vote with Bristow and Walsh voting against it, sending the case on to the city council likely in June.

“The appropriate way to deal with property of this nature for the future seems to be more like what we’ve done in other instances with churches and other institutions and work through a PD process so that there is a continued opportunity for when there’s … a change in location of structures or things of that nature that those be reviewed, and that will be the reason for my vote nay on this motion,” Walsh said. “The plan today is one that I like that I think with some adjustments would be a very valuable result for this institution and our community, but I think that the appropriate approach would be more in tune with a planned development.”

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at rachel.snyder@peoplenewspapers.com

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