North Central TX tweaks development codes for transit readiness

A station on the DART orange line. Photo via Wikipedia Commons.

The Dallas, TX light rail network (DART) is expected to add more suburban stations over the next decade, and the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) wants these communities to be transit-ready.

Transit works best when the stations are within easy walking distance of a mix of homes, jobs and shops—but when a station is planned for a suburban community, this compact, walkable development is rarely present. In fact, the zoning code often prohibits it.

To identify priority zoning code fixes that can encourage more mixed-use, transit-oriented development in proposed light rail station areas, NCTCOG brought in Smart Growth America to provide our Smart Growth Zoning Codes for Small Cities technical assistance tool.

Under this tool, a Smart Growth America/Clarion team audited key portions of the zoning code for Cedar Hill, one of the communities expected to land a DART station in the next 10-20 years. They compiled their findings in a discussion paper that details the current requirements impeding mixed-use, transit-oriented development and proposes alternative requirements that would encourage such development.

On October 22-23, 2014, a two-day workshop in Cedar Hill, TX provided an opportunity to discuss the audit team’s findings in person.

On the first day of the workshop, the Smart Growth America/Clarion team held a public meeting to explain the project and introduce some of the issues that would be discussed in a more technical review session the following day. About 24 people attended this meeting, including the mayor and city staff.

The workshop’s second day convened a working group including city and NCTCOG staff, representatives from the development community, U.S. EPA and FEMA staff, and a councilperson and former member of the Cedar Hill Main Street Development and Preservation Board. Together the working group examined the code audit recommendations from the SGA/Clarion team in detail, drilling down to specifics like recommended block lengths, parking ratios, and design review processes.

The workshop provided Cedar Hill with zoning-related tools and strategies to encourage development that is more complementary to a future transit station, but other communities will benefit, too. NCTCOG plans to apply the lessons learned in Cedar Hill to assist the region’s other suburban communities slated for transit stations in amending their zoning codes.

NCTCOG was one of 18 applicants selected by Smart Growth America in January 2014 to participate in the third year of its free technical assistance program. Stretching from New Hampshire to California, the communities selected represent major cities, suburban centers, and rural towns alike.

The program, made possible through a five-year Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, seeks to develop local planning solutions that help communities grow in ways that benefit families and businesses, while protecting the environment and preserving a sense of place. Three other nonprofit organizations—Forterra, Global Green USA and Project for Public Spaces—also received competitively awarded grants under this program to help communities get the kinds of development they want.

Workshop materials:

Smart Growth America’s technical assistance has helped over 50 communities from California to Maine achieve their goals. To see results and recommendations from our past workshops, click here >>


Technical assistance