Site of planned Cypress Creek at Forest Lane

At Wednesday’s Dallas City Council meeting, a Lake Highlands resident promised to sue the City of Dallas and Sycamore Strategies if the Cypress Creek at Forest Lane apartment development is allowed to proceed. 

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After a long meeting, city leaders decided, despite the threat, to partner with Cypress developer Sycamore Strategies to acquire land, which will allow the project to move forward. 

The city has been struggling for years to build more affordable housing

Among citizens who spoke for or against the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) development was William Roth, who lives on Meadow Road and offices adjacent to the proposed site at 11520 North Central Expressway, which would contain about 109 affordable units and 86 at market rate.

Roth said he and his business partners “strongly oppose” Sycamore Strategies’ development. Although the parcel of land is zoned for multifamily dwellings, Roth and other opponents say a private 1970s era deed restriction rules out apartments on the site.

He said that the city is improperly and proprietarily using its power to subvert deed restrictions to build housing.

“The case law is clear,” Roth told the mayor and council. “If the city allows and facilitates the development of apartments on this side [of Central Expressway], we will consider it an improper taking of our property rights for the benefit of a private developer. We will sue the city and the developer for violation of these rights.”

There are no apartments between Mockingbird and LBJ on the east side of Central, Roth pointed out. He said when he and other business owners chose the location, they did so believing apartments were not allowed in the area.

That said, deed restrictions cited today were not mentioned the first time the project was opposed at council in 2021.

The city council approved the project then, but later State Rep. John Turner D-Dallas got involved, which sidelined the deal. It was revived in February after the city agreed to partner with the property developer. The city’s involvement allows builders to override those deed restrictions, Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry explained in a 2023 memo.

Robb Stewart, husband of Kathy Stewart, Lake Highland’s council representative elect, spoke out against the project. He said it’s in a “bad location,” calling it dangerous and crime-ridden and unsafe for children and pedestrians and citing deed restrictions. 

But former city councilor Philip Kingston spoke in favor of Cypress and said the oft-mentioned deed restrictions don’t hold up.

“Mr. Roth and Mr. Stewart referred to legal principles that frankly don’t apply here in any way,” he said. They go “against public policy” and are not dissimilar to the deed restrictions that  prevent sale of land to people of color.

Sycamore Strategies’ lead Zach Krochtengel said the decision should be based on data related to the need for housing, racial equity, crime and poverty rates and school ratings, some of the factors considered during housing tax credit approval. 

“There is no statistical reason this proposed development should not move forward,” he said. “Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which grades and approves funding for LIHTC proposals, has guidelines for undesirable site features, and Cypress Creek does not have any issues that would disqualify it from funding.”

Most significantly, there are no single-family residential homes abutting the development, Krochtengel said.

“As an affordable housing developer, we try to avoid development sites that back up to single-family homes,” he said, adding that the closest single-family home to this site is more than 1,000 feet away. 

“Still the backlash we’ve received from the community has been fierce,” he said. “But this is the same backlash that has left North Dallas without affordable housing and the rest of the city with concentrations of affordable housing.”

By “affordable housing,” Krochtengel means specifically LIHTC properties. Although council District 10 has more naturally occurring lower income apartments than any other district, Krochtengel said D10 has the least number of LIHTC affordable housing units.

The proposed site is a high-opportunity area, said both Krochtengel and Ann Lott, executive director at Inclusive Communities Project, which works to enforce the Fair Housing Act. 

“I know the neighborhood opposition is strong. It always is … It’s never going to be the right location as long as it’s in their neighborhood,” she said.

Often the opposition to LIHTC projects is rooted in perceptions about people who need lower-income rentals or housing vouchers.

Brittany Jones, 42, introduced herself to City Hall as a voucher holder in order to dispel misconceptions, she said.

“Voucher holders have a stigma and a negative narrative but no one has taken the time to see how we live. So I just want to introduce myself as a voucher holder, single, no kids,” she says. “I have a degree in criminal justice and a minor in psychology, no felonies, and I started my own nonprofit.”

She said she would be happy to live at Cypress once it is built. “There are schools, hospitals, churches, public transportation, diversity. You have a chance here for a better way of life.”

The Dallas Public Facility Corporation — a tax-abatement tool cities use in conjunction with or separate from housing-tax credits to encourage developers — was initially involved in this project. The body approved of its own participation in the project but only under conditions that would indemnify it from the threatened legal action. 

City attorneys decided that was impossible, according to a late April memo from the assistant city manager. Therefore the city would need to “enter into a ground lease agreement directly with the developer to finance, construct and manage the development” sans DFPC participation.

That much, the council decided 11-3 to approve. Next steps will be considered at the June 14 Dallas City Council meeting. 

Dissenting along with outgoing Lake Highland’s council representative Adam McGough and Casey Thomas, D3, council member Cara Mendelsohn, D11, said the city should honor the deed restrictions.

In opposition to Cypress Creek, which he has voiced since 2021, McGough said it’s reductive to call opponents of the development NIMBYs (not in my backyard). No one familiar with the area in his district can deny it is fraught with societal crimes including drug trade and prostitution, he said. 

He brought up the thwarted City of Refuge, a development proposed for a nearby address in 2021, which he said “included hundreds of units of tiny homes” and enjoyed support from the neighbors. He argued Cypress Creek at Forest Lane should have had the same amount of scrutiny from city leaders and input from the community.

LIHTC projects go through a sound vetting and scoring process though. 

When Cypress Creek went through that process, Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization assistant director Kyle Hines reported that Cypress scored the highest among 12 Dallas LIHTCs evaluated that year. That’s based on the city’s comprehensive housing policy’s scoring rubric, and before the city even evaluates these projects they must pass Texas Department of Housing standards for underwriting. 

For the record, City of Refuge proposed 50 tiny homes (not hundreds). And it would have been managed by an Atlanta-based nonprofit. It was defeated, in part, because the organization never went through Dallas’ request for proposal process.

Chad West, D1, said we as a city need to build affordable housing and cannot back down every time we are threatened with a lawsuit, lest the city scare off developers.   

Council member Adam Bazaldua, D7, said that as a city we need to discuss concerns brought up during public hearings and find solutions rather than outright deny an opportunity to construct desperately needed housing. 

He requested an executive session to explore legal concerns related to deed restrictions, following which the council authorized City Manager T.C. Broadnax to proceed with the land acquisition for Cypress Creek at Forest Lane. The housing committee will consider the lease agreement at the end of May, and council members will contemplate a new resolution on the project next month.