Revitalization plan for Dallas Downtown Elmwood neighborhood moves forward

Elmwood business and residential planning continues from the larger West Oak Cliff Area plan.

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A revitalization plan is moving forward for the downtown portion of the historic Dallas Elmwood neighborhood.

Parts of Elmwood were planned in the 1920s. Some of the streets were designed in the 1940s. More recently, Elmwood has been overlooked as some other old Dallas neighborhoods boomed.

During a long process that led to the plan that is being advanced now, Elmwood residents made it clear that they do not want their neighborhood to become another Dallas Uptown or Bishop Arts, where high-rise development has replaced older neighborhood charm.

“Dallas is big but Oak Cliff is small,” said Elmwood property owner Doug Klembara. “I want that realness to be here. It’s always been a part of Oak Cliff. It’s like knowing your neighbors.”

He said Downtown Elmwood along South Edgefield Avenue has that sort of experience for residents now.

“It’s a place where you can go to the tap room, get some coffee, get a haircut, or some tacos. It’s a spot where you see the same people around,” Klembara said.

Yet some storefronts along Edgefield were only used as storage space in recent years because businesses could not operate for lack of sufficient parking spaces in the older business district.

Big city Dallas favors suburban-style parking lot sprawl.

Relaxing is part of the new city plan to help boost Downtown Elmwood.

“Just prosper in a way that has been difficult before, a lot less parking regulations and focus on the walkability for the neighborhood itself,” said businessman Elijah Salazar.

He is opening Peaberry Coffee in what had been a vacant Edgefield Avenue storefront.

“It’s been an avenue that’s been part of my life growing up here in Oak Cliff and I want it to continue being part of my life,” he said.

Fast traffic, outdated pavement and lack of sidewalks are other Elmwood problems the city plan aims to correct.

Endorsed two to one by dozens of Elmwood residents and property owners at a meeting this week, the plan calls for slowing traffic, adding marked bike lanes, sidewalks and center islands on Edgefield to help people safely cross the street on foot.

It’s the next step in a bigger West Oak Cliff Area Plan unanimously approved by the Dallas City Council in October.

That plan set precedent that other older Dallas neighborhoods and businesses may follow in deciding their future.

“Entrepreneurs and creatives are starting stuff here and you want them to succeed because they’re putting their time and money into this neighborhood,” Klembara said.

The Bishop Arts area on North Oak Cliff was once similar to Elmwood, with vacant storefront locations.  But the business strip was revived and became very popular.

City rezoning of the area allowed for high-rise apartments and heavy street traffic that replaced adjacent Bishop Arts residential areas. The result has also been soaring prices.

Contrary to that, the West Oak Cliff Area Plan limits Elmwood to just 3 story structures along Edgefield Avenue. It could be street-level retail with two residential levels above. 

The additional plan endorsed this week adds detail to the Downtown Elmwood segment.

“This area has a charm of its own and I think we’re trying to dig into that rather than mimic something that we already have,” Salazar said.

His new coffee shop is an example of the new private investment that is starting to happen along Edgefield, which is a goal of the plans.

“There’s opportunity if it’s not priced out that it’s going to take an insane amount of money to start a business,” Klembara said.

Money to pay for the street improvements may come from the city’s planned 2024 public improvement bond referendum. Completion is expected to take several years.

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