Ask Donovan Lord’s neighbors where they live, and you might get a variety of responses.
Preston Hollow? Northwest Dallas? And that doesn’t even count the various homeowners associations just west of Midway Road, north of Walnut Hill Lane.
Lord wants his area of Dallas to have an identity, and while it starts with a name, he hopes to make Westhollow Society about more than that.
“One of the main issues I’ve seen is a lack of understanding about what our area is and where it is,” Lord said. “I wanted to give the area an identity.”
Westhollow, as he defines it, is an area consisting of about 22 neighborhoods and more than 7,000 homes with boundaries including Walnut Hill, Midway, LBJ Freeway on the north, and Dennis Road on the west.
Having lived there for 11 years, Lord has seen what the region has to offer, and more importantly, what it hasn’t.
“We want to bring more culture and better retail developments to the area,” said Lord, a resident of Park Forest, near the intersection of Forest Lane and Marsh Road. “We aren’t Preston Hollow. We have different needs and it’s a different part of the city.”
His effort started about three years ago with an initiative to install sign toppers. He’s also focused on beautification, crime reduction, even perhaps a new library.
He hopes to accomplish that by getting city approval for a public improvement district, in which residents of a designated area pay supplemental taxes (about 13 cents per $100 of property value) in exchange for enhanced services such as added police patrols, marketing efforts, landscaping and lighting, street cleaning and repairs, and cultural improvements, depending upon the needs of the area. Dallas currently has 11 PIDs in regions such as Deep Ellum, Uptown, and Vickery Meadow.
“Westhollow is basically dependent on the people who live here,” he said. “We’re trying to bring all the neighborhoods together to determine our combined future together.”
But in order for the PID to even be considered by the city, it needs to be agreed upon by the residents. And that’s why Lord has been busy arranging public meetings and soliciting donations to generate interest.
The concept has prompted skepticism among some neighbors who accuse Lord of trying to make money or take control. They don’t want a tax hike or a new name. However, a PID must have a governing board that votes on all major decisions, and Lord wants all the HOAs in the area to be represented.
“People want things to improve and not stay the same,” he said. “I never thought it would be easy or that everyone would agree.”
Lord said a PID could boost property values in a middle-class area with homes that were constructed primarily during the 1950s and 1960s. The income range is mixed, but the residents are getting younger, averaging 36.8 years old.
A long-term goal is changing the retail landscape in an area dominated by aging strip malls and chain stores.
“We’re looking for more shops, something that has more local flair, as opposed to the businesses that we have here,” Lord said. “Our demographics have been changing. They’re demanding different things.”
Agreements with existing developers will make progress difficult on the retail front, but a branding effort could help lure new businesses, he said.
“If there’s more of us acting in concert, we have a stronger voice. The city is going to listen to more voters that way,” said Chan Bright, who has lived in the area for nine years. “We would like to see more eating establishments, instead of all the fast food up and down Forest. I don’t know how many more dollar stores or pawn shops they can fit in our neighborhood.”
Among the other ideas are a regular street festival to promote camaraderie, and a senior citizens program.
Lord sees the transformation of an area such as the Bishop Arts district in Oak Cliff, and said something similar could be possible on his street. But developing a shared vision is the first step.
“It’s getting all of them together and trying to get all of them to communicate with one another,” Bright said, “to act for the good of the community.”