Spring Cleaning…A list of Dallas Ordinances that Should be Overturned in 2011

(reposted from Bike Friendly Oak Cliff)

Since it’s almost springtime, we thought it was time to share a list of ordinances that were highlighted in our Better Block projects that we feel should be overturned in order to reactivate our city’s streetlife.

1. Remove Prohibitive Fees for Awnings:

Dallas Development Code. SEC. 43-115. ANNUAL FEE FOR USE OF PUBLIC RIGHT-OF-WAY.
(a) Except as provided in Section 43-115.1, the annual fee for a license to use a public right-of-way for the following uses is:
(4) Fee for awnings and canopies: $1,000 per awning or canopy.

First of all, it gets hot in Dallas…putting a heavy cost on cooling a sidewalk is inhumane and akin to saying “it will cost you extra to install air-conditioning”. That cost may seem nominal, but remember, if a business has two sides, and multiple windows, you start looking at an annual fee of $4,000…that’s a big chunk for a small business that’s selling $2 cups of coffee. Awnings also invite people to sit under them, allow a business an opportunity to place their logo on them, and encourage street life. They’re found in cities around the world, but here, they’re taxed with prohibitive fees.

2. Remove ordinance restricting merchants from placing their products on the street


No merchant or owner of a building, fronting on any street, shall be allowed the use of any portion of any sidewalk for the display of goods, wares or merchandise. (Code 1941, Art. 143-12; Ord. 3707)

Now imagine that amazing street that you’ve been to in New York, Paris, or San Francisco. You’re walking along it, and stroll past a bookstore that has a small cart out front with a number of classic beatnick novels. Next, you stroll along and see the art shop with rolled up copies of impressionist classics and maybe the shop purveyor is out painting beside the shop. Beyond that, the baker has a beautiful arrangement of artisian baguettes just below his window. These small items are invitations that keep you strolling and invite you into the shop to discover. You can find this in cities around the world…in Dallas, it’s outlawed.

3. Remove prohibitive fees that allow flowers on the sidewalk

Dallas Development Code. SEC. 43-115. ANNUAL FEE FOR USE OF PUBLIC RIGHT-OF-WAY.
(a) Except as provided in Section 43-115.1, the annual fee for a license to use a public right-of-way for the following uses is:
(3) Fee for landscaping and appurtenant irrigation systems: $1,000.

If you wanted to put a small flowerbox filled with daisies outside your business in Dallas, it will cost you $1,000…per year.

4. Remove prohibitive costs for allowing sidewalk cafes

Dallas Development Code. SEC. 43-115. ANNUAL FEE FOR USE OF PUBLIC RIGHT-OF-WAY.
(b) Except as provided in Section 43-115.1, the annual fee for a license to use a public right-of-way for uses other than those listed in Subsection (a) is $1,000 or is calculated in accordance with one of the following formulas, whichever is greater:
(1) Fee for use of public right-of-way, including but not limited to sidewalk cafes: area X market value X 85% X 12%.

In Copenhagen, they’ve begun measuring the increases in their quality of life year over year by detailing the increase in the number of cafe seating occuring. We all know that the great cities are filled with life spilling out onto wide sidewalks with people eating, drinking, and enjoying their community. Even in Dallas, the places we put on our visitor’s guides show images of McKinney Avenue, or Westend Marketplace with people sitting outside at a cafe. Unfortunately, the cost associated with adding this amenity is overly prohibitive. Retailers in Oak Cliff have noted being cited so many times that they’ve eventually given up trying to promote a street cafe culture. We know that outdoor cafes invite people and encourage street life, but beyond that, they increase city tax revenues as area businesses are able to generate extra revenue on increased real estate. With this in mind, we should be removing every hurdle that exists for a business that wants to open a patio.

5. Remove ordinance that disallows crowds on sidewalks

No person shall occupy any space on the sidewalk or any space near the sidewalk where the same attracts any crowd or causes any crowd to congregate on the sidewalk or where the patrons or customers must remain on the sidewalk, for the purpose of carrying on any kind of business whether for amusement or profit. (Code 1941, Art. 143-8)

One of the things I love about cities like New Orleans is that at any given moment, someone might break into tap dancing on the sidewalk, or a ragtag group of musicians will trumpet out a hot jazz classic. People stop and form a circle, and for a moment everyone enjoys a small slice of street entertainment that brings the sidewalk to life. Afterward, a hat gets passed around and those interested can drop a dollar in. It’s simple, small, but memorable, and is the mark of a great city. It should be encouraged, not outlawed.


  1. Bre Taylor on March 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Wow. Had no idea about these. Hope these do get overturned!! Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Paul McKinney on March 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    wow! So what does it actually take to remove an ordinance?

  3. robertoelbueno on March 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Thanks for braking these down Jason!

    I was unaware of a number of these.

  4. Lauren Nitschke on March 17, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Archaic. Just like Dallas. Thanks Jason!

  5. Marisol on March 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    I didn’t know none of this was allowed here, that’s so archaic. It’s like they want no life to happen here.

  6. Ian on March 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    @Paul: An 8-7 vote of the city council.

  7. Menerva on March 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    5. Remove ordinance that disallows crowds on sidewalks

    Does this mean we will have street performers or is that ANOTHER ordinance?

  8. anorm on March 17, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    I so agree. The awning thing especially. Our small business faces west and the afternoon sun in the summer time is brutal. We cannot afford to pay the cost to put up energy saving awings….I find that particular ordinance counterproductive to say the least.

  9. Hubbard on March 17, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    Bravo, Jason!

  10. BMC on March 18, 2011 at 12:19 am

    Guess the old ones served some purpose at one time. Hoping Dallas is smart in seeing how they serve no good purpose today. Trusting they will be wise in their decision making. Well done Jason-Thanks for supporting your community.

  11. andrew on March 18, 2011 at 4:44 am

    Hey scott griggs can do that!

  12. ARCHcowboy on March 18, 2011 at 7:31 am

    The Borders in the West Village and other business often have stuff for sale on the side walks and several places around Uptown have flower boxes. Wonder how they get away with it?

    Great list Jason. I’ll fully support the changes!

  13. Jason Roberts on March 18, 2011 at 7:57 am

    Being cited depends on the area’s code compliance person. Some overlook a few of the ordinances, while others will overly scrutenize. What we’ve seen in parts of North Oak Cliff are individuals that have a personal issue with a business owner and will call in a complaint. At that point, code conmpliance has to write a ticket.

  14. Lisa Peters on March 18, 2011 at 8:49 am

    I fully support the removal of counter productive ordinances. How can we best do that?

  15. Jason Leon on March 18, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Wow, I didn’t know these were code violations. Isn’t number 2 (putting products on the street) up there broken by a number of people, like the place on Jefferson where they sale jeans? I’m all for the removal of these ordinances, even if people put out ugly clothes to sell and ugly fake plants. I can imagine it was that type of behavior people were trying to curb. Good post!

  16. Jason Roberts on March 18, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Yes…technically that is illegal, but it’s only pursued if the code compliance enforcer is stringet in citing infractions. If someone called and told compliance to have them remove the products, then they would have to accomodate.

  17. JF on March 18, 2011 at 9:20 am

    How does the last one stay in compliance with free speech laws? I guess they’d argue public safety is the higher concern but I thought the hurdle for limiting speech was fairly high.

  18. George on March 18, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Has there been any indication that the city is considering a reevaluation of these counter-productive policies?

  19. Jason Roberts on March 18, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Yes. We, along with our friends at the CityDesign Studio have been helping push through reviews of outdated, unnecessary regulations. Councilwoman Jasso has been promoting a review as well, so there’s hope.

  20. Lee on March 18, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Have either Mr. Griggs or Mr. Neumann taken a position on these changes?

  21. meme on March 18, 2011 at 10:15 am

    is there an ordinance which prohibits signage that hangs over the sidewalk or protrudes from the building?
    i see that urban acres removed their small circular sign & replaced it with a sad plastic banner. so many businesses along davis have similar signs.
    these send a message of impermanence.

  22. Oak Cliff Townie on March 18, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Some of this seems to be less about “a code to enforce” and more about generating UPFRONT Permit Fees for the city.

    I can see paying a small amount in a building permit / inspection to insure a quality job has been done .And like $75.00 a year fee. If they have to have a fee.
    But I can’t see having a small business person write a $1000.00 check and higher just to attract customers.

    To tell the truth I did not know about the others..

    When were these written the 50s ?

  23. Justin Case on March 18, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Always wonder how much those new digital billboards that protrude over downtown sidewalks have to pay if awnings are $1,000 a piece.

  24. ericthegardener on March 18, 2011 at 11:34 am

    The city needs to allow busking too. At least in entertainment districts like Deep Ellum, Main Street in Downtown, West End, maybe Davis Street or all of Bishop Arts.

  25. Jason Roberts on March 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Many of these codes were developed as far back as 1941. The assumption I’ve heard is that they were created as “social” laws for a time when Dallas was less amenable to diversity.

    Scott Griggs was the person who originally pulled the list of unneeded ordinances for us during the original Better Block.

  26. Brandon on March 18, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Zoning Ordinance Committee can take up these issues for sure, but we need a City Council member to ask staff to put this on the agenda for ZOC. Right now we are looking at parking standards and tree preservation, but I don’t see any reason why we can’t take these issues up as well. Maybe one of our Council members can speak with David Cossum in the Planning Department and ask him to put these items on the ZOC agenda.

  27. seo on March 19, 2011 at 11:29 am

    There is a whole lot more city ordinances that need to be changed and or updated. The above stated are just a few of them.