Defining Homes: There goes the neighborhood

Steve Nall walks through a conversion project in Montebella which has been part of the revitalized community in the area

One pocket of an Oak Lawn neighborhood gets a pick-me-up

By Rich Lopez

When a spot goes vacant in a neighborhood, people may speculate about what happened. But as the set of public housing buildings known as the Cedar Springs Place Addition was getting marked as a vacated spot by the city, the residents across Kings Street at Montebella weren’t worried about the dreary, empty spot — they were excited.

“Most people are excited about the fact that there will likely be rebuilding,” Steve Nall says. “A more updated look will make a big difference and definitely be more appealing than what’s there now.”

Nall is the listings agent and developer representative for the Montebella, a property that has taken older apartment buildings and converted them into condos with all the modern luxuries inside the charm of an older building. Montebella is one of several complexes in that heavily wooded pocket of Oak Lawn that has turned it’s not-so-pretty spot into a welcoming oasis of a neighborhood. And the revitalization excites Nall.

Montebella, above, is in the final stages of converting to an all-condo complex.

“To see it go from vacant apartments to becoming community has been one fo the best things and it’s been so interesting to watch it change and grow,” he says. “I think we were first in this area doing the revitalization or rebuilding of area.”

Five years ago, Nall came on as the developer’s rep and oversaw the conversion of Montebella. The space breaks down into buildings with similar structures but unique designs to each. The first phase was to redo the buildings closest to the street and after gutting them out to the bricks and studs, they were essentially rebuilt with a sleeker interiors. They kept the original hardwood flooring but freshened up the look with granite countertops, stainless appliances and one thing that couldn’t be beat — trees. A canopy of live oak trees cover the main drive of the complex, offering a nest of green to cozy up in. The complex has two more buildings to finish and they will all have been completely converted.

For Nall, this project is one of several happening in this area. Kings connects a residential area between Cedar Springs and Maple roads and provides easy access to a number of crucial spots close by such as Love Field airport, UT Southwestern and also the development of Maple Avenue thanks to Crow Holdings.
“I would describe this neighborhood as transitional, but the new stuff happening in the area is great,” Nall says.

The Dallas Morning News’ Steve Brown wrote recently about Crow Holdings and its expansion down Maple Avenue that started with the old Parkland venture. Established businesses such as Herrera’s and Sunshine Laundry have embraced the newer, better Maple and relocated to better fit into the project.

The Cedar Springs Place addition is slated for demolition.

Additionally, Kroger’s has been looking at the Elliott’s Hardware site for a potential spot to open a Signature

location close to the new DART Green Line at Maple and Denton roads. New condos, new stores, new public transportation all amp up the area nicely. So what about that vacant spot across from Montebella? No real word yet, according to Nall, but buzz seems to be brewing.

“Well, it has everyone’s attention here. Especially when they started painting the “v’s” (for vacant) on the doors,” he says. “We hear that various developers have eyed the property.”

Morning News reporter Kim Horner wrote, “The Dallas Housing Authority has moved almost everyone out of that part of a public housing complex on the edge of Oak Lawn. The agency plans to demolish the 220 apartments built in 1942 that look like rundown military barracks and replace them with new units.”

This means good news for Montebella. The buildings are stark and scary even. A facelift couldn’t change the look, but an entirely new development will — as well as fit in better with the developments of late.

“It’s an interesting mix of old and new here and I think that’s what draws people in,” Nall says. “We’re glad to see the new restaurants and other complexes. The land is being better utilized now and yet still has some of the feel like original Oak Lawn area.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Piazza leaving Dallas for Atlanta

The Rev. Michael Piazza

The Rev. Michael Piazza, who since 1987 has been a force in the gay faith community in North Texas, has accepted a position as pastor of Virginia-Highland Church in Atlanta.

Accompanying Piazza will be his longtime executive assistant, David Plunkett.

“This all happened literally yesterday,” Plunkett said. “We got back from Atlanta at 2 this morning.”

Piazza stepped down as senior pastor at the Cathedral of Hope several years ago and transitioned into the role of dean of the church. That affiliation ended last March, although Plunkett said many people still do not realize it (in part because Piazza and Plunkett still office at the Cathedral COH, where they work with the Center for Progressive Renewal and Hope for Peace and Justice).

“Last year was the first year in Rev. Piazza’s adult life when he was not pastoring a church,” Plunkett said. “He is very, very good at what he does now [teaching other clergy], but at heart, as anyone who has heard him on a Sunday in the pulpit, he’s a prophetic preacher.”

Plunkett described the Virginia-Highland Church as “a once-vibrant church in desperate need of revitalization.” Although not currently a predominantly gay church, Plunkett said it has a history of inclusiveness.

“It was Southern Baptist, but [got] kicked out of the denomination because they refused to dismiss a gay pastor” some years back, Plunkett said. Virginia-Highland is currently dual-affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the United Church of Christ (the same denomination as COH).

At first, Piazza will not be full time, but will continue his work with the CPR, which is based in Atlanta. Plunkett will be largely full time at the church. He has worked with Piazza for the past nine years, and will aid in the transition. The start date for the team will be March 1.

Plunkett, who has been active in the theater community, said leaving will be bittersweet for him as well. He grew up in Plano.

Plunkett said Piazza likely would not have an opportunity to deliver a farewell sermon in Dallas, even if asked.

More to come ….

—  Arnold Wayne Jones