In the News

Additional news articles can be found at Candy'

<< First  < Prev   1   2   3   4   5   ...   Next >  Last >> 
  • June 07, 2019 11:04 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Dallas News
    David Tarrant and Hayat Norimine

    A new high-rise could come to the affluent Preston Hollow neighborhood in North Dallas under a plan tentatively approved Thursday.

    Over the objections of some neighbors who believe traffic will worsen on and around Northwest Highway, the City Plan Commission overwhelmingly approved a zoning plan that would effectively double the number of condominium units allowed on the 14-acre parcel, where a three-story condo building burned down two years ago.

    The rezoning plan still needs full council approval.

    The case has been one of the most contentious in the city in recent years. The parcel is part of Planned Development District 15, known as PD-15 — an area next to some of the most expensive homes in Dallas.

    The zoning battle had also prompted former Mayor Laura Miller to challenge incumbent three-term City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates this spring. Miller carried precincts around PD-15, but lost to Gates by a 2-to-1 margin. She did not attend the hearing Thursday and did not respond to a request for comment.

    Before the vote, commissioners said the rezoning plan was right for the area.

    “Clearly, change is hard,” said Margot Murphy, Gates’ appointee to the plan commission. “The goal is maintaining a great neighborhood.”

    The prime real estate in question serves as a buffer zone of sorts between the Preston Center shopping complex to the south and Preston Hollow single-family homes. The city’s proposal capped the height of new buildings at 240 feet along Northwest Highway and restricted the slope down to 96 feet adjacent to the single-family neighborhood to the north.

    But a friendly amendment from Murphy, which commissioners supported, would allow for a height of up to 310 feet in exchange for a percentage of mixed-income units.

    A concrete slab, all that remains of Preston Place Condominiums, which was destroyed by a fire, is seen in at 6225 West Northwest Highway on Friday, March 8, 2019, in Dallas. (Ryan Michalesko/Staff Photographer)

    The extra height could also come in exchange for added amenities, including an underground parking requirement and more green space.

    "I support this because I think it's going to make this area beautiful," Commissioner Pete Schulte said.

    City staff had recommended increasing the density in the area to make the site, where Preston Place Condominiums burned down in March 2017, more economically viable for developers.

    The case had previously come to the commission April 18, but commissioners decided they needed more time for staff and interested parties to review a traffic study.

    City councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates, left, and Laura Miller, who were candidates for City Council District 13, participated in a debate at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas, Monday, April 22, 2019. (Brandon Wade/Special Contributor)

    On May 20, the city received that traffic study, which was commissioned by the Preston Place Condominium Association — a group made up of the condo owners whose units burned down two years ago. That group has supported the city rezoning plan.

    The study indicated that traffic in the PD-15 area would rise more than 70 percent if the zoning was 90 units per acre. And traffic would double if the zoning was 125 units per acre.

    Opponents to the city proposal said the traffic study wasn’t comprehensive enough and believed traffic would be even worse than the document described, particularly on cut-through streets.

    David Nevarez, the city’s senior transportation engineer, said he saw no reason to challenge the veracity and scope of the report. He added that the city will require another more detailed traffic study once a developer offers a specific proposed project.

    “I certainly understand their concerns,” Nevarez said of opponents. “I gotta say, this is the first traffic study that I see as part of an authorized hearing. ... It is a comprehensive study.”

    The opponents to the city's proposal had pushed instead to hold fast to an “area plan” approved by the council two years ago — weeks before the fire — that called for keeping redevelopment projects to a maximum of four stories to restrict density and traffic.

    Steve Dawson told commissioners they ought to reject the rezoning because neighbors overwhelmingly opposed it.

    Commissioner Michael Jung said he respects area plans but said he did not believe such plans are “holy writ.” The urban design elements, particularly the incentives for more open space, are important improvements, Jung said.

    But Jung ended up voting against the plan after Bill Kritzer, a resident of Preston Tower for 10 years, said the city broke a “golden rule” by violating the residential proximity slope — a slope from the ground used to determine height caps — with the increased height limits.

    Kritzer said he was “very disappointed” by the commissioners’ decision Thursday.

    “I believe that, for the most part, they don’t know what they just passed,” he said. “Just as a citizen, I have no idea what they’ve done.”

    Gloria Tarpley, the commission's chair, told the opponents of the proposal they “have been listened to.”

    “Much thought has gone into this,” Tarpley said. “We have really tried very hard to put ourselves in the shoes of each one of you. All of you have mattered in this process.”

  • June 06, 2019 11:13 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Candys Dirt
    Jon Anderson

    New buildings set between the towers

    Tonight’s Dallas City Plan Commission meeting had a surprise ending for naysayers bent on limiting heights in PD-15.

    I have to give the neighbors credit for successfully coming together to put forward a plan to maximize green space in the area. Developers also upended the city’s recommended PD-15 changes with a bold plan to deliver on those neighbors’ request by offering 35 to 45 percent of open space between a combined Royal Orleans and Preston Place. The catch? A new tower on Northwest Highway would hit 310 feet in height, slightly less than Preston Tower. (I was agog when I saw this option gaining support.)

    In exchange for that height, the neighborhood will gain the aforementioned green space plus 100 percent underground parking for residents and guests (limited above ground for delivery and prospective tenants). The kicker to the height is that they want fewer units than the city’s proposed plan calls for with its affordable housing and green space sweeteners (120 units per acre versus 125 with all the sweeteners).

    The proposal that drove the Plan Commission’s decision is shown above. It will contain 360 units. Given all the cubic footage of the project, the units will have to be very large. It will be part of a semi-connected set of projects punctuated by connected greenspace. The building’s commanding views of downtown and North Dallas will be equal to the rents or selling prices charged.  Yes, selling prices. Seeing the size of the building and the number of units, the resulting oversized units almost beg for condos – if not immediately, then converted at a later date. This is something the neighborhood has long wished for.

    Contrary to the naysayers, a development such as this will resuscitate the Pink Wall in a way smaller buildings would be hard pressed to match. I believe once the dust has settled, the values and desirability of the area will quickly increase, bringing in new money to revive and restore the remaining walk-up buildings. It’s what a signature development can do. (Of course, this still has to pass Dallas City Council.)

    Proposal viewed from Northwest Highway

    And high-rise living isn’t going anywhere. This week, The New York Times noted that in 1908 just 26 percent of the city’s high-rises were residential. The last decade has brought that number to 64 percent (when accounting for those buildings currently under construction) – and New York has a lot of high-rises.

    Above is a rendering of the new central green space. Diamond Head Circle is closed from the Athena to the old Preston Place and converted to a park. Ground-floor units that once faced concrete now have patios that bleed into the green. Traffic from the new developments is cut off from impacting the existing buildings on Diamond Head Circle as I had hoped.

    Traffic-wise, the city also wrote into their changes that the redeveloped Preston Place, Royal Orleans, and Diplomat would need to shunt traffic to Northwest Parkway and (preferably) Northwest Highway via a new opening (probably Tulane). This will minimize traffic overflow to existing side streets and Preston Hollow – another win for the neighborhood.

    Of course, for many, the positives will only begrudgingly be admitted in hindsight. The Dallas City Plan Commission was treated to a monologue of the same tired, slanted tropes – this time delivered by University Park resident and Laura Miller supporter Steve Dawson.

    Nearly universal support

    It’s Not Perfect

    The city’s original draft proposal had built-ins for affordable housing. The new proposal at 310 feet along Northwest Highway needed tweaking. The proginal draft proposal had no way to break the 240-foot residential proximity slope even with the “points system” that rewards density for increased greenspace and smaller building facades (to avoid a solid wall on Northwest Highway). So to enable breakage or RPS, Plan Commission added affordable housing in a way that enables a building to go from 240-feet to 310-feet.

    There would need to be 5 percent of housing set aside for those earning between 50 and 60 percent of Average Median Family Income and another 5 percent for those earning between 61 and 80 percent of AMFI. (But my gosh, it took forever for them to tediously get the wording right.)

    Also, one of the things a developer can spend “points” on is the extinguishment of tower separation. In the case of Northwest Highway that only impacts the western edge of the Athena. It would behoove residents to meet with the developer and work out a compromise to keep a separation that’s frankly mutually beneficial.

    Also, the Northwest Highway setback retains the city’s recommendation of 70 feet instead of today’s 100-foot setback. I think there is ample documentation for a fight to brew there.

    But finally, it must be pointed out that contrary to political fudging, there will not be six 20-story high-rises, or even two. Just one.

    In The End

    Should this pass City Council, the end result will be very positive aesthetically and economically to the neighborhood. I’ve said for quite some time that it’s less about height, but what’s happening on the ground that really matters. In this case, the ground is a lot greener than expected while minimizing traffic.

    Now, if only the Preston Center garage could see such a positive, park-like outcome.

  • March 10, 2019 11:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    David Tarrant, Enterprise writer

    A rectangular concrete slab, shaded by a few live oaks, is all that remains of what once was home to about 100 residents, most of them older retirees.

    Two years ago, a fire destroyed the condominiums here, which were located within a 14-acre development on the north side of Northwest Highway between Pickwick Lane and Baltimore Avenue.

    But the blaze did more than reduce homes to rubble and devastate the residents' lives. It tore apart a neighborhood.

    This prime real estate serves as a buffer zone of sorts between the Preston Center shopping complex to the south and Preston Hollow single-family homes. But now, it's a prominent battleground — for a fight between developers and the city's most prominent and wealthy residents; between the condos' former owners and their neighbors; and between two Dallas political heavyweights.

    Former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller speaks to reporters as she leaves the city secretary's office after filing the required petition signatures to secure a place on the ballot for Dallas City Council District 13 on Feb. 15, 2019, at Dallas City Hall. (Ashley Landis/Staff Photographer)

    In one corner is Dallas City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates, who wants to rezone the area and build anew. In the other corner, former Mayor Laura Miller, who says more density there will strangle the quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods.

    Miller's battles with Gates over development in this area helped draw her out of political retirement. But she said her fight is more than a neighborhood squabble in Council District 13. When she decided to run, she called the election "a referendum on development in District 13 now and in the future."

    Gates, in turn, said Miller's efforts are "not trying to get a good development." Instead, she said, the former mayor seems bent on "stopping anything from happening."

    The battle in the larger Preston Center-area war comes to a head in the midst of the election season. On March 21, the City Plan Commission is scheduled to hear recommendations from staff for zoning in Planned Development 15, or PD-15.

    “We are in a process,” Gates said, “and the community input will be included.”

    City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates during a budget discussion at Dallas City Hall earlier this year. (Ashley Landis/Staff Photographer)

    Lifestyles of the rich and famous

    The adage “location, location, location,” applies to PD-15, the largest part of an area commonly known as “behind the pink wall,” for the serpentine pink brick wall that stretches along Northwest Highway east of Preston Road. 

    The neighborhood began to develop in the early 1950s with luxury apartments and added condos over time. Later, the city approved zoning for the area known as Planned Development District No. 15, or PD-15 for short. The zoning governs six condo properties on a 14.2 acre tract of land in an area that includes the Preston Tower and Athena high-rises that flanked the three-story Preston Place.

    The area drew its prestige in part because its sits between Preston Center and the luxury homes in Preston Hollow, a neighborhood that claims among its prominent residents billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and former President George W. Bush.

    In 2015, after frequent zoning fights and concerns about traffic congestion in the area, Gates appointed 14 people to come up with guidelines for future development and plans to reduce traffic congestion in the area.

    The task force included Miller, who lives in Preston Hollow west of Dallas North Tollway.  

    “We were all excited to do this plan for the area and stop all the raucous emotional zoning battles going on in the neighborhood,” Miller said.

    A look at the brick structure known as the "Pink Wall," which used to be considered a sign of status in Preston Hollow as homeowners near Preston Center in Dallas, battle high-rise expansion efforts that will affect parking, transportation and quality of life aspects in the area. (2018 File Photo/Louis DeLuca)

    The plan promoted smaller buildings and more green space. Both commercial business interests and homeowners supported the plan, Miller said. The plan also said residents wanted to “limit additional redevelopment projects to a maximum of four stories.”

    Preston Center would serve as the main area for dense development, Miller said, invoking the concept of West Village in Dallas’ Uptown neighborhood.

    The City Council signed off on the plan in January 2017. And eight weeks later, the fire broke out at Preston Place Condominiums.

    Seven-alarm fire

    The massive seven-alarm fire started the night of March 3, 2017. The blaze killed an 89-year-old woman who lived there and destroyed cars, belongings, memories. Some pets also died in the blaze.

    Those who owned the condos in the 60-unit complex — mostly older, retired residents — want to sell the property to a developer so they could recoup their investment and move on.

    Dallas Fire-Rescue personnel fight a 7-alarm fire at the Preston Place condos in the 6200 block of West Northwest Highway early Saturday, March 4, 2017. (Metro Video)

    During a public hearing last month, former Preston Place residents described how the fire disrupted their lives. Several said they still have to pay their mortgages on the non-existent condos.

    Kenny Dickson, whose parents were residents at Preston Place, said his father, Kenneth Dickson, a retired senior associate pastor at Highland Park United Methodist Church, has cancer and may not live long enough to see the property sold.

    “Most of the people who lived in Preston Place were older,” Dickson said, when it was his turn to speak. “And this was their home. So what we're hoping for is that we move forward.”

    The zoning issue is more humanitarian than political, he said.

    “The longer we wait, the more risk there is that people will die before they recoup their investment,” Dickson said.

    Fight heats up

    But the stakes were high, and the politics began to heat up.

    Miller, known as a combative politician in her decade at City Hall, accused Gates of scrapping the task force’s plan after Preston Place burned down.

    The former mayor said Gates told her and others that developers could not build anything economically viable within the four-story limitations set out in the area plan.

    Gates said she hasn’t scrapped the area plan and that “Laura is sharing wrong information.” The area plan was also a vision, not zoning law, Gates said.

    She said the only way to redevelop the old Preston Place site without making a zoning change would be to rebuild the condominiums with exactly the same number of  units with the same configuration. Otherwise, all six properties covered under PD-15 have to agree to changes.

    That setup was a recipe for nothing to ever be done, Gates said, because the other properties within the PD-15 area couldn’t agree on any changes. 

    City gets involved

    After Gates’ neighborhood steering committee couldn’t reach an agreement last spring, the council member and city staff then launched a process called an authorized hearing. Under the authorized hearing process, city planners hold public hearings and make recommendations on appropriate zoning to the City Plan Commission.

    Gates’ idea was to “tackle new zoning for the whole area” rather than just Preston Place.

    But Miller opposed the authorized hearing process in a letter to Gates dated May 11, 2018, that was also signed by several supporters, including former council members Donna Blumer and Mitchell Rasansky.

    “As you know, the community of homeowners living in the vicinity of Preston Center is highly concerned about any increase in density or traffic,” Miller wrote. Developers want to “build big,” the letter stated, but “it is the surrounding neighbors who have to live with the consequences.”

    One of those developers, Provident Realty, spoke to the steering committee about Preston Place. “We’re working with Provident as the city process proceeds,” said Preston Place Homeowners Association Board president Arnold Spencer.

    Spencer declined to provide details, and Provident leaders couldn’t be reached for comment. He said Preston Place owners want to incorporate sustainable development and environment-friendly designs and respect their neighbors' positions.

    The city's plan would nearly double the allowable units per acre — up to 90 rather than the current 52 — and give developers more units if they set aside some as affordable housing. Some parts of the development could be up to about 20 stories high.

    A concrete slab, all that remains of Preston Place Condominiums, which was destroyed by a fire, is seen in at 6225 W. Northwest Highway on March 8, 2019, in Dallas.  Preston Tower is in the background. (Ryan Michalesko/Staff Photographer)

    Gates, in an interview, said the density for PD-15 "makes sense because you'll get a better quality project."

    At the end of a Feb. 19 public hearing, Miller said the community had already spoken "louder and clearer than any other neighborhood over two years" with its message.

    "And it was: Don't give us more than four stories when you redevelop behind the pink wall," Miller said.

    Asked about the city recommendations’ detractors, Gates said “some people just want nothing.”

    Several former residents of Preston Place displaced by the fire also saw the city's recommendations favorably. Spencer said the ideas “represent a reasonable compromise and an economically viable option.” And Sharon Anderson, who also lived at Preston Place, said former residents “are stuck in limbo through no fault of their own."

    "This isn't about making money,” she said. “This is about recovery.”

    Two extremes

    The coming weeks promise to be a political brouhaha.

    Miller said she has had to fight the same battle over and over in recent years. “For six years, neighborhoods have called me to help with zoning cases,” she said.

    Homeowners need an advocate, she said, and that’s why she’s running. Near Preston Center, a row of homes on Northwest Highway display large "Laura Miller for City Council" yard signs.

    Miller built her political career on that pro-neighborhood narrative. And Gates' background makes her a natural enemy. The council member’s father is Dallas Cowboys legend Roger Staubach, who made a second career in real estate. And her husband has real estate investments, too.

    But Gates has also cast Miller, who has plenty of political baggage, as a single-issue candidate focused only on development in the Preston Center area. “Effective leadership requires ... a balanced and collaborative approach,” Gates said.

    Gates said it is “very clear” that Miller “is using this one issue to promote her political agenda, which I do not believe is in line with District 13 voters.”

    Claire Stanard — who lives on a street just behind the PD-15 and is the city liaison for Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association — said she’s not happy with the Miller-Gates battle.

    “I feel like the election has devolved into two extremes: pro-development vs. anti-development,” she said.

    “Many people see Laura Miller as against any development, and people label Jennifer Gates as pro-development simply because her father and husband are in the development business,” Stanard said. “Neither of these are true.”

    Stanard said what’s needed is a comprehensive plan for PD-15 “that takes in consideration the neighborhood, the sellers and the developers.”

    Getting the city planners involved in the process was the only way to move forward, Stanard said. “None of the sides could agree. Everything kept ending up in a stalemate,” she said.

    “But the city does need to listen to the community input,” she said.

    Stanard plans to attend the March 21 public hearing on the city’s recommendations.

    As for who will get her vote on Election Day on May 4? Right now, she said, "I’m not sure."

    View article online

  • March 08, 2019 5:11 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Jon Anderson

    [Editor’s note: Jon Anderson is a columnist for His opinions are his own.]

    While Thursday’s meeting fell short of the usual fireworks expected, the City Plan Commission asked some great questions regarding city staff’s proposed changes to PD-15.

    In the lead-up to City Plan Commission’s public hearing on staff’s proposal for updating PD-15, staff briefed plan commissioners Thursday morning at Vital. Groups. Knee. Senior Planner Andrew Ruegg, who’s led the process so far, presented essentially the same slides as were shown to the community two weeks ago.

    What the few who went to the meeting were most interested in were the questions and comments from the other commissioners. I give a “Hallelujah!” to CPC chair Gloria Tarpley for commenting that the 3-D images shown of the proposed changes would have been welcome at other cases. How the city can be devising “words on paper” documents reflecting 3-D realities without 3-D models has always been a mystery. It should be ante to the game.

    The first questions were from District 11 appointee Janie Schultz. First, she was curious whether the requirement for a street lamp every 50-feet was adequate. While boilerplate, staff said they’d look into it. Schultz’ second question concerned the affordable housing sweeteners and whether anyone would use them. The suspicion is that along the northern side they will be unlikely to be used, while on the Northwest Highway side they may if the developer wants to get near tapping any height. It kind of goes to what I’ve been saying that if the buildable envelope doesn’t grow, it’s just cannibalizing market-rate units for affordable units.

    Commissioner Jung was next (at least I think it was, his back was to me). He wanted to know what would happen to all the non-conforming things that would result if the proposed changes were adopted. He called out the carports on the PD’s northern alley, two caretakers’ cottages-turned-condo, and the towers themselves (which would violate the proposed residential proximity slope). The answer was essentially nothing would happen until a property redeveloped.

    Commissioner Shadid followed up Schultz’ comments on the usability of the proposed affordable housing sweeteners. Ruegg wouldn’t comment specifically on their likelihood of use.

    District 14 appointee Paul Ridley focused on the burned Preston Place lot. He wanted to know if their existing footprint was grandfathered in. It appeared the current Tulane Blvd. buildable lot line would encroach on the proposed setbacks – should someone want to rebuild the old Preston Place exactly as it was. It got mildly confusing when Ridley seemed to mix the 66 surplus lots into Preston Place’s original 60 units. City staff didn’t seem to understand Ridley’s apparent misunderstanding. For clarification, Preston Place’s 60 units are not part of the 66 surplus units (which are a shared resource among the other PD-15 parcels). The surplus units are the result of PD-15 being changed to reflect the density of a never-built high-rise on Preston Place. When that planned 125-unit complex only resulted in the 60-unit Preston Place, the shared resource of today’s 66 surplus units was created because the PD was never changed to remove the unbuilt units.

    The final commissioner to ask a question I’ll leave nameless because the question was embarrassing. This commissioner wanted to know how the area would be replatted should a single-family home builder wish to develop within the PD. I call it embarrassing because no one is going to pay the land price only to plop what would he hugely expensive homes in the middle of a neighborhood that on a generous day would be called middle-class. Although, never say never. In 2006, someone built townhouses in Farmers’ Market on land zoned CA-1 providing unlimited height, 100 percent lot coverage, and 20-to-1 density.

    Now, since the public wasn’t allowed to speak, here are my two suggestions …

    Proposed setbacks outlined in red

    Northwest Highway Setbacks

    From above, it’s easy to see the structure of the four Northwest Highway-facing buildings are essentially in alignment. There’s a reason. In 1945, “Preston Tower” was called out on a city survey and notes the 100-foot setback minimum. In 1963 there’s another survey that extends the 100-foot setback across all four parcels. In 1966, a contract was signed by each of the four parcel owners that called out the 100-foot setback and the 50-foot right of way – it states changes must be unanimously approved. Each owner’s title documents list the 100-foot setback.

    Today, there are two parcels who could feasibly take advantage of a reduced setback. Preston Place has a roughly two-acre parcel and so given its size, doesn’t need it to build a good building. Royal Orleans is a small parcel with an equally small buildable envelope. Should one building be pulled out of alignment?  And for what?

    Even assuming it was legal (which seems doubtful), the proposed 70-foot setback guarantees a poor pedestrian experience. As seen in the yellow box above, the 70-foot setback is only good for the first 45 feet in height. Above 45 feet, the Northwest Highway urban form setback of 20-feet kicks in, producing a 90-foot setback above 45 feet in height. The only benefit of the 70-foot setback is to the first 45-feet of a potentially 240-foot tall building – you know, where the pedestrians are supposed to be.

    Reviewing the numbers, the proposed changes call for 10 feet of (pink) wall/green space border along Northwest Highway. There’s a 50-foot public access frontage road. A 70-foot setback is 10 feet back from the frontage road. But wait, the plan also calls for up to 15 feet of encroachment for porticos and such. Someone’s missing 5 feet.

    The result is that the neighborhood winds up with a landing strip of sidewalk and the occasional bush flanked by neighbors who, while having porticos, also have pretty good front yard landscaping. The towers also use the 100-setback for drop-off outside the active roadway. By comparison, a 70-foot setback would result in road-blocking drop-offs.

    The solution here is obvious. If the urban form setback along Northwest Highway is ditched, it results in a flat face to Northwest Highway (boo-hoo) that if pushed back to the 100-foot line results in a potential building having the same (or more) buildable square footage without messing up the very streetscape the plan is trying to engender.

    A four-story encroachment into the 100-foot setback is a poor exchange for an urban form setback that benefits no one (that would be challenged in court).

    Multi-Family Residential Proximity Slope (RPS)

    On the northern boundary is another setback that needs looking at. While I’m all for the single-family RPS being instituted, the multi-family version will cause unintended results. The goal for the “back” northern lots is to keep them lower than those on Northwest Highway – it provides a needed step-down between the existing height on Northwest Highway and the two-story developments to the north. Lower buildings also tick-off the existing towers less.

    Single-family RPS does this just fine. What multi-family does is knock off the lower floor backs of potential buildings along an alley. The existing buildings across the alley are two-story with bedroom windows facing towards the alley. The ground-floor windows of those buildings are below the corrugated steel carport roofline – their “view” is of a car hood and a white painted steel sky. If a 100-story building was built, the views from those windows are unchanged. The second-floor windows are rarely unobscured by curtains or shutters, signaling their view is already not worth viewing. Being zoned MF-1 and deed restricted on top of that, change across the alley is extremely unlikely.

    BUT, if the multi-family RPS chunks out enough of the lower floors to force a building to go higher due to less efficient geometry, that’s a poor trade-off for the neighborhood. For example, because the dimensions are known, would the currently proposed 85-foot Diplomat replacement be forced to jump up to a full 8-stories to make the geometry work? I don’t think there’d be much neighborhood support for an extra floor in exchange for the multi-family RPS. Especially when it impacts an alley and buildings whose poor views are likely to be impaired further. However, an extra story will make them darker as more sky is taken.

    There are nuances to setbacks whose cost/benefit to the resulting neighborhood should be considered more closely.

    View article online

  • February 20, 2019 10:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Jon Anderson

    Fifty years after last school bell rang for attendees, front rows are still last to fill

    [Editor’s note: Jon Anderson is a columnist for who lives in District 13. His opinions are his own.]

    The community gathered last night to discuss PD-15, and honestly, I expected this to be a “bottle of rotgut and a bullet to bite on” kind of meeting. But it wasn’t. To be sure, when the public comment section came around there was no shortage of strong words on every side of this issue. Former Dallas mayor and District 13 city council candidate Laura Miller gave her 2-cents when everyone else had gotten one. (More later)

    In a bizarre coincidence, earlier in the day I’d read about the jet stream’s current velocity pushing eastbound airplanes as fast as 801 miles per hour — which is about how fast city planner Andrew Ruegg zipped through 96 slides in about 40 minutes at last night’s second PD-15 community meeting. While some of the city’s all-important graphics could have benefitted from a few more seconds on the screen, it was a comprehensive overview of the draft proposal being delivered to city plan commission on March 21.

    Note to city: Graphics of exactly what’s on the table are critical to comprehension. They should be there at the get-go, not batting clean-up.

    But just as the Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan didn’t take economics into consideration, the city’s PD document really didn’t either. It would have been helpful to have had a “likely outcome” section.

    You see, while the land bordering Northwest Highway is proposed to allow 240-foot heights, It’s not probable that’s what will be built. Let me explain …

    RPS is a secondary stop-gap to height that can’t be zoned away in future

    Royal Orleans

    The city is limiting density to 90 units per acre. They’re also limiting lot coverage based on height – under 96 feet tall requires 65 percent coverage, and from 97 to 168 feet tall,  coverage drops to 55 percent. Anything over 169 feet tall can only cover 45 percent of their lot.

    For Royal Orleans and its existing setbacks, their coverage is less than 45 percent already, so they could theoretically build the full 240 feet of height. But at 90 units per acre and an 11-foot floor height (10-foot ceiling plus 1-foot gap between floors) that’s 21 stories.

    But their lot is a pinch less than an acre and results in a buildable floor of roughly 16,000 square feet (minus setbacks, hallways, gym, office, etc.). Assume an average of 1,000 square feet per unit. That’s 16 units per floor and they can build 90. That’s six stories. If they wanted 12 stories, it’s 2,000-square-foot units on average.

    Even maxing out the city’s affordable housing and green space sweeteners, bringing the total to 125 units per acre, those additional units will likely add two floors. Most likely resulting in eight stories – remarkably similar to A.G. Spanos’ plan for the Diplomat right behind Royal Orleans on a similarly sized lot.

    And there’s another limiting factor the city can’t really address. The cost of parking a highly-dense building on a small parcel. Underground parking is really expensive. A developer would be hard-pressed to dig economically enough to provide the needed parking for a tall building assuming the 1,000-square-foot average. Of course, the larger the unit, the less parking needed, but units that size would almost have to be condo, and condo money is very hard to get from a bank.

    Preston Place

    Preston Place has two acres with half theoretically allowing 240 feet on Northwest Highway and 96 feet on the northern half of their lot. So double Royal Orleans’ math and you still don’t likely get a high-rise. Sure, they could pile all of their 180 units on the front, but no developer is going to build what would be an expensive building and leave half the lot as parkland.

    As you can see above, one city scenario (green) showed two buildings split in half. But even that I think is a generous possibility. If the back building is assumed to have 90 units there’s no way the front taller building can also have 90 units. There’s too much of a volume difference unless the units on the Northwest Highway building would be a heck of a lot larger than those on the back.

    The city did not share if any rough calculations of unit sizes went into their overall envelope calculations. I suspect not, but I don’t know for sure.

    And remember, I’m not afraid of height. I’m the one who thinks one fabulous building would be a game-changer for the neighborhood. So while I’d love to see a 240-foot-tall starchitect building, I just don’t see it.

    There were plenty of other parameters suggested for PD-15, but height always seems to be the bugaboo. If you want to see the city’s deck, you can download it here.

    10-6-4 – The 70-Degree Snowman

    The committee members behind the 10-6-4 plan that I took to the woodshed two weeks ago was presented. Many kept calling it a “compromise.” A compromise is when something rests between “bare minimum” and “overboard.”  My new analogy involves a snowman.

    The 10-6-4 draft is like offering to build a snowman on a 70-degree day. However, there is no snow to build the snowman above 32 degrees. Saying 70 degrees is a compromise from 80 degrees isn’t an actual compromise because you can’t build a snowman above the freezing point of water.

    The same is true of development. It’s not a compromise unless it’s buildable, and 10-6-4 isn’t.  It’s a collection of boxes with no volume calculated, no unit counts, not financeable, and no one saying they’d build it. It makes assumptions that sound good, but the city would be powerless to implement. It’s a 70-degree snowman.

    Public Comments

    I have to insert some irony. When the city speakers were done, they announced that commenters from the public would have one-minute to say their piece. A huge groan and grumble erupted about the city shutting off comments. However, they explained that 50 people had signed up to speak, so each additional minute given to everyone (to be fair) would be essentially adding another hour to the meeting. By the time the last person spoke, the room had lost at least a third of its audience. Had each person been given two minutes, the room likely would have been nearly empty. So much for the grumble. Anyway …

    The noisiest comments came from Preston Hollow residents who’d seen Provident Realty present to the Preston Hollow East Neighborhood Association last week. They and their architect showed up with a 38-story building containing 320 units that many claimed the city supported. Council member Jennifer Gates spent too much time quelling nerves. There is no effing way a 38-story building will be built in PD-15. That would be over 400 feet tall, placing it in the top 30 tallest buildings in Dallas – just slightly shorter than the Renaissance Hotel on Interstate 35E and the W Hotel in Victory Plaza. At 160 units per acre it would be 60 percent more dense than the city wants. Provident has a habit of throwing crap against a wall and seeing what sticks – unfortunately, residents have no way of knowing that. All that tone-deaf tactic did was inflame the situation.

    A few concerns popped up about the city’s density-based affordable housing sweeteners. More than a few pulses raced judging from the mummers of “no” heard through the room.

    There were a few odd comments wanting to know if there were limitations on the ages of new residents. No, said the city. Two speakers were alarmed that people with children could move in next door to a retiree. (Now we know why the grandkids don’t visit). Behind me I heard someone respond to the kids concern by saying “black kids” which seemed to be combination racism when coupled with the affordable housing comment.

    In a laughable moment, a Preston Tower resident said they’d distributed a survey to everyone whose email they had. Really?  Everyone?  I didn’t get one and I’ve got the biggest mouth in the area. My email is listed on every column I write and is well-known to the “no” committee he touts. And yet both he and Laura Miller make hay with the amount of support they have. The rank and file have not been educated nor polled. The HOA boards have likely just allowed their entire building to be represented by this group – and their residents can do little to stop them. I know. They don’t represent me and my HOA won’t give me a vote.

    Example of paid consultant’s work left out of Area Plan

    Laura Miller raised the issue of her Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan and why all the money spent on research had been cast aside so quickly (cheers erupted from the audience).  It’s a simple answer. Task force members (including plan co-author Peter Kline) told me that Miller and the task force tossed the research in favor of their own self-written plan that essentially wrote down whatever task force members dictated.

    If you don’t believe me, read the plan here. You’ll note that anything to do with the hard recommendations for density and usage (that, for example, encouraged mixed-use with less focus on office space in Preston Center) are not in the report (graphic above). All the 3-D imagery and potential scenarios were left out. So aside from it having no economic backing, Miller presided over a plan with no data. (Note: I am not implying the consultant’s data was easy to digest or perfect – I gave it hell when it was happening – but it was better than the nothing that was delivered).

    Returning to the other comments, a Preston Hollow resident lamented that they’re coming very late to this party and why there wasn’t better notification. I’ve said on multiple occasions that it’s hardly been a secret for the past two years. But there’s another, deeper answer and it involves ever-shrinking newsrooms across the country. I was happy to see a Dallas Morning News reporter at last night’s meeting, but it’s a rarity. Had candidate Miller not been there and fireworks expected, I’m not sure DMN would have shown. Local news coverage is evaporating before our eyes.

    Another comment was a fearful cry about PD-15 being a first domino in remaking the entire area into West Village. Nope. First, PD-15 is unique, and in my opinion the only real chance the Pink Wall has at modernization. The rest of the properties are deed restricted to their current two-story build-out. Should the restrictions be lifted (a high bar) their underlying zoning is MF-1, allowing just three stories. There are literally no other dominos to fall. Once the four low-rises are rebuilt (most likely as mid-rises), barring catastrophe, they’re there for the next 30-plus years.

    Finally, one Preston Hollow resident said the most truthful thing of the evening. He told the packed house that when be purchased his home, the towers didn’t matter to him. He continued that when he sells, the towers and whatever is built in PD-15 will not be a concern to him either.

    View article online

  • February 19, 2019 10:27 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Jon Anderson

    [Editor’s note: Jon Anderson is a columnist for who lives in District 13. His opinions are his own.]

    I have to admit, had I been drinking milk, it would have squirted out of my nose when I was forwarded an email from a few Preston Hollow residents. It blared out:

    CHANGE IS COMING to District 13!!! (and I don’t mean Staubach’s supersized version) Click the links below – AND: SIGN the petition – AND: GO PARTICIPATE IN DEMOCRACY FEBRUARY 19th at 6:30pm at Hyer Elementary!!!!!!!!! SPREAD THE WORD NOW!!!!!
    (three pro-Laura Miller links)

    Its poor grammar, bombastic language, and the accompanying misleading images reminded me of the sound of a group of seagulls hovering over a restaurant dumpster – or basically, the internet. I wonder if they’ll be yelling “LONG LIVE DEMOCRACY” if Laura Miller loses her race against council member Jennifer Gates?

    First, the campaign seems to be run by the same people who delivered the recent towers meeting. Everything is assumed to be the evil plot of council member Jennifer Gates – almost like it were politically motivated.

    Let’s assume you live in a three-story, 30-foot-tall home (most don’t) and that Preston Place was indeed 40 feet tall. “Version 1” above is the height of a building along Northwest Highway that met the residential proximity slope the city is recommending in their draft. The current zoned height limitation is infinity. So even if 240 feet was likely, it’s still quite a reduction. But they’re also recommending 90 units per acre, which would produce units starting somewhere around 1,500 square feet. No one in Dallas is building that kind of structure. A.G. Spanos’ proposal is for roughly 115 units per acre delivered in seven stories. It’s math.

    And that’s just parcels along the front of Northwest Highway. The northern parcels drop to 96 feet in height. Again, not the existing infinity – and not the 85 feet being proposed by A.G. Spanos for the Diplomat lot. On these parcels the proximity slope actually allows a taller building (~120 feet).

    “Version 2” reflects a proposal by Provident Realty that was first seen at last week’s Preston Hollow East Neighborhood Association. The city had never seen it, council member Gates had never seen it, plan commissioner Margot Murphy had never seen it – I asked them – something the author of this email didn’t. It will never be built. Provident is famous to me as a developer who throws up ludicrously-sized renderings to see what they can get away with.

    “Version 3” is similarly not a real plan. No developer has presented a 19-story building. The “compromise” is simply made-up.

    Oh, haha, “diplomatic” because one of the buildings is the Diplomat.  More misleading graphics. “Spanos/Staubach” is (and always has been) 85 feet tall.  “Could be” isn’t on the table.  It’s scaremongering.

    The 240-foot tall “Staubach Place” would sit between two towers of similar height, an irony lost on residents of the 21-story Athena and 29-story Preston Tower. Council member Gates home is located in a single-family neighborhood. The Pink Wall was originally zoned commercial. When PD-15 was created in the 1960s, its base zoning was MF-3 – unlimited height. It’s not even apples and oranges, its apples and elephants.

    Will something 240 feet in height be built with the density limits?  Who knows? No one has come forward with a credible proposal.

    You read “California developers,” which this “Illinois writer” translates as misplaced Texas exceptionalism. A.G. Spanos are based in California, but their local executive lives in Preston Hollow. And it’s not their 85-foot proposal for Diplomat that should be the most worrying. The uncertainty of the other lots (with and without developers) should be of far more focus than Spanos’ known quantity – whether you support it or not, uncertainty is always worse.

    I have no idea if this is accurate, but it’s certainly misleading (shocking, right?). Which shadows are from existing buildings and which aren’t?  Preston Place is shown as a high-rise front to back (which the city isn’t recommending). Royal Orleans is also shown as a high-rise, a configuration that is nearly impossible to build on their tiny lot.

    You’ll also note this projection is based on Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year, but also when the sun is at its lowest and producing the most shadow. Literally the worst day of the year. Use June 21, the date of the longest sunshine of the year, and the shadows are completely within University Park.

    I saved the best for last. First, I’d hope an 88-story building wouldn’t look like such a dump.  Secondly, it’s more misdirected propaganda (of course). Preston Tower contains 85 units per acre but it’s spread over four acres. So yes, this may be what 88 stories of Preston Tower would look like, but it’s as illustrative as piling a block’s worth of single-family homes on one lot. Yes, it’s tall, but the rest of the block would be pasture. It’s simply taking a concept to absurdity. “Absurdity” has always been a great word for political campaigns.

    Yes, the neighborhood should have been paying attention to the two-year process of figuring out what to do with PD-15 since Preston Place burned. But they weren’t. Now that pen is meeting paper, the propagandists are out in full force. Their all-too-easy goal is to incite the uninformed angry mob who’re so many political pawns in a game that’s not really about them.

    View article online

  • February 14, 2019 11:13 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Preston Hollow Lifestyle
    Advocate Magazine

    In January,  nearly 100 neighbors interested in Planned Development 15 packed the Walnut Hill Recreation Center community room. The PD-15 area is located north of West Northwest Highway between Pickwick Lane and Baltimore Avenue and encompasses six condominium complexes.  At issue: What will become of the condos now after one complex burned down? What are the height restrictions? What’s the grand vision for redevelopment? Millions of dollars are at stake. City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates told the crowd that she’d like for recommendations to be ready by March given that the last committee couldn’t come to a resolution. Why should neighbors care about what seems like a difficult-to-understand issue? If you care about traffic and Northwest Highway development, here’s what you need to know about PD-15 before the public meeting Feb. 19, 6:30 p.m. at Hyer Elementary Cafeteria, 8385 Durham.

    What is a planned development?

    • It establishes planning and zoning regulations for an area of land.

    What is PD-15? 

    • PD-15 was established April 23, 1947, and includes approximately 14.2 acres.

    Why a PD-15 steering committee?

    • Preston Place burned down in March 2017.
    • The city immediately created a study group, which ultimately couldn’t come to an agreement about how to develop the area.
    • In April 2018, at a community meeting, Gates invited citizens to apply to be on a new steering committee.

    Who’s on the new PD-15 steering committee? 

    The City reports the organization represents all property owners within PD-15, with proportional representation mirroring land mass. Neighborhood representives from outside PD-15 also are included:

    • Preston Place: Trish Morin-Resch
    • Preston Tower: Tatiana Frierson and Robert Bowling
    • Athena: Margaret Darden and Barbara Dewberry
    • Royal Orleans: Ed Massman
    • The Diplomat: Maggie Sherrod
    • Diamond Head: Sandra Welch
    • Preston Hollow East Homeowners Association: Juli Black
    • Immediate adjacent neighbors to PD-15 (behind the “pink wall”): Grover Wilkins, Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association; Kevin Griffeth; Jim Panipinto

    Why should you care? 

    How much traffic will development bring to PD-15 and surrounding streets? How high should the buildings be? How much do you care about being able to walk to Preston Center? Are you concerned about underground parking? What about flooding and water flow management?

    What has the new steering committee been doing? 

    • Wilkins, desiring an urbanist’s counsel, invited architect Michael Friebele at Callison RTKL to offer a concept.
    • The Friebele concept: “One idea, and you build the whole thing.” Sources won’t allow us to publish a map of the concept, but the idea is for architects to design one concept for all properties, suggesting no more than 10 stories on Northwest Highway and four stories on the north side.
    • Here’s what owners at all condo properties want, according to Wilkins: plenty of green space and walkability; high rises on the south, low rises on north.

    What should you do? 

    Ask questions. Contact Andrew Ruegg, at 214-671-7931 or

    What’s next?

    Attend the public community meeting Feb. 19, 6:30 p.m., at Hyer Elementary Cafeteria, 8385 Durham.

    “This tract of land is incredible,” Wilkins says. “I am three minutes from the tollway, five minutes from Central Expressway. What more do you want? The design factor is essential. We think if we present this to the community, the community will go with this.”

    Sources: Dallas City Hall, Grover Wilkins

    View article online

  • February 14, 2019 11:10 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Jon Anderson

    A.G. Spanos rendering for Diplomat lot

    I can’t seem to go a week these days without some wrinkle or shenanigan involving Planned Development District PD-15, located on a small patch on Northwest Highway near Preston Road behind the Pink Wall. Last week, the Athena and Preston Tower had their fact-free punch-fest, and this week it was the Preston Hollow East Neighborhood Association’s turn (PHENA). They’re the single-family neighborhood north of the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association (go figure).

    For about a week, I’d been aware of a small but vocal (ok, accusatory) group of the neighborhood’s residents who appear to have awoken from a slumber now that PD-15’s future is finally getting serious. Granted, I know the world doesn’t all read my missives about PD-15 (here, on D Magazinehere, here – or Preston Hollow People), but PHENA has also sent scads of emails, texts, Facebook posts, and updates on the neighborhood’s website. My ears are cinders from what’s been said about me on Backdoor, Sidedoor, Frontdoor Nextdoor. Personally, I leave the social media trash talk, gossip-mongering, and digital curtain twitching to those with nothing better to do.

    The point being, folks six feet under at Sparkman Hillcrest have heard about the ongoing redevelopment planning for PD-15. Given that the Preston Place condos burned down weeks shy of two years ago, you’d almost have to be willfully out of touch.

    A.G. Spanos placed between towers (with MY suggested green roof)

    And of course these folks are all in a tizzy with what’s been going on without them. Many were the same faces opposed to The Laurel on Preston Road and Northwest Highway. Accusations are flying back and forth, open records requests are being filed to get ahold of communications between PHENA president and PD-15 committee member Juli Black and city officials (below).  These residents seem to want the train to stop while they get caught up. This is the point at which I hate zoning cases. Everyone does the best work they can and then back-seaters suddenly get riled up to stop the presses because they’re … them.  It’s easier and more grand to upset an apple cart that someone else has grown, picked and placed in the cart.

    Last night, a hastily called PHENA meeting attracted some 80 residents and interested onlookers. Here’s what went down.

    A.G. Spanos rendering for Diplomat lot

    The first 45 minutes of the meeting centered on walking attendees through all the communications that have gone on between PHENA and residents. Essentially it built the case laid out above that even death wouldn’t really excuse the neighborhood of not knowing what was going on.

    The remainder of the meeting saw the two known developers showing their proposals. The A.G. Spanos team showed their vision for the Diplomat parcel while Provident’s Mark Miller showed an updated vision for Preston Place.  Attendees queried after the meeting were pretty OK with Spanos’ project but were aghast with Provident’s ever-growing project.

    One of those residents was Richard Wynne. Yesterday, he filed an open records request with the city searching for:

    • All communications (letters/memos/emails/text messages) between Council Member Jennifer S. Gates, her staff, or anyone acting on their behalf and Juli Black relating to PD-15, the formation of a steering committee relating to PD-15, and/or any proposed development within PD-15.

    • All communications (letters/memos/emails/text messages) between City Plan Commissioner Margot Brito Murphy, her staff, any staff members of the Dallas Plan Commission, or anyone acting on their behalf and Juli Black relating to PD-15, the formation of a steering committee relating to PD-15, and/or any proposed development within PD-15.

    • All communications (letters/memos/emails/text messages) from Jan. 1, 2017 to the present between Council Member Jennifer S. Gates, her staff, or anyone acting on their behalf and anyone employed by or affiliated with any real-estate development company relating to PD-15, the steering committee relating to PD-15, and/or any proposed development within PD-15.

    • All communications (letters/memos/emails/text messages) from Jan. 1, 2017 to the present between City Plan Commissioner Margot Brito Murphy, her staff, any staff members of the Dallas Plan Commission and anyone employed by or affiliated with any real-estate development company relating to PD-15, the steering committee relating to PD-15, and/or any proposed development within PD-15.

    • All communications (letters/memos/emails/text messages) between Council Member Jennifer S. Gates, her staff, or anyone acting on her behalf and any person employed by or affiliated with the Dallas Observer newspaper regarding an April 22, 2014 news article entitled, “In Preston Hollow Apartment Case, Staubach Gates Takes Recusing Herself to a New Level.”

    • All documents, internal or external (including electronic communications) relating to an April 22, 2014 Dallas Observer news article entitled “In Preston Hollow Apartment Case, Staubach Gates Takes Recusing Herself to a New Level.” This request shall include any communications between Plan Commissioner Margot Brito Murphy or her staff and City Council Member Jennifer S. Gates or her staff.

    This is a pretty big net that seems to be attempting to make connections between The Laurel, PD-15, and its cast of city hall characters. What’s interesting is the request includes current PHENA president Juli Black while not seeking the same information for PHENA board members in The Laurel case. Hmmm.

    A.G. Spanos rendering for Diplomat lot

    Returning to The Laurel development for a moment, this cry of poor communication may sound familiar. Back in August 2015, I wrote about how prior PHENA president and then board member Ashley Parks managed to secure a City Plan Commission delay. She claimed she, and thus the neighborhood, had not been notified of the latest Laurel proposal that had been publicly available since the prior March. I listed emails she’d sent and received about the proposal and also noted that her husband was one of a group of homeowners negotiating on the neighborhood’s behalf with the developer Transwestern. To me, the story didn’t hang together

    Is it credible for PHENA residents to again claim ignorance of communication? I can’t imagine anyone involved with the two-plus years spent on The Laurel dropping the ball so soon. Surely anyone who cared about development had signed up for any communication from both the city and PHENA? Surely at least one of this similar group knew and spread the word. In my experience, protesters don’t hide their lanterns under a bush.

    It’s hard to believe an accusation of a willful obscuring of the events within PD-15 can be credible given the amount of communication. However, there may be significant disagreement about the level of redevelopment Black supported. During committee meetings, she was an indulgent counterweight to the towers’ “do nothing” approach. Not all PHENA residents will be thrilled by her generosity of vision.

    View article online

  • February 13, 2019 11:02 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Justin Fox
    Bloomberg Business Week

    Cheap stick framing has led to a proliferation of blocky, forgettable mid-rises—and more than a few construction fires.

    These buildings are in almost every U.S. city. They range from three to seven stories tall and can stretch for blocks. They’re usually full of rental apartments, but they can also house college dorms, condominiums, hotels, or assisted-living facilities. Close to city centers, they tend toward a blocky, often colorful modernism; out in the suburbs, their architecture is more likely to feature peaked roofs and historical motifs. Their outer walls are covered with fiber cement, metal, stucco, or bricks.

    They really are everywhere, I discovered on a cross-country drive last fall, and they’re going up fast. In 2017, 187,000 new housing units were completed in buildings of 50 units or more in the U.S., the most since the Census Bureau started keeping track in 1972. By my informal massaging of the data, well over half of those were in blocky mid-rises.

    These structures’ proliferation is one of the most dramatic changes to the country’s built environment in decades. Yet when I started asking around about them, they didn’t seem to have a name. I encountered someone calling them “stumpies” in a website comment, but that sadly hasn’t caught on. It was only after a developer described the style to me as five-over-one—five stories of apartments over a ground-floor “podium” of parking and/or retail—that I was able to find some online discussion of the phenomenon.

    relates to Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same

    Texas mid-rises.
    Photographer: Laura Buckman for Bloomberg Businessweek

    The number of floors and the presence of a podium varies; the key unifying element, it turns out, is under the skin. They’re almost always made of softwood two-by-fours, or “stick,” in construction parlance, that have been nailed together in frames like those in suburban tract houses.

    The method traces to 1830s Chicago, a boomtown with vast forests nearby. Nailing together thin, precut wooden boards into a “balloon frame” allowed for the rapid construction of “a simple cage which the builder can surface within and without with any desired material,” the architect Walker Field wrote in 1943. “It exemplifies those twin conditions that underlie all that is American in our building arts: the chronic shortage of skilled labor, and the almost universal use of wood.” The balloon frame and its variants still dominate single-family homebuilding in the U.S. and Canada. It’s also standard in Australia and New Zealand, and pretty big in Japan, but not in the rest of the world.

    In the U.S., stick framing appears to have become the default construction method for apartment complexes as well. The big reason is that it costs much less—I heard estimates from 20 percent to 40 percent less—than building with concrete, steel, or masonry. Those industries have sponsored several studies disputing the gap, but most builders clearly think it exists.

    They’re also comfortable with wood. “You can make mistakes and you can cut another piece,” says Michael Feigin, chief construction officer at AvalonBay Communities Inc., the country’s fourth-biggest apartment owner. “With concrete and steel, it’s just a lot more work to fix problems.” If supplies run out, adds Kenneth Bland, a vice president at the trade group American Wood Council, builders “know they can run to the nearest big box and get what they need.”

    They can also run to the nearest big-box store to find workers. Stick construction allows builders to use cheaper casual labor rather than often-unionized skilled tradespeople. And it makes life easier for electricians, plumbers, and the like because it leaves open spaces through which wires, pipes, and ducts can run. Still, there’s a reason why stick wasn’t the default for big apartment buildings until recently, and why these buildings are limited in height: Sticks burn.

    It was the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed thousands of balloon-frame buildings, that brought this lesson home. Before long, the city instituted a ban on wood construction that’s still partly in place today. New York City had declared its downtown off-limits to wood construction in the early 1800s, eventually extending the proscription to all of Manhattan, plus the Bronx, Brooklyn, and parts of Queens and Staten Island. By 1930, a list of fire-resistance best practices compiled by the U.S. Department of Commerce was recommending stick-frame bans in dense urban neighborhoods and a two-story limit for everywhere else. Stick construction had effectively been banished to the suburbs.

    By the second half of the 20th century, the suburbs were where America was moving, and as they evolved from bedroom communities into a new kind of city, the stick building evolved with them—into forms such as the “dingbats” of Los Angeles (one or two stories atop a carport) and the parking-rich garden-apartment complexes outside Atlanta, Dallas, and other metropolises. Building codes evolved, too, as insurers and fire-safety-equipment manufacturers pushed for scientific, “performance-based” codes that emphasized lab-determined fire-resistance ratings over specific materials and incorporated new technologies such as the automated fire sprinkler.

    This gospel spread fitfully in a country where codes were a municipal affair, but it did spread, abetted by three regional organizations that produced model codes for cities to adopt or adapt to their own purposes. The most successful body was the aspirationally named International Conference of Building Officials, based in Southern California, whose Uniform Building Code was by 1970 at least partly followed by 9 in 10 Western cities. The UBC, updated triennially, ushered in the age of the mid-rise wood-frame apartment building.

    Some of the details are lost in the mists of time, or at least in dusty archives, but the tale seems to have gone like this: The first UBC, issued in 1927, allowed for wood-frame apartment buildings three stories high. The risk of earthquakes inclined officials to be tolerant of such frames, which handle shaking better than brick walls do; the presence of a large timber industry in the Northwest was also a factor. In the 1950s the story limit increased to four if an automatic sprinkler system was installed. Square-footage restrictions were eased if building segments were separated by firewalls—initially masonry, then simpler-to-install gypsum board. By the 1970s it was possible to build four wood-framed stories atop a concrete podium. Then, in the early 1990s, came a breakthrough.

    Los Angeles architect Tim Smith was sitting on a Hawaiian beach, reading through the latest building code, as one does, when he noticed that it classified wood treated with fire retardant as noncombustible. That made wood eligible, he realized, for a building category—originally known as “ordinary masonry construction” but long since amended to require only that outer walls be made entirely of noncombustible material—that allowed for five stories with sprinklers.

    His company, Togawa Smith Martin Inc., was working at the time with the City of Los Angeles on a 100-unit affordable-housing high-rise in Little Tokyo that they “could never get to pencil out.” By putting five wood stories over a one-story concrete podium and covering more of the one-acre lot than a high-rise could fill, Smith figured out how to get the 100 apartments at 60 percent to 70 percent of the cost. The building, Casa Heiwa, opened its doors in 1996, and the five-over-one had been invented. (“Let’s put it this way,” Smith says. “No one has challenged me to say that they did it first.”) The public didn’t take note, but West Coast architects and developers did. They could now get near-high-rise densities at a wood-frame price. Soon, the rest of America could, too.

    Despite the regional groups’ efforts, many architects, developers, economists, and federal housing officials still found local codes parochial and backward-looking, charging that they thwarted innovation and inflated costs. One response came from legislatures, which began increasing state authority over codes. Another came from the regional groups, which in 1994 started work on a single national code. Faced with a major challenge resolving differences over building heights and areas, the responsible committee settled on a somewhat radical precept: If a building could be built under any of the three old codes, it could be built under the new one. Under the 2000 International Building Code (IBC), the stick-built mid-rise podium apartment building was free to migrate eastward.

    These buildings wouldn’t be going up if no one wanted to move in, of course. Growing demand, brought on by demographic shifts, job-growth patterns, and a renewed taste among affluent Americans for city (or citylike) living, has shaped the mid-rise boom. So have the whims of capital. Most multifamily developers build to sell—to a real estate investment trust, an insurance company, a pension fund, or some other institutional investor. These owners aren’t interested in small projects, and their bottom-line focus determines not only materials but also appearance and layout.

    The need for scale dictates hulking “superblocks,” and the desire to break up these blocks a little explains the colorful panels and other exterior choices. Efficiency dictates the buildings be wide enough for “double-loaded” corridors, with apartments on both sides, but not so wide that the apartments are narrow and dark. This in turn favors a structure shaped like a right-angled U, C, E, or S. Two- or three-bedroom apartments work best at the corners, so one-bedrooms and studios predominate.

    The boom has also been shaped by zoning that sometimes leaves downtowns and suburban commercial districts as the only practical spots for new housing. Ordinances requiring a minimum number of parking spaces per apartment unit factor in, too: Where minimums are relatively high, as in Texas, the best solution can be wrapping the building around a parking deck, a style known as the Texas doughnut. Where they’re lower, the ground-floor podium will do. City planners also often require developers to devote street-front podium space to shops and restaurants.

    Yes, the result can be a little repetitive, but repetition has been characteristic of every big new urban or suburban housing trend in the U.S. over the past century or two. There’s lots to like about stumpy buildings that provide new housing in places where it’s sorely needed and enliven neighborhoods in the process. A four-story Texas doughnut can get 50 or 60 apartments onto an acre of land, while the most aggressively engineered West Coast stick-and-concrete hybrid (two-story podiums are allowed now, along with other variations) can get almost 200. That’s not far from the range that the renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs deemed optimal for vital street life.

    There’s also lots to like about building with wood, which, as long as the trees are replanted and allowed to grow to maturity, is now generally accounted to be a net consumer of carbon dioxide. Wood’s green credentials have helped spur a recent worldwide push for more construction with “mass timber”—softwood lumber glued together and compressed into thick beams, columns, and panels. The tallest such structure completed so far is an 18-story dormitory at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. Oregon has already changed its code to allow mass timber buildings of that scale, and the 2021 IBC is set to do the same.

    The advance of the mid-rise stick building has come with less fanfare, and left local officials and even some in the building industry surprised and unsettled. “It’s a plague, and it happened when no one was watching,” says Steven Zirinsky, building code committee co-chairman for the New York City chapter of the American Institute of Architects. What caught his attention was a blaze that broke out in January 2015 at the Avalon apartments in Edgewater, N.J., across the Hudson River from his home. “When I could read a book in my apartment by the flame of that fire,” he says, “I knew there was a problem.” Ignited by a maintenance worker’s torch, the fire spread through concealed spaces in the floors and attic of the four-story complex, abetted by a partial sprinkler system that didn’t cover those areas. No one died, but the building was destroyed.

    There haven’t been many such fires in completed stick mid-rises, but the buildings have proved highly flammable before the sprinklers and walls go in. Dozens of major fires have broken out at mid-rise construction sites over the past five years. Of the 13 U.S. blazes that resulted in damages of $20 million or more in 2017, according to the National Fire Protection Association, six were at wood-frame apartment buildings under construction.

    These fires often bring a local outcry to restrict stick apartments. The Atlanta suburbs of Sandy Springs and Dunwoody enacted bans on wood-frame buildings above three stories, but they were later overturned by the Georgia legislature. There’s also talk of new regulations in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, and Maryland. But the place where legislative action seems most likely is New Jersey.

    Building permits have been issued for 105,000 new apartments in the state since 2012, and it sure looks like most are in wood-frame mid-rises. Glenn Corbett, a former firefighter who teaches fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, took me on a tour of some of New Jersey’s “toothpick towers,” as he calls them, pointing out places that fire engines can’t reach and things that could go wrong as the buildings age. “You’re reintroducing these conflagration hazards to urban environments,” he says. “We’re intentionally putting problems in every community in the country, problems that generations of firefighters that haven’t even been born yet are going to have to deal with.”

    The toughest of the bills before New Jersey’s legislature would restrict urban stick buildings to three stories and 7,000 square feet per floor. Proposals with a better chance of passing call for, among other things, masonry firewalls between building segments and full sprinkler systems for apartment buildings three stories and higher. The Avalon at Edgewater has been rebuilt with these measures; Feigin, construction chief for AvalonBay, the building’s owner, says they’re now standard for all the company’s new mid-rise developments. The 2018 IBC adds provisions aimed at stopping fires from spreading through apartment-building attics, and a proposal approved late last year, over the objections of builders and apartment owners, will change the 2021 code to effectively require full sprinkler systems for all four-over-one podium buildings.

    Can we rely on developers’ economic interests and the model-code process to work things out? Alexi Assmus, who’s been active in the New Jersey debates and the IBC process, is dubious. A businesswoman and civic activist who got involved when AvalonBay built a wood-framed complex in her hometown of Princeton, she tried to introduce changes to the national model code and didn’t get far. In theory, anyone can participate on the International Code Council committees that submit recommendations to the government officials who vote on the IBC, but in practice it’s mostly trade group representatives who do. “The special interests all have the money to go there and stay at the hotels,” Assmus says. “Don’t think that this third-party ICC is going to give us codes that are in the public interest, necessarily.”

    Then again, the reason the ICC exists is because setting building codes locally came to be seen as not really in the public interest, either. Deaths in residential fires in the U.S. are down by almost half since the 1980s, so something appears to be working. And there are echoes in at least some of the agitation of standard-variety Nimbyism. Some parts of the country need lots of new housing, and builders of bulky mid-rise wood-frame apartment buildings have found an economic formula that provides it. Whether it’s the right formula for American cities is something we’ll have to wait to find out. —Fox is a business columnist for Bloomberg Opinion.

    View article online

  • February 07, 2019 2:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Jon Anderson

    Incorrect and highly misleading graphic used to represent city’s draft proposal

    When I first heard about Preston Tower and Athena owners meeting to discuss PD-15, I nicknamed it a “witch burning” and it did not disappoint. Bill Kritzer, the main speaker from Preston Tower, accusingly called out Council Member Jennifer Gates’ name so many times that if she had a dollar for each utterance, she could fund the Preston Center garage out of petty cash.

    The troubles of the world were heaped on her shoulders, every real or imagined slight (OK, they were all imagined) dumped on her doorstep. Meanwhile praise was reserved for the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association (PHSNA) and its work for the neighborhood. I find that praise comical. It was PHSNA leadership that gave residents the Laurel apartments – that are universally reviled. So the talk track was that the Laurel process was better because the developer met with PHSNA leadership – but the neighborhood wound up with a building they hate. Somehow that irony was lost on the packed house at the Athena.

    The Laurel: hated by a neighborhood that wants more just like it

    Also lost on the group was the understanding that the Laurel building they hate is three and four stories – the same height they cheered for. While the biggest example, it was hardly the last piece of incoherent thinking observed. Had their been Kool-Aid, there’d have been a fight for the pitcher.

    Another “praiseworthy” item was the Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan. Many believing it to be a gold standard of biblical proportions, when it’s closer to manure. I mean really, what do you call a plan that purports to guide development that has no underlying data supporting the economic viability of its conclusions?  How about when co-author Peter Kline told me, “To call it a plan is an overstatement”?

    Another way to gauge its credibility would be if the consultants, paid to provide data, stood behind its conclusions. Comparing their (left out) recommendations with the final plan, that endorsement will never come. Don’t believe me? Check out my D Magazine story that dismantles it.

    The graphics shown displaying the city’s draft PD proposal were inaccurate (lead story graphic). The cries of the process being developer-led ignore the fact that the one developer who’s come to the table (A.G. Spanos for Diplomat) is actually asking for a shorter building than the city’s proposal.  A shorter building, it should be noted, precisely where lower matters. The trope about developer greed seems to call for non-profit developers to step forward.

    The continued red herring of the 100-foot setback on Northwest Highway was again rolled out as being something to fear simply because the city’s draft calls for 70 feet. What they ignore, or have been kept in the dark about by their HOAs, is that documentation exists in multiple locations dating back to 1945 that supports the 100-foot setback. This evidence includes a contract signed in 1966 between all the Northwest Highway landowners that states no changes can be made without unanimous approval. Done and dusted, but the drone wears on and the rubes still get whipped up.


    The plan known as 10-6-4, which reflects the stories proposed as a “compromise” by some of the committee members is shown above. It’s wholly unworkable. On the back side, four stories are not economically viable to build and even if someone agreed to build that height, the resulting build quality would be on par with The Laurel mentioned above.

    The 10 stories outlined for Northwest Highway are similarly unbuildable. Hybrid construction enables buildings up to eight stories, after that, it’s concrete and steel, which raises the build costs by 30 to 35 percent. No one is going to incur that cost for a measly two stories.

    As you can also see, the plan seems to think all the low rise properties are owned by one owner. They’re not. No bank will loan on a project that’s physically connected with other owners’ property. BUT the biggest folly of all is a one story concrete plinth under the whole thing. Part of it would be parking while maintaining Tulane Avenue running underneath through a ground-level tunnel. If the buildings themselves are not economically viable or financeable, there’s no way anyone would pay to essentially jack their buildings up over an enormously expensive shared concrete slab.

    This group has presented their plans to developers, architects and others and have been told exactly what I’ve outlined here, namely that its UN-buildable. And yet they persist.

    Their plan calls for units 1,600 to 3,000 square feet – much larger than neighborhood averages. What they seem to forget is that larger units equal larger buildings. Shown above, you can see what happens if unit size increases and the units per acre are stable. Regardless of whether it’s 90 units per acre or whatever, the percent increase in building size stays the same. For people hell bent on keeping buildings short, this makes no sense.

    Behind the scenes, it is sadly even funnier. While tonight they said it would be all residential, the plan they presented to me (yes, to me) included a coffee shop that’s a pet project of one committee member. This same committee member told me the only reason they settled on 10 stories on Northwest highway is because another committee member’s condo was on the 11th floor and she didn’t want people looking in.  Oh, and that same committee member’s friend’s relative drew up the plan – not a licensed architect, never built a building in his life. They couldn’t even tell the group how many units it would contain – it’s just a picture thrown together by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

    They call it a compromise, but it’s only a true compromise if it has a hope of working. It’s like offering a naked person a sock … sure, it’s clothing … but not enough to keep from being arrested.

    Water intrusion at 3-year-old Bandera apartments.

    Prediction: If the 10-6-4 plan is actually built, residents will spend the rest of their days bitching about the low building quality and blaming everyone else but themselves.  As I also pointed out, the 3-year-old Bandera apartments have already been repairing leaks to their stucco exterior.

    It’s worth noting that former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller was there, and I can say it’s the first time I’ve ever seen her at an Athena meeting in over five years. As expected, she tried to attack Council Member Gates on a number of topics. Gates defended herself pretty well.

    There was a fearful question about the city’s inclusion of sweeteners for developers offering affordable housing. Nothing gets people who think they’re wealthy in a knot like people who know they’re not rich living nearby. As I tried to point out – no one is going to build them the way it’s stated. The city is offering increased density (units per acre) in exchange for affordable units. But there’s no increase in the buildable envelope. So as you can see above, if you’re selling a dozen eggs for $3 and someone says you can sell 14 eggs in the same size box for the same $3 (or less), why would you? It’s a bad deal.

    After the meeting, one Preston Tower resident tried to convince me that the 10-6-4 could be built. My response was that the rents would be too high for the neighborhood to bear. His flip answer was “we’ll see.”  But we don’t have to wait that long.

    The Laurel apartments have been for lease since May 2018 and are reportedly 22 percent occupied. That’s a failure. But the neighborhood is so unthinking that they can’t even understand that one way or another, those units will be rented.  Butts in beds will win and so the quality of tenant will decline with rent decreases or perhaps advertising for higher-density roommate rentals who split the costs and fill units.

    And of course, you had those who think nothing should be done. Preston Place should be a burned-out concrete platform and no other building should change.

    Whatever makes these people think that repeating the Laurel mistake with the same crew of “negotiators” will achieve a different outcome is beyond me. The only answer I can come up with (that’s printable) is that they are grossly uninformed and have no desire to step outside of their bubble to learn – while reserving their right to complain if they actually get their way.

    View article online

<< First  < Prev   1   2   3   4   5   ...   Next >  Last >> 
Preston Hollow East Homeowners Association
PO Box 25528
Dallas, Texas 75225

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software