by Jon Anderson
At the end of the meeting, Plan Commissioner Margot Murphy thanked the committee members and audience for sticking with what may be viewed as a tedious process. She said it was like painting where 80 percent was preparation with the 20 percent at the end being when the magic happens.
Murphy was observer and host. The heavy lifting was handled by city staff from the Planning office.
The meeting kicked off with committee members being given an interesting task. They were shown four buildings of varying height and quality and asked to silently write down their gut thoughts on Post-It Notes and affix them to the wall. They were then asked to arrange them all by similar sentiment.
I’ll admit I was steeling myself for much more confrontational messages. Instead the responses were more considered. Albeit a pinch naive.
Negative reaction to all but the high-rise (“Maybe one”).
All the right words were there … walkability, sidewalks, neighborhood feel, setbacks and quality construction. All the right “wrong” ones too – ugly, cheap, institutional, yuk, and tacky. What was interesting was that example “A,” the high-rise, received no ugly, vanilla, or institutional type comments. Those epithets were reserved for the lower buildings.
Four building types committee members were asked to react to
In the category eventually named, “Fits the Neighborhood,” half were for the high-rise example while the other half were for mid-rise. None responded that the low-rise “fit the neighborhood.”
Within “Infrastructure” grouping, drainage and flooding were front and center while “Parking” was unanimous in underground parking.
There were 23 notes under “density,” by far the largest. Fifteen of the notes affirmed the desirability of a high-rise, most wanting it located along Northwest Highway. The reasons given were quality, longevity and steel construction.
All wonderful messages. The naivety comes in under the initial “Quality Livability” heading. Again, all the right messages of trees, greenspace, landscaping, walkability and underground parking. But here’s the thing. In order for those items to be feasible for a developer to create for the neighborhood, there has to be some give on what is developed. The only reason Santa didn’t bring you a pony was because Buttercup wasn’t in the budget.
Let me explain …
Yesterday, the Oak Lawn Committee saw a proposal for a high-rise office building. Its seven stories of underground parking will cost $59 million … for parking. However, doing so gave back an acre of public green space from their parcel. To offset the underground garage’s cost and resulting green space required nearly doubling the height of the building. The unsaid question that project asked was “how much do you want the green space?”
The same is true in PD-15. Again, I’m in complete agreement with all the asks. Green, walkability, underground parking, etc., etc. etc. But it must be financially viable for a developer to deliver along with a profitable project.
It was mentioned that Diplomat contract holder A.G. Spanos had commissioned a second, more thorough, feasibility study with HR&A Advisors who have ties to SMU (first one here). I will write about the report in detail next week (after I read it). A sneak peek chat with Spanos after the meeting told me it was actually worse than the February one. I’ll be curious if it factors in the escalating trade war that’s increasing raw material prices for builders.
All in all, very interesting. I think once the developers put on their show ‘n’ tell and the Q&A begins, some of this will be explored in more detail. After all, committee members aren’t construction pros. A raucous session with a developer or two will help crystallize what’s really important from the wish list.
More rules, regulations and interpretations
After the “fun” of the exercise, city staff walked through more zoning information and definitions for the group. Tedious to be sure, but necessary.
City staff made a point of saying that for those enamored with the Preston Center plan’s guidelines, while the city adopted the plan, they’re not zoned. The (Athena and Preston Tower) camp wanting to limit height to four stories would still have to go through the same Authorized Hearing process the committee is working now. This is contrary to the “fake news” being trotted out in the form of a neighborhood petition, trying to stop the process and use the Preston center plan guidelines.
And I know that city staff are overworked but …
When presenting concepts, the common question always came, “how does X specifically affect PD-15?” The unfortunate answer tended to be that they’d have to check and return with answers. A little more anticipation of these obvious questions would be appreciated and give the presenters more credibility.
Royal Orleans representative Ken Newberry pointed out that the city continues to change and evolve their interpretation of PD-15’s documentation. Specifically, he meant May’s sudden interpretation that since existing building heights were listed on the PD development plan, that was now the height limit. And I agree, the ship has to stop moving, the footing must, at some point, be secure.
This second meeting was perhaps not the rollercoasters and popcorn you may have been hoping for, but to return to Plan Commissioner Murphy’s thoughts … we know we’re going to paint, but we need to stick the painter’s tape first or we’re going to wind up with a mess.
Next Meeting: July 26 at 6 p.m. at the Walnut Hill Recreation Center (Walnut Hill & Midway)
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.