by Jon Anderson
The run-up to Wednesday’s tenth PD-15 meeting should’ve filled area residents with anger. The self-centered towers were at it again. On Monday, Athena management company ICI Real Estate sent residents an “URGENT!!!” call for Athena residents to attend last night’s meeting (Preston Tower did the same).
It said Bob Bowling from Preston Tower was going to make a motion to dissolve the authorized hearing and send developers directly to City Plan Commission. Athena representative Margaret Darden was scheduled to second the motion after which residents in the audience were encouraged to stand and applaud. It was so kindergarten, I’m surprised there wasn’t a warning about not eating paste.
Their argument consists of the same tired, disproven tropes as always – four high-rises, unprecedented traffic and 10 years of non-stop construction. Blah, blah, blah. If you want to sing that song, read this or this.
NOTE: ICI seriously overstepped their bounds by sending such a loaded, propaganda-filled email to residents under their own account. Darden and Dewberry should have sent their
drivel opinions and plans from their own accounts. (Full disclosure: I send email wrap-ups and links to PD-15 stories to residents within the building under my personal account. I have never asked or even thought to involve the management company.)
You may recall back in July, I reported on an email Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association (PHSNA) president John Pritchett sent to committee members where he said they’re “not the A-Team in terms of zoning matters.” Apparently, Towers representatives Bob Bowling, Tatiana Frierson, Margaret Darden and Barbara Dewberry agree with the assessment, so hot are they to disband the committee. It’s almost comical, too. The Laurel apartments on Preston Road and Northwest Highway are pretty universally disliked and yet these representatives are in the same camp as Pritchett, who —to hear him tell it — single-handily led the negotiations for the neighborhood with developer Transwestern.
NOTE: If any member of any committee feels too stupid to do the job, resign and stop trying to crater a process everyone else is working in good faith to complete.
Storming the Gates
This is all on the heels of a meeting last Thursday between Council Member Gates, Plan Commissioner Margot Murphy and a city attorney, and an opposition consisting of the usual suspects – former Mayor Laura Miller, husband Steve Wolens, John Pritchett, Athena reps Margaret Darden, Barbara Dewberry, Preston Tower reps Tatiana Frierson, Bob Bowling, and Roger Albright (Towers attorney). Also part of the parking pass request was a Who’s Who “Who Was” of Dallas politics (in addition to Miller and Wolens).
Based on email exchanges obtained from an open records request, the purpose of the meeting seemed to essentially be to harangue Council Member Gates and Commissioner Murphy into disbanding the authorized hearing. Once I’ve parsed the documents, look for a column next week – let’s call them the PD-Papers. The only shame is that Councilmember Gates’ office isn’t wired for recording.
And then this morning I read in the Chicago Tribune that a city project to improve O’Hare airport had whittled 12 submissions down to five. The remaining five would create models of their proposal that would circulate through the city for public comment. It reminded me that on a smaller scale, this is what the authorized hearing committee should have been but for the pettiness of the towers.
It’s on the heels of these backstage machinations that I entered PD-15’s meeting number 10.
… and I loved it.
Councilmember Gates was the lead speaker with a backup band from city government. A cop even whisked through to see if there was going to be trouble (waving canes can hurt). But no police were needed. No city hall backup band was needed beyond the odd clarification during the Q&A.
With smoothness hinting at practice, Gates simply closed the doors to Crazytown – without the finger-pointing I personally couldn’t resist. She outlined and reiterated what has been said and reported for over a year. Simply:
- Developers can file for a building permit only if they want to rebuild exactly what exists/existed.
- Developers can file a zoning case for the 65-ish surplus units that remain unbuilt in PD-15. But the case would be “DOA” at Plan Commission and City Council because assigning those surplus units to one property would enrich them at the expense of the other property owners in PD-15. Translation: Not gonna happen.
- The representatives from the six properties within PD-15 could unanimously agree to changes to the PD and present those to Plan Commission and Council. That process failed a year ago almost entirely because of Preston Tower and the Athena.
- The current Authorized Hearing process is the only way to increase the limitations within the PD and move forward.
So the plan for Preston Tower’s Bob Bowling to call for a dissolution of the Authorized Hearing to force developers to file zoning cases directly with Plan Commission was always a fool’s errand. It was comical to listen to towers representatives surprised to (again) re-learn the truth behind this process. Athena representative Barbara Dewberry even commented that the towers had been told something different by their attorney Roger Albright. Gates answered with number two above – yes developers could file, but it would be DOA. Even with all this (and what you’ll see below) near the end, Bob Bowling spoke about what he’d planned to do earlier. He ended by saying that if January doesn’t go well, he’ll bring his motion again to dissolve the Authorized Hearing and let developers file their own zoning cases – you know, that thing that can’t work (insert eye roll).
Gates went into further detail, that too had been covered in prior meetings. The city would not issue a building permit for a project that would exceed the capacity of sanitary sewers. It’s unlikely stormwater flooding would be made worse by development because the lots are pretty much covered in concrete already which is the driver of runoff (nowhere for the water to go). Chief Planner David Cossum made these points months ago, but much like the concrete-covered land, some ears were similarly covered.
Gates did suggest that between a small office budget she controls and the developers at the table on Preston Place and Diplomat, a traffic optimization study should be completed. Of course, the few thousand dollars such a study would entail could have been paid for (perhaps multiple times) by the towers’ $400/hour attorney engaged to fight the process.
Go Play While Mommy and Daddy Work
The next step is that public committee meetings have been suspended until January. The realization that the children were unable to share their toys forced Gates to engage city staff to craft their own recommendation. That plan will be presented to the committee in January for discussion with the hopes of reaching enough consensus that it could proceed to a full-on public outreach meeting before heading off to Plan Commission and Council.
It’s hugely sad that these people (mostly the towers) in their unending attempt to hold everything back (based on erroneous information from multiple sources), have squandered a once in a lifetime opportunity to shape their neighborhood. Put in perspective, imagine …
A child grocery shopping with a parent. The parent tells the child to get some broccoli for dinner. The child throws a tantrum wailing they weren’t eating broccoli ever, ever, ever. You and I know that child is getting broccoli. But what if the child had asked for peas instead? They’d be eating peas that night because it was a win-win. The towers (ironically, housing an inordinate number of grandparents) have spent over a year bitching about broccoli rather than negotiating for peas.
Finally, realizing some collaboration was needed for consensus, Gates encouraged the committee to continue to meet privately to see if their impasse could be breached. The Preston Place (Provident) and Diplomat (A.G. Spanos) developers were similarly encouraged to work together on a solution. All parties were encouraged to share with city staff and ask questions as needed between now and the January meeting.
Committee member Jim Panipinto suggested that the developers work with city staff to craft the recommendations – hell no. Those directly enriched by a process shouldn’t be crafting the parameters of the process. It’s more than a little “finger-on-scale” for my tastes.
Given this new timeline, there could be a sick satisfaction in this being mostly wrapped up in March, the second anniversary of the Preston Place fire. Amongst the petty bickering and power plays, something that seems to have been discarded from memory.
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