by Jon Anderson
As promised, It’s time to see what’s been going on outside of view – a gift just in time for the holiday season. There was a meeting on November 1 at City Hall with Council Member Jennifer Gates, Plan Commissioner Margot Murphy, and a bevy of opposition to the Authorized Hearing within PD-15 behind the Pink Wall.
The opposition was a combination of the usual suspects and a few oddities:
- Former Mayor Laura Miller
- Former State Representative Steve Wolens (Miller’s husband)
- Former Texas Senator John Carona
- Former State Representative Will Hartnett
- Former District 13 Council Member Sid Stahl
- Former District 13 Council Member Donna Blumer
- Former District 13 Council Member Mitchell Rasansky
- Preston Tower authorized hearing committee members: Tatiana Frierson and Bob Bowling
- Athena authorized hearing committee members: Barbara Dewberry and Margaret Darden.
- Roger Albright: Athena and Preston Tower legal council
- John Pritchett: President of the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association and Preston Tower resident and representative on ill-fated first PD-15 task force
- Steve Dawson: Northwest Highway and Preston Road Area Plan Zone 4 representative and neighborhood representative for ill-fated first PD-15 task force. Dawson’s family own a small apartment building inside the Pink Wall while he lives in Park Cities.
Looking at the first group, you begin to wonder why these people are even concerned with this issue. I don’t recall any of them attending a single Authorized Hearing committee meeting – certainly ante to the game for forming an opinion so strong you’re signing letters and demanding meetings with the council member?
There certainly isn’t much personal skin in the game either. Miller and Wolens live in a magazine-worthy, multi million-dollar home on the other side of the Tollway (renting Wolens’ mother’s former Athena unit). John Carona has two homes in DCAD, each about two miles from the Pink Wall. Donna Blumer is over six miles away. Will Hartnett is about three miles away, while Mitchell Rasansky lives three and a half miles away. Octogenarian Sid Stahl is a leasing tenant of the Athena (so if there ever is a vote, he has none).
It’s safe to say that this group, with the possible exception of Sid Stahl, will suffer no ill consequences of any increased density within PD-15. Any potential financial hit to Miller/Wolen’s Athena values are unlikely to land them in the poor house either (and many would argue their stance, if successful, would damage their condo’s value). So this group has almost no personal financial or aesthetic consequences in development within the Pink Wall nor is there much of a real-world concern for traffic within its boundaries. Aside from being personal friends of the Miller/Wolens, why are they involved?
Yes, Stahl, Blumer, and Rasansky are three of the four prior District 13 City Council Members. But isn’t it the height of political tackiness for them to take an uninformed stance to criticize the current District 13 representative? It would be one thing if current Council Member Gates asked for their input, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. One wonders when they had the chair how they would have reacted to being told their job by predecessors who left office decades ago?
Also, while they paint themselves as concerned citizens, they have no clue what the area residents really want (no one does) and yet hold themselves up as stalwarts of the oppressed. Those with good memories will recall much of this group lined up behind Miller fighting Transwestern’s The Laurel, protesting Highland House (the kind of development Miller’s Preston Center Plan begged for) and the Preston Center Sky Bridge. Her current hobbies include opposing anything being done in PD-15 and the St. Michael’s redevelopment. For any development project in recent years near Preston Center, Miller has been the “no to gal.”
The remainder are towers representatives and local development agitators (although Dawson could be in both categories given he, too, doesn’t live in the area).
It’s funny. These groups claim to represent 78 percent of the residents of PD-15. But they don’t really. In zoning cases, the city doesn’t allow individual owner voting within multi-family housing unless HOA rules allow it. Regardless if we’re talking about a handful of townhouses or a complex of 1,000, the city boils it down to a single vote of everyone. A complex can escape this dictatorial voting by inserting language into their HOA documents that enables individual owner voting. Neither Preston Tower nor Athena have such language.
Many HOA documents are so unanticipatory on issues like this, often the HOA boards don’t even have to poll their co-owners for guidance. An HOA board can simply vote their personal desire. And so, it’s on the strength of two HOA boards alone that the claim of 78 percent representation is made. No developer has presented to residents, no debate has occurred, no vote taken. The original task force meetings and current authorized hearing meetings are sparsely attended by towers residents enabling this asleep-at-the-wheel hijacking.
When towers representatives say they’re doing what residents want, it boils down to who they talk to in their everyday lives and who they run into in the elevator. Hardly representative. When Laura Miller says she speaks for 78 percent of residents, she’s talking only to the HOA boards – because the rest of the residents don’t matter for the purpose of inflating the support for her position.
According to emails obtained through an open records request (here and here), we can see Miller trying to setup a meeting between her “group one” and Gates. The topic was a letter Miller wrote and they signed nearly six months prior in May – before the Authorized Hearing committee members had been announced. In an old-school power play move, they wanted Gates on their turf – Carona’s Associa offices (Associa is a nationwide HOA property management company).
The question I ask myself is, “What happened in October that caused Miller to resurrect her months’ old letter as entre to a meeting with Gates”?
Gates agrees and a date is set, but at City Hall. Then Miller adds in “group two” from the towers. Gates is unhappy with the large group and wants to meet with them separately. She later tells John Carona, “I have been ambushed and treated disrespectfully in the past by Laura [Miller] and I will not have that happen again.” A city staffer passing outside the meeting tells me that Miller’s voice was heard to loudly scream at one point “This is your fault!”. That tidbit certainly strengthens Gates’ wariness of Miller.
In my opinion, it would have also be interesting for Gates to see how the puppets act without the master. Ultimately, Miller got her way and all 15 are invited. It seems Blumer, Rasansky, and Carona beg off citing confusion and double-booking.
Rasansky begs off telling Gates “I know zoning. The developers should file their own zoning cases, as is the norm.” Had Rasansky been keeping up with this process, he would have known that unlike other zoning cases, PD-15 has a cap on the total number of units in the PD. This makes it impossible for developers to file a zoning case except for the surplus 65-ish units that are a shared resource between six parcels spread across 13-ish acres. As Gates said last week, such a case would be DOA at City Hall. At a bare minimum, the dwelling unit cap must be lifted for cases to proceed.
Donna Blumer’s regrets say in part that, “However, please be assured that I remain in full support of the others who signed the letter addressing the neighborhood’s concerns.” That support is for a letter signed by a handful of HOA representatives without the input or support of their residents.
While Carona says he’d be “Glad to meet with the residents of the low rises …,” “he later says, “At the moment, the only people I’m personally interested in meeting with are those that have requested to be in Thursday’s proposed meeting,” although later stating “Candidly, I have no desire to interfere.” (Then why are you?)
In a nutshell, these three former local and state lawmakers were willing to jump into an issue they know little about without first trying to get a balanced perspective. Uninformed and listening to one side isn’t the best way to make a decision – especially troubling from former lawmakers.
Sources say Carona has made no overtures seeking to understand the low-rises’ side.
Laura Miller enlisted a group of former politicians and personal friends to stump for a cause that many, if not all, had little personal stake in and who are highly unlikely to fully understand the issue outside what Miller has told them.
After the meeting, Miller sends a “thank you, but…” letter to Gates. In it she twists again noting that “the two developers who are driving this process”. Funny, but for months, the trope was that developers would bypass the neighborhood. Once they presented their plans, suddenly they’re driving this process. It’s a “have you stopped sleeping with hookers?” no-win argument.
She later notes, “The traffic levels in and around Preston Center are completely unacceptable.” Funny how the Preston Center task force Miller drove reported that traffic has been decreasing for nearly two decades along both roads. It would be more accurate to say that traffic around Preston Center is becoming less unacceptable every day.
Even though city staff reiterated this external research in the past few months, Miller quotes Elizabeth Mow, Assistant Executive Director for NTTA as saying, “It’s gridlock all the time.” As a local resident, I can tell you that outside rush hours, it’s not gridlock even most of the time. If Mow was referring to the Tollway (which seems more likely given her job), there’s not a lot to do, nor will PD-15 development have a noticeable effect.
There is also talk of the Texas U-Turn on Northwest Highway and the Tollway. As I pointed out nearly three years ago, there isn’t the physical space to put one that would help with Lomo Alto/Tollway turn-around traffic.
On Nov. 8, Miller distributed an alarming email and petition encouraging residents to protest both PD-15 development and the St. Michael’s project. Not surprisingly, Miller used her typical charged and unproven language about her representation of 78 percent of PD-15 residents and traffic while inserting the baseless claim that developers want to build 25-story high-rises all around Athena and Preston Tower – no plans for four high-rises have been presented or asked for except in Miller’s (and coincidentally) the towers’ representatives’ dreams.
Miller’s stance on St. Michael’s cracks me up. The press release about the proposed development calls out how the development adheres to her Preston Center plan eight times in slightly more than a single page – and yet Miller is opposed. Would nine or 10 genuflections have changed her mind? (Ironically, one of her chief gripes about PD-15 is that development goes against her Preston Center Plan.)
I still have no idea why Former Mayor Miller has inserted herself into all things Preston Center. It all reminds me of the seven-time Academy Award winner who winds down their career as a game show host breathlessly trying to hang on to the spotlight – in this case, the kiddie pool of neighborhood development.
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