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 CandysDirt.com 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
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 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.
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.
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