by Jon Anderson
At Wednesday’s Dallas City Council hearing, the same arguments surrounding the planned development district behind the Pink Wall were shouted, but nothing changed.
If I could sum up the bizarre and illogical nature of the PD-15 opposition to development, it would be when the Athena’s Barbara Dewberry stood up and (again) shouted that the neighborhood doesn’t want green space that will attract outsiders. Making it more worthy of eye-rolling were those who clapped in support (although a few seated in back of me said they welcomed green space in PD-15’s concrete jungle).
Not to be outdone, about a quarter to a third of the audience clapped when council member Jennifer Gates said that if nothing comes from the Authorized Hearing, nothing would be built because what could be built isn’t economically viable.
Of course, before we got to the more brouhaha-y part of the meeting, we listened to an overview of Plan Commission’s approved document and city staff’s rewrite of their rewrite. Even as much as I’ve studied these documents — it was a rough half-hour — I can imagine it sounded like a foreign film without subtitles for most attendees.
It’s also unfortunate that there isn’t a basic understanding of what can and can’t be done with a PD (Planned Development District) and what’s up to the neighborhood to negotiate. Things like synchronization of construction, loading and unloading, construction traffic, private roadway repairs, and worker rules aren’t part of a PD. They are part of a Good Neighbor document negotiated between a neighborhood and developers – something the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association (PHSNA) doesn’t appear to have broached, largely because they’re still holding out hope nothing (or very little) will be developed.
The neighborhood’s attitude reminds me of a saying, “Pray to God, but row away from the rocks.” PD-15 has yet to pick up an oar, and once they do, they’ll be sweeping up after the elephants at the end of a long parade.
Tulane Blvd. and Northwest Highway
The subject of opening Tulane Blvd. to Northwest Highway came up. The city’s answer was enlightening. They said that the city wouldn’t (not couldn’t) add language to the PD documents requiring Tulane to be opened to Northwest Highway, because if TXDoT said “no” development would cease.
After the meeting, I was told by a city staffer that TXDoT wouldn’t feel pressured by what was written (which I’d assumed). I countered that if it were the only way for development to happen, perhaps the developers would take up the charge with TXDoT and be more successful. But as I’ve said before, if the neighborhood wants Tulane opened at Northwest Highway, they need to fight that fight with the help of developers – however engaging that fight would be an admission that development is foregone, which is a pill they’re not ready to swallow if last night is any indication.
The traffic study was also brought up, if only to discredit it. Conspiracy theorists ate up the fact that Preston Place paid for it (where was the complainers’ money?) and that Preston Place chose the company (umm, they paid). Council Member Gates’ reply was that the city never pays for traffic studies, the applicant usually pays and that he who pays, picks the company who does it. But, the city tells the company what needs to be measured. An audience for whom lies are facts you don’t agree with.
The Point System
Ditto the reaction to the point system inserted into the June Plan Commission meeting. Heavy murmuring resulted from the admission that a developer had suggested it. And they did. But again, council member Gates pointed out that many PDs use point systems as inducements to do more. They’re just barter systems where developers can earn points for doing some costly things that can be traded in for relief on other requirements. Ultimately they’re supposed to make a project better.
Things like underground parking – which caused one attendee to shout that should be required. But underground parking does cost more, and if you want a costly add-on, you have to give more. As I’m finding out in my coming renovation, if I want Gaggenau refrigerators, I have to give more (money).
Only ONE high-rise along Northwest Highway
CARD: Team Compromise Reborn
Gates brought up the “new” CARD group’s activities. CARD is an acronym for Citizens Advocating Responsible Development, but seems to be the same faces as “team compromise” who brought the unworkable 10-6-4 plan to light. Their website has the same hyperbole. “The two buildings fronting on Northwest Highway could be as high as 310 feet or 29 stories (the same height as the Preston Tower). The two towers on the north side of PD-15, (south of the alley between PD-15 and Bandera Ave.) could be eight stories tall.”
For clarification, with all the setbacks required, a 310-foot high-rise would only work for one building. The one-acre Royal Orleans doesn’t have the land on its own. The Provident plan showed a tower on that lot because it was tied into the two-acre Preston Place lot. Preston Place could also do it alone. But even with all the points and incentives, there’s no way for two 310-foot high-rises on Northwest Highway.
A second, minor point, is that an eight-story building is hardly a “tower” unless you’re 6 years old lying on your back looking up. Also, their eight-story “towers” would be located between the alley and Diamond Head Circle, not Bandera, which is outside PD-15 — something you’d think they’d know since they pilfered my map of the area on their website.
Their goal is even less than 10-6-4, with just eight stories along Northwest Highway and four stories in the back. In other words, the car trying to catch the city’s attention is locked in reverse.
One thing that Gates was fairly clear on was her support for Residential Proximity Slope (RPS), which translates to her not supporting the 310-foot plan passed by Plan Commission. I think this is a mistake. No one will notice the difference in height unless they are far away – at which point it doesn’t matter. However, on the ground, residents will notice the free space and better pedestrian experience every day – even if it’s just to drive by while shouting at strangers to get off the lawn.
Nothing was solved last night. The needle wasn’t moved. No one left with an opinion a scintilla different than the one they arrived with.
In many ways, it was just like every other PD-15 meeting of the last two years. Hopefully, this will mercifully end one way or another at Dallas City Council’s September 11 meeting – an interesting date, no?