The Dallas Morning News
By Robert Wilonsky
"Residents want it to stay like it was when they moved in in 1970," said council member Jennifer Staubach Gates.
In the shadow of Preston Tower, this burned-out husk of a concrete parking garage is all that remains of the Preston Place condo building that still hasn't been removed or replaced since the fire of March 2017.(Ryan Michalesko / Staff Photographer)
Around 7:30 Labor Day morning, just as the sun began its ascent over the treetops, some 30 men and women gathered in front of a garden apartment complex for orange juice, cereal bars and pastry. There was to be a march along Northwest Highway, but some residents feared treading along the roadway despite the absence of traffic on a holiday. This is how a Preston Hollow protest became a Preston Hollow block party.
Breakfast was served by Citizens Advocating Responsible Development — a new group with a familiar story if you've spent the last three years following the tussle over 14.2 acres of prime Preston Hollow real estate behind a pink wall that's no longer pink and barely even a wall in some spots.
"We're called 'the no people,'" said Carla Percival-Young, who lives in the Athena high-rise on Northwest Highway. "And that was done purposefully by the other side," said Steve Dawson, a University Park resident who owns a condo complex on a corner of this neighborhood.
They shrug off the moniker, say they're just protecting the neighborhood, their investments, their people. They say they're all for new things as long as they're not too high or too close to the garden apartments planted in the 1950s and the high-rises that came after.
"We're very concerned by that label," Percival-Young said as we walked the neighborhood filled with residents who've lived there since the Johnson administration. But, Dawson added, "we've always been mischaracterized that way."Residents at a Preston Hollow block party on Labor Day. Don't mince words. How do y'all really feel?(Robert Wilonsky / Staff writer)
Mischaracterized, they say, by staffers and officials at City Hall, where in June the plan commission endorsed adding more density to that slice of Preston Hollow. And by developers ready to build new things behind the falling-down pinkish wall. And by their increasingly anxious neighbors who actually do want tall towers and public parks weaved into an aging neighborhood still traumatized by the fire that claimed the Preston Place complex and one of its residents in the spring of 2017.
I walked up Monday morning to a giant banner draped over the exterior of the Gas Light Manor on Bandera Avenue. It read "STOP OVER-DEVELOPMENT!" with a red "no" circle stamped over a sketch of the downtown skyline. Two smaller signs stapled to a wooden stake were planted in the front garden apartment's yard. "NO MORE TOWERS!!" said one; the other, "HELP SAVE OUR NEIGHBORHOOD FROM DENSE URBANIZATION." Throughout the neighborhood, plenty of yards are decorated with "No More Towers In Preston Center, Fix the Traffic First" signs.
I mean, you must admit, that's a lot of no, people.
In a week's time, the Dallas City Council is scheduled to vote on a plan that would rezone this small area called Planned Development District 15. The new PD15 would essentially allow for twice the number of condos than currently allowed. And it would let developers build high-rises here, five decades after Preston Tower and the Athena, which bracketed the late Preston Place, were constructed to great fanfare — and not a peep of opposition.
This Lego model of PD15 was on display at Monday's block party/protest. The red is as high as some residents say they're willing to go.(Robert Wilonsky / Staff photographer)
Next week's vote, if not deferred, comes four years after residents began fighting development along Preston Road and Northwest Highway — shrinking or scuttling altogether proposals for the 27-story Highland House, the Laurel apartment complex, the sky bridge and parking garage in Preston Center. There have been task forces and town halls and area plans. Laura Miller even came out of political retirement to run against development, only to get run over at the polls.
PD15 is a zoning document, not a developer's plan. But the mere possibility of more — more stories, more people, more cars on Northwest Highway and the area's wide and quiet streets — panics some residents, among them high-rise dwellers who have lived here for decades along a stretch of Northwest Highway that resembles Miami Beach. C.A.R.D. members say they foresee a future in which they're surrounded by more tall towers and the greige boxes that have consumed so many other neighborhoods in this city.
"Residents want it to stay like it was when they moved in in 1970," said council member Jennifer Staubach Gates, who has spent most of her six years on the council trying to find a path forward for this well-off neighborhood encased in amber.
I've been to so many meetings on the subject, including one called by Miller in the Athena lobby on a snowy Sunday, I lost interest about three years ago. Except now, the neighborhood shows obvious signs of slow-creeping rot. A unit at the Royal Orleans, one of the six parcels making up this 14.2-acre area, was recently boarded up. Owners of the condos inside the PD, including the Diplomat, are doing what they can to keep the decades-old building just standing and sound.
If the council ultimately decides against the PD rewrite, it's possible if not likely that decay will only return. Developers will not want to sink more and more money into land where they will not find a return on their investment.
"I just want to do what's right," Gates said Monday. "I want to do what's right for the progress needed there."
Residents have chosen this new moniker — Citizens Advocating Responsible Development — because they insist they're not aginners. But that depends on your perspective: On what remains of Preston Place's charred parking garage, the PD15 redo could allow a building as high as 310 feet, if developers offer green space or affordable housing or other good things. CARD's pamphlet wants to stunt its growth at a mere 90 feet.
"We all agree there needs to be development," Athena resident Barbara Dewberry emailed me after Monday's meeting. "But it needs to be responsible, not too dense and not too tall."In the shadow of Preston Tower, this burned-out husk of a concrete parking garage is all that remains of the Preston Place condo building that still hasn't been removed or replaced since the fire of March 2017. (Ryan Michalesko / Staff Photographer)
Dewberry and other pink-wallers began writing a couple of weeks ago, insisting their concerns have been unheeded at City Hall, their compromises unwelcomed. Dewberry reiterated what a dozen others told me Monday morning: Theirs is "one of the most affordable, best situated neighborhoods in Dallas. We need unique neighborhoods like this in our city, and they are worth protecting and retaining."
And that is a point worth listening to, because this is a unique and lovely neighborhood; its ruination would be shameful. Averill Way and Bandera, behind the high-rises, look like New Orleans and Colonial Williamsburg had a fling with Miami Beach in the 1950s. The buildings have names that sound like something out of a film noir or retirement community brochure: Gas Light Manor, Royal Arms, Park Fontaine, Prestwick Manor, Fountainbleu.
Some have pools out front. They were empty Monday morning, though my whole life I can't remember seeing anyone using them. Some of the places look mid-century modern; a few, like the front of a Benihana. "Eclectic," Dawson says of this area.
"These are transitional properties," Dawson said as we walked down Bandera, meaning they "give you that single-family feel" without the upkeep that comes with having your own lawn and pool.
This is what the residents want to protect. Well, that and their views from the Athena and Preston Tower. As we stood on the street Monday, they kept insisting they don't want their neighborhood turned into Manhattan ... or the next West Village. Or Uptown. Or Bishop Arts.
"It's all throughout the city — develop, develop, develop," said Bill Kritzer, a Preston Tower resident serving as C.A.R.D.'s president. "And the city needs to respect the homeowners' view."
But this fight is nothing new. In July 1973 there were plans to construct a 22-story apartment building called Chateau du Monde between the Athena and Preston Tower. Residents found several reasons to oppose the construction, among them "snarled traffic" — plus ça change. The City Council ultimately approved the tower's construction.
Except it was never built. Because the developer ran out of money. So instead this area wound up with the far shorter Preston Place, whose destruction led to this new fight.
Man. In this town history doesn't just repeat itself. It doubles down.
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