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  • February 19, 2019 10:27 AM | Anonymous

    by Jon Anderson

    [Editor’s note: Jon Anderson is a columnist for who lives in District 13. His opinions are his own.]

    I have to admit, had I been drinking milk, it would have squirted out of my nose when I was forwarded an email from a few Preston Hollow residents. It blared out:

    CHANGE IS COMING to District 13!!! (and I don’t mean Staubach’s supersized version) Click the links below – AND: SIGN the petition – AND: GO PARTICIPATE IN DEMOCRACY FEBRUARY 19th at 6:30pm at Hyer Elementary!!!!!!!!! SPREAD THE WORD NOW!!!!!
    (three pro-Laura Miller links)

    Its poor grammar, bombastic language, and the accompanying misleading images reminded me of the sound of a group of seagulls hovering over a restaurant dumpster – or basically, the internet. I wonder if they’ll be yelling “LONG LIVE DEMOCRACY” if Laura Miller loses her race against council member Jennifer Gates?

    First, the campaign seems to be run by the same people who delivered the recent towers meeting. Everything is assumed to be the evil plot of council member Jennifer Gates – almost like it were politically motivated.

    Let’s assume you live in a three-story, 30-foot-tall home (most don’t) and that Preston Place was indeed 40 feet tall. “Version 1” above is the height of a building along Northwest Highway that met the residential proximity slope the city is recommending in their draft. The current zoned height limitation is infinity. So even if 240 feet was likely, it’s still quite a reduction. But they’re also recommending 90 units per acre, which would produce units starting somewhere around 1,500 square feet. No one in Dallas is building that kind of structure. A.G. Spanos’ proposal is for roughly 115 units per acre delivered in seven stories. It’s math.

    And that’s just parcels along the front of Northwest Highway. The northern parcels drop to 96 feet in height. Again, not the existing infinity – and not the 85 feet being proposed by A.G. Spanos for the Diplomat lot. On these parcels the proximity slope actually allows a taller building (~120 feet).

    “Version 2” reflects a proposal by Provident Realty that was first seen at last week’s Preston Hollow East Neighborhood Association. The city had never seen it, council member Gates had never seen it, plan commissioner Margot Murphy had never seen it – I asked them – something the author of this email didn’t. It will never be built. Provident is famous to me as a developer who throws up ludicrously-sized renderings to see what they can get away with.

    “Version 3” is similarly not a real plan. No developer has presented a 19-story building. The “compromise” is simply made-up.

    Oh, haha, “diplomatic” because one of the buildings is the Diplomat.  More misleading graphics. “Spanos/Staubach” is (and always has been) 85 feet tall.  “Could be” isn’t on the table.  It’s scaremongering.

    The 240-foot tall “Staubach Place” would sit between two towers of similar height, an irony lost on residents of the 21-story Athena and 29-story Preston Tower. Council member Gates home is located in a single-family neighborhood. The Pink Wall was originally zoned commercial. When PD-15 was created in the 1960s, its base zoning was MF-3 – unlimited height. It’s not even apples and oranges, its apples and elephants.

    Will something 240 feet in height be built with the density limits?  Who knows? No one has come forward with a credible proposal.

    You read “California developers,” which this “Illinois writer” translates as misplaced Texas exceptionalism. A.G. Spanos are based in California, but their local executive lives in Preston Hollow. And it’s not their 85-foot proposal for Diplomat that should be the most worrying. The uncertainty of the other lots (with and without developers) should be of far more focus than Spanos’ known quantity – whether you support it or not, uncertainty is always worse.

    I have no idea if this is accurate, but it’s certainly misleading (shocking, right?). Which shadows are from existing buildings and which aren’t?  Preston Place is shown as a high-rise front to back (which the city isn’t recommending). Royal Orleans is also shown as a high-rise, a configuration that is nearly impossible to build on their tiny lot.

    You’ll also note this projection is based on Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year, but also when the sun is at its lowest and producing the most shadow. Literally the worst day of the year. Use June 21, the date of the longest sunshine of the year, and the shadows are completely within University Park.

    I saved the best for last. First, I’d hope an 88-story building wouldn’t look like such a dump.  Secondly, it’s more misdirected propaganda (of course). Preston Tower contains 85 units per acre but it’s spread over four acres. So yes, this may be what 88 stories of Preston Tower would look like, but it’s as illustrative as piling a block’s worth of single-family homes on one lot. Yes, it’s tall, but the rest of the block would be pasture. It’s simply taking a concept to absurdity. “Absurdity” has always been a great word for political campaigns.

    Yes, the neighborhood should have been paying attention to the two-year process of figuring out what to do with PD-15 since Preston Place burned. But they weren’t. Now that pen is meeting paper, the propagandists are out in full force. Their all-too-easy goal is to incite the uninformed angry mob who’re so many political pawns in a game that’s not really about them.

    View article online

  • February 14, 2019 11:13 AM | Anonymous

    The Preston Hollow Lifestyle
    Advocate Magazine

    In January,  nearly 100 neighbors interested in Planned Development 15 packed the Walnut Hill Recreation Center community room. The PD-15 area is located north of West Northwest Highway between Pickwick Lane and Baltimore Avenue and encompasses six condominium complexes.  At issue: What will become of the condos now after one complex burned down? What are the height restrictions? What’s the grand vision for redevelopment? Millions of dollars are at stake. City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates told the crowd that she’d like for recommendations to be ready by March given that the last committee couldn’t come to a resolution. Why should neighbors care about what seems like a difficult-to-understand issue? If you care about traffic and Northwest Highway development, here’s what you need to know about PD-15 before the public meeting Feb. 19, 6:30 p.m. at Hyer Elementary Cafeteria, 8385 Durham.

    What is a planned development?

    • It establishes planning and zoning regulations for an area of land.

    What is PD-15? 

    • PD-15 was established April 23, 1947, and includes approximately 14.2 acres.

    Why a PD-15 steering committee?

    • Preston Place burned down in March 2017.
    • The city immediately created a study group, which ultimately couldn’t come to an agreement about how to develop the area.
    • In April 2018, at a community meeting, Gates invited citizens to apply to be on a new steering committee.

    Who’s on the new PD-15 steering committee? 

    The City reports the organization represents all property owners within PD-15, with proportional representation mirroring land mass. Neighborhood representives from outside PD-15 also are included:

    • Preston Place: Trish Morin-Resch
    • Preston Tower: Tatiana Frierson and Robert Bowling
    • Athena: Margaret Darden and Barbara Dewberry
    • Royal Orleans: Ed Massman
    • The Diplomat: Maggie Sherrod
    • Diamond Head: Sandra Welch
    • Preston Hollow East Homeowners Association: Juli Black
    • Immediate adjacent neighbors to PD-15 (behind the “pink wall”): Grover Wilkins, Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association; Kevin Griffeth; Jim Panipinto

    Why should you care? 

    How much traffic will development bring to PD-15 and surrounding streets? How high should the buildings be? How much do you care about being able to walk to Preston Center? Are you concerned about underground parking? What about flooding and water flow management?

    What has the new steering committee been doing? 

    • Wilkins, desiring an urbanist’s counsel, invited architect Michael Friebele at Callison RTKL to offer a concept.
    • The Friebele concept: “One idea, and you build the whole thing.” Sources won’t allow us to publish a map of the concept, but the idea is for architects to design one concept for all properties, suggesting no more than 10 stories on Northwest Highway and four stories on the north side.
    • Here’s what owners at all condo properties want, according to Wilkins: plenty of green space and walkability; high rises on the south, low rises on north.

    What should you do? 

    Ask questions. Contact Andrew Ruegg, at 214-671-7931 or

    What’s next?

    Attend the public community meeting Feb. 19, 6:30 p.m., at Hyer Elementary Cafeteria, 8385 Durham.

    “This tract of land is incredible,” Wilkins says. “I am three minutes from the tollway, five minutes from Central Expressway. What more do you want? The design factor is essential. We think if we present this to the community, the community will go with this.”

    Sources: Dallas City Hall, Grover Wilkins

    View article online

  • February 14, 2019 11:10 AM | Anonymous

    By Jon Anderson

    A.G. Spanos rendering for Diplomat lot

    I can’t seem to go a week these days without some wrinkle or shenanigan involving Planned Development District PD-15, located on a small patch on Northwest Highway near Preston Road behind the Pink Wall. Last week, the Athena and Preston Tower had their fact-free punch-fest, and this week it was the Preston Hollow East Neighborhood Association’s turn (PHENA). They’re the single-family neighborhood north of the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association (go figure).

    For about a week, I’d been aware of a small but vocal (ok, accusatory) group of the neighborhood’s residents who appear to have awoken from a slumber now that PD-15’s future is finally getting serious. Granted, I know the world doesn’t all read my missives about PD-15 (here, on D Magazinehere, here – or Preston Hollow People), but PHENA has also sent scads of emails, texts, Facebook posts, and updates on the neighborhood’s website. My ears are cinders from what’s been said about me on Backdoor, Sidedoor, Frontdoor Nextdoor. Personally, I leave the social media trash talk, gossip-mongering, and digital curtain twitching to those with nothing better to do.

    The point being, folks six feet under at Sparkman Hillcrest have heard about the ongoing redevelopment planning for PD-15. Given that the Preston Place condos burned down weeks shy of two years ago, you’d almost have to be willfully out of touch.

    A.G. Spanos placed between towers (with MY suggested green roof)

    And of course these folks are all in a tizzy with what’s been going on without them. Many were the same faces opposed to The Laurel on Preston Road and Northwest Highway. Accusations are flying back and forth, open records requests are being filed to get ahold of communications between PHENA president and PD-15 committee member Juli Black and city officials (below).  These residents seem to want the train to stop while they get caught up. This is the point at which I hate zoning cases. Everyone does the best work they can and then back-seaters suddenly get riled up to stop the presses because they’re … them.  It’s easier and more grand to upset an apple cart that someone else has grown, picked and placed in the cart.

    Last night, a hastily called PHENA meeting attracted some 80 residents and interested onlookers. Here’s what went down.

    A.G. Spanos rendering for Diplomat lot

    The first 45 minutes of the meeting centered on walking attendees through all the communications that have gone on between PHENA and residents. Essentially it built the case laid out above that even death wouldn’t really excuse the neighborhood of not knowing what was going on.

    The remainder of the meeting saw the two known developers showing their proposals. The A.G. Spanos team showed their vision for the Diplomat parcel while Provident’s Mark Miller showed an updated vision for Preston Place.  Attendees queried after the meeting were pretty OK with Spanos’ project but were aghast with Provident’s ever-growing project.

    One of those residents was Richard Wynne. Yesterday, he filed an open records request with the city searching for:

    • All communications (letters/memos/emails/text messages) between Council Member Jennifer S. Gates, her staff, or anyone acting on their behalf and Juli Black relating to PD-15, the formation of a steering committee relating to PD-15, and/or any proposed development within PD-15.

    • All communications (letters/memos/emails/text messages) between City Plan Commissioner Margot Brito Murphy, her staff, any staff members of the Dallas Plan Commission, or anyone acting on their behalf and Juli Black relating to PD-15, the formation of a steering committee relating to PD-15, and/or any proposed development within PD-15.

    • All communications (letters/memos/emails/text messages) from Jan. 1, 2017 to the present between Council Member Jennifer S. Gates, her staff, or anyone acting on their behalf and anyone employed by or affiliated with any real-estate development company relating to PD-15, the steering committee relating to PD-15, and/or any proposed development within PD-15.

    • All communications (letters/memos/emails/text messages) from Jan. 1, 2017 to the present between City Plan Commissioner Margot Brito Murphy, her staff, any staff members of the Dallas Plan Commission and anyone employed by or affiliated with any real-estate development company relating to PD-15, the steering committee relating to PD-15, and/or any proposed development within PD-15.

    • All communications (letters/memos/emails/text messages) between Council Member Jennifer S. Gates, her staff, or anyone acting on her behalf and any person employed by or affiliated with the Dallas Observer newspaper regarding an April 22, 2014 news article entitled, “In Preston Hollow Apartment Case, Staubach Gates Takes Recusing Herself to a New Level.”

    • All documents, internal or external (including electronic communications) relating to an April 22, 2014 Dallas Observer news article entitled “In Preston Hollow Apartment Case, Staubach Gates Takes Recusing Herself to a New Level.” This request shall include any communications between Plan Commissioner Margot Brito Murphy or her staff and City Council Member Jennifer S. Gates or her staff.

    This is a pretty big net that seems to be attempting to make connections between The Laurel, PD-15, and its cast of city hall characters. What’s interesting is the request includes current PHENA president Juli Black while not seeking the same information for PHENA board members in The Laurel case. Hmmm.

    A.G. Spanos rendering for Diplomat lot

    Returning to The Laurel development for a moment, this cry of poor communication may sound familiar. Back in August 2015, I wrote about how prior PHENA president and then board member Ashley Parks managed to secure a City Plan Commission delay. She claimed she, and thus the neighborhood, had not been notified of the latest Laurel proposal that had been publicly available since the prior March. I listed emails she’d sent and received about the proposal and also noted that her husband was one of a group of homeowners negotiating on the neighborhood’s behalf with the developer Transwestern. To me, the story didn’t hang together

    Is it credible for PHENA residents to again claim ignorance of communication? I can’t imagine anyone involved with the two-plus years spent on The Laurel dropping the ball so soon. Surely anyone who cared about development had signed up for any communication from both the city and PHENA? Surely at least one of this similar group knew and spread the word. In my experience, protesters don’t hide their lanterns under a bush.

    It’s hard to believe an accusation of a willful obscuring of the events within PD-15 can be credible given the amount of communication. However, there may be significant disagreement about the level of redevelopment Black supported. During committee meetings, she was an indulgent counterweight to the towers’ “do nothing” approach. Not all PHENA residents will be thrilled by her generosity of vision.

    View article online

  • February 13, 2019 11:02 AM | Anonymous

    By Justin Fox
    Bloomberg Business Week

    Cheap stick framing has led to a proliferation of blocky, forgettable mid-rises—and more than a few construction fires.

    These buildings are in almost every U.S. city. They range from three to seven stories tall and can stretch for blocks. They’re usually full of rental apartments, but they can also house college dorms, condominiums, hotels, or assisted-living facilities. Close to city centers, they tend toward a blocky, often colorful modernism; out in the suburbs, their architecture is more likely to feature peaked roofs and historical motifs. Their outer walls are covered with fiber cement, metal, stucco, or bricks.

    They really are everywhere, I discovered on a cross-country drive last fall, and they’re going up fast. In 2017, 187,000 new housing units were completed in buildings of 50 units or more in the U.S., the most since the Census Bureau started keeping track in 1972. By my informal massaging of the data, well over half of those were in blocky mid-rises.

    These structures’ proliferation is one of the most dramatic changes to the country’s built environment in decades. Yet when I started asking around about them, they didn’t seem to have a name. I encountered someone calling them “stumpies” in a website comment, but that sadly hasn’t caught on. It was only after a developer described the style to me as five-over-one—five stories of apartments over a ground-floor “podium” of parking and/or retail—that I was able to find some online discussion of the phenomenon.

    relates to Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same

    Texas mid-rises.
    Photographer: Laura Buckman for Bloomberg Businessweek

    The number of floors and the presence of a podium varies; the key unifying element, it turns out, is under the skin. They’re almost always made of softwood two-by-fours, or “stick,” in construction parlance, that have been nailed together in frames like those in suburban tract houses.

    The method traces to 1830s Chicago, a boomtown with vast forests nearby. Nailing together thin, precut wooden boards into a “balloon frame” allowed for the rapid construction of “a simple cage which the builder can surface within and without with any desired material,” the architect Walker Field wrote in 1943. “It exemplifies those twin conditions that underlie all that is American in our building arts: the chronic shortage of skilled labor, and the almost universal use of wood.” The balloon frame and its variants still dominate single-family homebuilding in the U.S. and Canada. It’s also standard in Australia and New Zealand, and pretty big in Japan, but not in the rest of the world.

    In the U.S., stick framing appears to have become the default construction method for apartment complexes as well. The big reason is that it costs much less—I heard estimates from 20 percent to 40 percent less—than building with concrete, steel, or masonry. Those industries have sponsored several studies disputing the gap, but most builders clearly think it exists.

    They’re also comfortable with wood. “You can make mistakes and you can cut another piece,” says Michael Feigin, chief construction officer at AvalonBay Communities Inc., the country’s fourth-biggest apartment owner. “With concrete and steel, it’s just a lot more work to fix problems.” If supplies run out, adds Kenneth Bland, a vice president at the trade group American Wood Council, builders “know they can run to the nearest big box and get what they need.”

    They can also run to the nearest big-box store to find workers. Stick construction allows builders to use cheaper casual labor rather than often-unionized skilled tradespeople. And it makes life easier for electricians, plumbers, and the like because it leaves open spaces through which wires, pipes, and ducts can run. Still, there’s a reason why stick wasn’t the default for big apartment buildings until recently, and why these buildings are limited in height: Sticks burn.

    It was the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed thousands of balloon-frame buildings, that brought this lesson home. Before long, the city instituted a ban on wood construction that’s still partly in place today. New York City had declared its downtown off-limits to wood construction in the early 1800s, eventually extending the proscription to all of Manhattan, plus the Bronx, Brooklyn, and parts of Queens and Staten Island. By 1930, a list of fire-resistance best practices compiled by the U.S. Department of Commerce was recommending stick-frame bans in dense urban neighborhoods and a two-story limit for everywhere else. Stick construction had effectively been banished to the suburbs.

    By the second half of the 20th century, the suburbs were where America was moving, and as they evolved from bedroom communities into a new kind of city, the stick building evolved with them—into forms such as the “dingbats” of Los Angeles (one or two stories atop a carport) and the parking-rich garden-apartment complexes outside Atlanta, Dallas, and other metropolises. Building codes evolved, too, as insurers and fire-safety-equipment manufacturers pushed for scientific, “performance-based” codes that emphasized lab-determined fire-resistance ratings over specific materials and incorporated new technologies such as the automated fire sprinkler.

    This gospel spread fitfully in a country where codes were a municipal affair, but it did spread, abetted by three regional organizations that produced model codes for cities to adopt or adapt to their own purposes. The most successful body was the aspirationally named International Conference of Building Officials, based in Southern California, whose Uniform Building Code was by 1970 at least partly followed by 9 in 10 Western cities. The UBC, updated triennially, ushered in the age of the mid-rise wood-frame apartment building.

    Some of the details are lost in the mists of time, or at least in dusty archives, but the tale seems to have gone like this: The first UBC, issued in 1927, allowed for wood-frame apartment buildings three stories high. The risk of earthquakes inclined officials to be tolerant of such frames, which handle shaking better than brick walls do; the presence of a large timber industry in the Northwest was also a factor. In the 1950s the story limit increased to four if an automatic sprinkler system was installed. Square-footage restrictions were eased if building segments were separated by firewalls—initially masonry, then simpler-to-install gypsum board. By the 1970s it was possible to build four wood-framed stories atop a concrete podium. Then, in the early 1990s, came a breakthrough.

    Los Angeles architect Tim Smith was sitting on a Hawaiian beach, reading through the latest building code, as one does, when he noticed that it classified wood treated with fire retardant as noncombustible. That made wood eligible, he realized, for a building category—originally known as “ordinary masonry construction” but long since amended to require only that outer walls be made entirely of noncombustible material—that allowed for five stories with sprinklers.

    His company, Togawa Smith Martin Inc., was working at the time with the City of Los Angeles on a 100-unit affordable-housing high-rise in Little Tokyo that they “could never get to pencil out.” By putting five wood stories over a one-story concrete podium and covering more of the one-acre lot than a high-rise could fill, Smith figured out how to get the 100 apartments at 60 percent to 70 percent of the cost. The building, Casa Heiwa, opened its doors in 1996, and the five-over-one had been invented. (“Let’s put it this way,” Smith says. “No one has challenged me to say that they did it first.”) The public didn’t take note, but West Coast architects and developers did. They could now get near-high-rise densities at a wood-frame price. Soon, the rest of America could, too.

    Despite the regional groups’ efforts, many architects, developers, economists, and federal housing officials still found local codes parochial and backward-looking, charging that they thwarted innovation and inflated costs. One response came from legislatures, which began increasing state authority over codes. Another came from the regional groups, which in 1994 started work on a single national code. Faced with a major challenge resolving differences over building heights and areas, the responsible committee settled on a somewhat radical precept: If a building could be built under any of the three old codes, it could be built under the new one. Under the 2000 International Building Code (IBC), the stick-built mid-rise podium apartment building was free to migrate eastward.

    These buildings wouldn’t be going up if no one wanted to move in, of course. Growing demand, brought on by demographic shifts, job-growth patterns, and a renewed taste among affluent Americans for city (or citylike) living, has shaped the mid-rise boom. So have the whims of capital. Most multifamily developers build to sell—to a real estate investment trust, an insurance company, a pension fund, or some other institutional investor. These owners aren’t interested in small projects, and their bottom-line focus determines not only materials but also appearance and layout.

    The need for scale dictates hulking “superblocks,” and the desire to break up these blocks a little explains the colorful panels and other exterior choices. Efficiency dictates the buildings be wide enough for “double-loaded” corridors, with apartments on both sides, but not so wide that the apartments are narrow and dark. This in turn favors a structure shaped like a right-angled U, C, E, or S. Two- or three-bedroom apartments work best at the corners, so one-bedrooms and studios predominate.

    The boom has also been shaped by zoning that sometimes leaves downtowns and suburban commercial districts as the only practical spots for new housing. Ordinances requiring a minimum number of parking spaces per apartment unit factor in, too: Where minimums are relatively high, as in Texas, the best solution can be wrapping the building around a parking deck, a style known as the Texas doughnut. Where they’re lower, the ground-floor podium will do. City planners also often require developers to devote street-front podium space to shops and restaurants.

    Yes, the result can be a little repetitive, but repetition has been characteristic of every big new urban or suburban housing trend in the U.S. over the past century or two. There’s lots to like about stumpy buildings that provide new housing in places where it’s sorely needed and enliven neighborhoods in the process. A four-story Texas doughnut can get 50 or 60 apartments onto an acre of land, while the most aggressively engineered West Coast stick-and-concrete hybrid (two-story podiums are allowed now, along with other variations) can get almost 200. That’s not far from the range that the renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs deemed optimal for vital street life.

    There’s also lots to like about building with wood, which, as long as the trees are replanted and allowed to grow to maturity, is now generally accounted to be a net consumer of carbon dioxide. Wood’s green credentials have helped spur a recent worldwide push for more construction with “mass timber”—softwood lumber glued together and compressed into thick beams, columns, and panels. The tallest such structure completed so far is an 18-story dormitory at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. Oregon has already changed its code to allow mass timber buildings of that scale, and the 2021 IBC is set to do the same.

    The advance of the mid-rise stick building has come with less fanfare, and left local officials and even some in the building industry surprised and unsettled. “It’s a plague, and it happened when no one was watching,” says Steven Zirinsky, building code committee co-chairman for the New York City chapter of the American Institute of Architects. What caught his attention was a blaze that broke out in January 2015 at the Avalon apartments in Edgewater, N.J., across the Hudson River from his home. “When I could read a book in my apartment by the flame of that fire,” he says, “I knew there was a problem.” Ignited by a maintenance worker’s torch, the fire spread through concealed spaces in the floors and attic of the four-story complex, abetted by a partial sprinkler system that didn’t cover those areas. No one died, but the building was destroyed.

    There haven’t been many such fires in completed stick mid-rises, but the buildings have proved highly flammable before the sprinklers and walls go in. Dozens of major fires have broken out at mid-rise construction sites over the past five years. Of the 13 U.S. blazes that resulted in damages of $20 million or more in 2017, according to the National Fire Protection Association, six were at wood-frame apartment buildings under construction.

    These fires often bring a local outcry to restrict stick apartments. The Atlanta suburbs of Sandy Springs and Dunwoody enacted bans on wood-frame buildings above three stories, but they were later overturned by the Georgia legislature. There’s also talk of new regulations in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, and Maryland. But the place where legislative action seems most likely is New Jersey.

    Building permits have been issued for 105,000 new apartments in the state since 2012, and it sure looks like most are in wood-frame mid-rises. Glenn Corbett, a former firefighter who teaches fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, took me on a tour of some of New Jersey’s “toothpick towers,” as he calls them, pointing out places that fire engines can’t reach and things that could go wrong as the buildings age. “You’re reintroducing these conflagration hazards to urban environments,” he says. “We’re intentionally putting problems in every community in the country, problems that generations of firefighters that haven’t even been born yet are going to have to deal with.”

    The toughest of the bills before New Jersey’s legislature would restrict urban stick buildings to three stories and 7,000 square feet per floor. Proposals with a better chance of passing call for, among other things, masonry firewalls between building segments and full sprinkler systems for apartment buildings three stories and higher. The Avalon at Edgewater has been rebuilt with these measures; Feigin, construction chief for AvalonBay, the building’s owner, says they’re now standard for all the company’s new mid-rise developments. The 2018 IBC adds provisions aimed at stopping fires from spreading through apartment-building attics, and a proposal approved late last year, over the objections of builders and apartment owners, will change the 2021 code to effectively require full sprinkler systems for all four-over-one podium buildings.

    Can we rely on developers’ economic interests and the model-code process to work things out? Alexi Assmus, who’s been active in the New Jersey debates and the IBC process, is dubious. A businesswoman and civic activist who got involved when AvalonBay built a wood-framed complex in her hometown of Princeton, she tried to introduce changes to the national model code and didn’t get far. In theory, anyone can participate on the International Code Council committees that submit recommendations to the government officials who vote on the IBC, but in practice it’s mostly trade group representatives who do. “The special interests all have the money to go there and stay at the hotels,” Assmus says. “Don’t think that this third-party ICC is going to give us codes that are in the public interest, necessarily.”

    Then again, the reason the ICC exists is because setting building codes locally came to be seen as not really in the public interest, either. Deaths in residential fires in the U.S. are down by almost half since the 1980s, so something appears to be working. And there are echoes in at least some of the agitation of standard-variety Nimbyism. Some parts of the country need lots of new housing, and builders of bulky mid-rise wood-frame apartment buildings have found an economic formula that provides it. Whether it’s the right formula for American cities is something we’ll have to wait to find out. —Fox is a business columnist for Bloomberg Opinion.

    View article online

  • February 07, 2019 2:20 PM | Anonymous

    by Jon Anderson

    Incorrect and highly misleading graphic used to represent city’s draft proposal

    When I first heard about Preston Tower and Athena owners meeting to discuss PD-15, I nicknamed it a “witch burning” and it did not disappoint. Bill Kritzer, the main speaker from Preston Tower, accusingly called out Council Member Jennifer Gates’ name so many times that if she had a dollar for each utterance, she could fund the Preston Center garage out of petty cash.

    The troubles of the world were heaped on her shoulders, every real or imagined slight (OK, they were all imagined) dumped on her doorstep. Meanwhile praise was reserved for the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association (PHSNA) and its work for the neighborhood. I find that praise comical. It was PHSNA leadership that gave residents the Laurel apartments – that are universally reviled. So the talk track was that the Laurel process was better because the developer met with PHSNA leadership – but the neighborhood wound up with a building they hate. Somehow that irony was lost on the packed house at the Athena.

    The Laurel: hated by a neighborhood that wants more just like it

    Also lost on the group was the understanding that the Laurel building they hate is three and four stories – the same height they cheered for. While the biggest example, it was hardly the last piece of incoherent thinking observed. Had their been Kool-Aid, there’d have been a fight for the pitcher.

    Another “praiseworthy” item was the Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan. Many believing it to be a gold standard of biblical proportions, when it’s closer to manure. I mean really, what do you call a plan that purports to guide development that has no underlying data supporting the economic viability of its conclusions?  How about when co-author Peter Kline told me, “To call it a plan is an overstatement”?

    Another way to gauge its credibility would be if the consultants, paid to provide data, stood behind its conclusions. Comparing their (left out) recommendations with the final plan, that endorsement will never come. Don’t believe me? Check out my D Magazine story that dismantles it.

    The graphics shown displaying the city’s draft PD proposal were inaccurate (lead story graphic). The cries of the process being developer-led ignore the fact that the one developer who’s come to the table (A.G. Spanos for Diplomat) is actually asking for a shorter building than the city’s proposal.  A shorter building, it should be noted, precisely where lower matters. The trope about developer greed seems to call for non-profit developers to step forward.

    The continued red herring of the 100-foot setback on Northwest Highway was again rolled out as being something to fear simply because the city’s draft calls for 70 feet. What they ignore, or have been kept in the dark about by their HOAs, is that documentation exists in multiple locations dating back to 1945 that supports the 100-foot setback. This evidence includes a contract signed in 1966 between all the Northwest Highway landowners that states no changes can be made without unanimous approval. Done and dusted, but the drone wears on and the rubes still get whipped up.


    The plan known as 10-6-4, which reflects the stories proposed as a “compromise” by some of the committee members is shown above. It’s wholly unworkable. On the back side, four stories are not economically viable to build and even if someone agreed to build that height, the resulting build quality would be on par with The Laurel mentioned above.

    The 10 stories outlined for Northwest Highway are similarly unbuildable. Hybrid construction enables buildings up to eight stories, after that, it’s concrete and steel, which raises the build costs by 30 to 35 percent. No one is going to incur that cost for a measly two stories.

    As you can also see, the plan seems to think all the low rise properties are owned by one owner. They’re not. No bank will loan on a project that’s physically connected with other owners’ property. BUT the biggest folly of all is a one story concrete plinth under the whole thing. Part of it would be parking while maintaining Tulane Avenue running underneath through a ground-level tunnel. If the buildings themselves are not economically viable or financeable, there’s no way anyone would pay to essentially jack their buildings up over an enormously expensive shared concrete slab.

    This group has presented their plans to developers, architects and others and have been told exactly what I’ve outlined here, namely that its UN-buildable. And yet they persist.

    Their plan calls for units 1,600 to 3,000 square feet – much larger than neighborhood averages. What they seem to forget is that larger units equal larger buildings. Shown above, you can see what happens if unit size increases and the units per acre are stable. Regardless of whether it’s 90 units per acre or whatever, the percent increase in building size stays the same. For people hell bent on keeping buildings short, this makes no sense.

    Behind the scenes, it is sadly even funnier. While tonight they said it would be all residential, the plan they presented to me (yes, to me) included a coffee shop that’s a pet project of one committee member. This same committee member told me the only reason they settled on 10 stories on Northwest highway is because another committee member’s condo was on the 11th floor and she didn’t want people looking in.  Oh, and that same committee member’s friend’s relative drew up the plan – not a licensed architect, never built a building in his life. They couldn’t even tell the group how many units it would contain – it’s just a picture thrown together by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

    They call it a compromise, but it’s only a true compromise if it has a hope of working. It’s like offering a naked person a sock … sure, it’s clothing … but not enough to keep from being arrested.

    Water intrusion at 3-year-old Bandera apartments.

    Prediction: If the 10-6-4 plan is actually built, residents will spend the rest of their days bitching about the low building quality and blaming everyone else but themselves.  As I also pointed out, the 3-year-old Bandera apartments have already been repairing leaks to their stucco exterior.

    It’s worth noting that former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller was there, and I can say it’s the first time I’ve ever seen her at an Athena meeting in over five years. As expected, she tried to attack Council Member Gates on a number of topics. Gates defended herself pretty well.

    There was a fearful question about the city’s inclusion of sweeteners for developers offering affordable housing. Nothing gets people who think they’re wealthy in a knot like people who know they’re not rich living nearby. As I tried to point out – no one is going to build them the way it’s stated. The city is offering increased density (units per acre) in exchange for affordable units. But there’s no increase in the buildable envelope. So as you can see above, if you’re selling a dozen eggs for $3 and someone says you can sell 14 eggs in the same size box for the same $3 (or less), why would you? It’s a bad deal.

    After the meeting, one Preston Tower resident tried to convince me that the 10-6-4 could be built. My response was that the rents would be too high for the neighborhood to bear. His flip answer was “we’ll see.”  But we don’t have to wait that long.

    The Laurel apartments have been for lease since May 2018 and are reportedly 22 percent occupied. That’s a failure. But the neighborhood is so unthinking that they can’t even understand that one way or another, those units will be rented.  Butts in beds will win and so the quality of tenant will decline with rent decreases or perhaps advertising for higher-density roommate rentals who split the costs and fill units.

    And of course, you had those who think nothing should be done. Preston Place should be a burned-out concrete platform and no other building should change.

    Whatever makes these people think that repeating the Laurel mistake with the same crew of “negotiators” will achieve a different outcome is beyond me. The only answer I can come up with (that’s printable) is that they are grossly uninformed and have no desire to step outside of their bubble to learn – while reserving their right to complain if they actually get their way.

    View article online

  • February 01, 2019 11:47 AM | Anonymous

    by Jon Anderson
    Candy's Dirt

    Last night. Council Member Jennifer Gates held the second public meeting about what to do with the dilapidated Preston Center parking garage. Since the first meeting back in September, consultants from Houston-based Walker Consultants have been busy scoping out concepts based on the Preston Road Area Plan (a bright spot in a dismal plan).  The plan outlined a completely underground parking garage with 1,600 parking spaces (double today’s garage) and a public park on top at ground level.  Think Klyde Warren but instead of Woodall Rodgers underneath, it would be a garage.  You may also recall that the surrounding landowners unanimously poo-poo that plan (put a pin in that).

    The parking lot itself is 3.15 acres – 137,332 square feet – and 800 parking spaces on two above-ground levels. This … space … in the middle of an area zoned for high density. Understand just how rare that is. Klyde Warren had to cover a highway to get its space and here we are with a molding parking garage that could be so very much more. Like I said, very, very, rare.

    Now, burying so much parking isn’t on the same planet as “cheap,” but it’s the right thing to do. It’s worth saving up for. It’s worth sacrificing for.

    Show Me The Money

    Regardless of what’s built underneath it, the park is estimated to cost between $7 and $8 million. It’s certainly more than a few Home Depot runs. The big number is the garage itself. The Walker folks had three scenarios based on different levels of parking.

    To build 1,005 spaces across three underground levels would cost between $30.7 million and $36 million. The 1,005 number was arrived at by assuming all the existing surrounding buildings were 100 percent occupied and calculating their needs. That brings a total between $37.7 and $44 million for the underground garage and park.

    That’s a lot of money right there.  But remember, the project has $20 million already earmarked ($10 million each from the last bond and NCTCOG). So glass half full.

    Next up they tackled 1,200 spaces also on three underground levels which came in between $34 .2 and $40 million. That’s an increase of between $3.5 and $4 million for the additional 195 spaces.  Those spaces are breathing room for future needs and easier parking today. Total with park is between $41.2 and $48 million.

    The half-full funding glass is now slightly less.

    The Preston Road Area Plan called for a doubling of the existing garage to 1,600 spaces. Essentially tons of extra parking that might not be used until a ubiquity of self-driving cars. But, this is supposed to be a solution for the ages, so it’s worth considering. The problem is that 1,600 spaces spills into a fourth underground level which really jacks the price. The parking would cost between $49.6 and $54.5 million, an increase of roughly $15 million over 1,200 spaces. The grand total here with the park is between $56.6 and $62.5 million.

    At this level, our $20 million in funding is about one-third of what would be needed. Now’s the time for smelling salts.

    What We Get For The Money

    First we get rid of the existing eyesore. We get an area where folks can sit in the grass, order takeout from a nearby restaurant and maybe visit a farmers’ market or art fair. There might be some splashy things for kids to run through in the summer. All sorts of things besides an unsightly garage.

    I hear you saying, “That’s all well and good, but is any of it bankable?”  Yes. According to Walker Consultant’s research, properties surrounding similar types of amenity parks appreciate on average $80 per square foot. Selecting a random low-rise property on the southern, Luther Lane side of the garage, DCAD shows the property is valued at $251 per square foot. An $80 per foot increase would amount to a 28 percent increase in value. That would not only increase city tax rolls, but also rents because of the improved desirability of the property. It would bring them more in line with those collected across Preston Road at The Plaza at Preston Center.


    Most things in life are a combination of time and money. Walker Consultants estimate 29 months from first shovel to ribbon cutting. That’s a long time to interfere with the functioning of a shopping center. I suspect it’s at the top of the list of why area landowners are against this plan. And I get it. Rents will temporarily go down (before recovering and quickly increasing).

    My question. Would area landowners support this plan if instead of the single shift of work outlined here, work was around the clock?  If 29 months were halved to 15 months.

    Speeding up construction will add to costs, but we’d already need to save to afford this anyway, and it is absolutely the right answer for Dallas, and ultimately the landowners (even if they refuse to see it today).

    Landowners’ plan: Cover the lot.

    Speaking of The Landowners

    Double dip, triple dip, stuff your whole head in the trough — the landowners came up with their own plan. In a nutshell, cover the entire acreage in a combination parking lot and 300-unit apartment building (or as I call it a larder of new customers). In exchange for providing the parking for their own businesses, they want the city to give them the 3.15 acre site … and the $20 million … and more. To be sure, there would be other monies needed, but the plan calls for the city to be bled dry first.

    Oh, oh, oh, it doesn’t end there, my friends. Since the landowners require unanimous approval, their chosen developer?  Robert Dozier, who purchased Harlan Crow’s Preston Center holdings (after the skybridge debacle) and is now one of the larger landowners. One of their own.

    Dozier’s response to the city’s plan was more famine, plague, and pestilence than a Sunday red state revival tent. We were told that even after completion the park would scare away customers, businesses would close, and the caliber of business would decline (which wouldn’t happen with their plan, why?). This, said with a straight face, 10 minutes after Walker Consultants said there’d be a 28 percent jump in values. It was eye-rollingly laughable. I mean,  surrounding the garage we already have Target, DSW Shoe Warehouse, Office Depot, and Tuesday Morning – nothing in danger of being poached by Highland Park Village. The only way to go is up.

    Dozier went on to say that their plan would be the catalyst for surrounding landowners to improve and redevelop their own properties. If the landowners wanted the increased rents generated by – oh, I don’t know – the better buildings across the street at The Plaza at Preston Center, they’d have made improvements decades ago.  The more likely reality is that their plan would be a silk purse surrounded by a sow’s ear.

    The city’s plan is all about green space and an interactive park to bring vibrancy to the area. Less so the Preston Center landowners’ plan. See the pair of “earmuff” parks on the upper corners?  That’s it at ground level – and that pittance was apparently an 11th-hour addition (nawww, really?) to original plans whose green space was only visible when someone dropped a salad.

    The real green space is on top of the three-story, above-ground parking garage – the part not taken up by the 300-unit apartment tower. Who in the devil’s underpants is going to take an elevator to a raised park more than once?  No one. It’ll essentially be an amenity deck for the apartment building. In a bone-toss to usefulness, their plan calls for a small restaurant on the roof to attract folks to the elevator.

    Fans of Where’s Waldo will be thrilled way-finding the restaurant. I foresee either really, really cheap rent or a never-ending cavalcade of hopeful eateries going bust. Does “out of sight, out of mind” ring a bell here?

    Earmuff park from above

    The Peanut Gallery

    When the floor was opened for questions, nearly all were directed at the landowners’ plan – most seeing it for what it brazenly is. My favorite was in response to the landowners’ dire predictions. An audience member noted that The Plaza at Preston Center’s underground parking garage (literally across the street) certainly didn’t crater their operation, so why would it harm theirs? You could have driven a truck through the silence.

    Former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller asked several questions of the landowners’ plan. Each could be tied back to the landowners’ plan’s complete ignoring of the letter and spirit of the Preston Road Area Plan. And she’s right. The landowners used the area plan as so much toilet paper in their haste to print themselves a greedy sweetheart deal crushing any ability to realize the higher monetary and aesthetic potential of Preston Center.

    Another audience member surfaced the oddest extrapolation of the city’s park plan. Namely the concern that a well-run park would increase area traffic, so an essentially static, un-programmed park with no activities would be best. It’s like telling someone mediocre results are the goal of expensive plastic surgery. Huh?

    Pivotal Moment

    Replacing the garage will change Preston Center for a century. Do we want to be remembered for doing the right thing? Or do we want to be remembered for giving in to self-serving greed? The right thing is usually harder and in this case deliciously more expensive, but it’s right, and worth moving mountains to find the money.

    If the landowners’ ode to self-interest is what’s built, a plaque needs to go up reminding people of our incompetence.

    View article online

  • January 16, 2019 10:07 AM | Anonymous

    by Jon Anderson

    Redevelopment Necessary

    January 16, 2019 Jon Anderson

    We have a visceral reaction to traffic and parking issues, but our gut isn’t always right.

    Multiple studies dating back decades show that traffic around Preston Road and Northwest Highway has actually diminished. New traffic signal patterns are moving traffic quicker. During the 2016 Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan process, parking studies were conducted proving that, outside weekday lunch hour, parking isn’t an issue either. Therefore, residents shouldn’t overly sweat issues proven to be lessening or simply a nonissue in considering redevelopment.

    Currently, there are three development levers being pulled. The Preston Center garage reconstruction, Saint Michael and All Angels redevelopment of Frederick Square, and the Pink Wall portion known as Planned Development District 15 (PD-15). The garage is only just holding its second public meeting Jan. 31. The other two are further along.

    Saint Michael and All Angels
    Saint Michael’s owns the block north of the church from Douglas Avenue to the Tollway. The western end has significant development rights while the eastern end is zoned for three-story residential. The church proposes extending the height granted on the western end to the whole block. The plan calls for two high-rises – one residential, one office – whose total square footage is less than what’s already zoned on the combined block. Building placement preserves downtown views for neighboring high-rises.

    I’m not a full-fledged fan of the project for other reasons, but if the plan results in less than zoned square footage, there will be less than zoned traffic, too. The project provides housing, community green space, and the walkability called for by the Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan co-authored by Laura Miller. Miller opposes the plan, an opposition shared by just one fellow Area Plan committee member. Plan co-author Peter Kline supports the church. Council Member Jennifer Gates is still evaluating the project.

    PD-15 and the Pink Wall
    On the northeast corner of Northwest Highway and Preston Road is the Pink Wall development dating from the 1950s. Most are two-story garden-style apartments-turned-condos, but between Preston Tower and Athena towers sits PD-15. Developer Hal Anderson’s original plans were for a 40-story Athena and a second Preston Tower. In March 2017, PD-15 complex Preston Place burned leaving residents without a viable redevelopment option due to arcane 1960s PD-15 rules.

    The 2016 Area Plan did not research the financial viability of rebuilding, instead offering four-story construction that two recent studies say isn’t viable.

    Council Member Gates has formed two neighborhood committees to reach an agreement enabling redevelopment. Both reached impasse by the towers’ refusal to negotiate. Laura Miller worked with the towers to oppose any compromise. After 18 months, Gates was forced to ask city staff to design a reasonable plan (presented in January). The draft plan isn’t fully-baked, but it’s on paper, a step neither committee managed.

    Looking back over the past four years of Preston Center-area redevelopment, one name comes up as opposing everything: Laura Miller. Whether it was Luke Crosland’s residential high-rise, Harlan Crow’s sky bridge, Transwestern’s Laurel, or the current crop, she was a non-negotiable “no” to it all – stopping all but one. The irony is that each project is precisely what the Area Plan’s independent consultants said was needed to revitalize the area.

    As a PD-15 resident, I don’t blindly support either initiative, but I attend meetings and talk with stakeholders to influence. Because even though Miller claims to have massive support for the opposition, there has been no poll to gauge actual sentiment. Instead, HOA representatives vote their personal will for ill-informed residents. That’s monarchy, not democracy.

    Jon Anderson is a PD-15 resident and award-winning writer reporting on the Preston Center Area for and D Magazine.

    View article online

  • January 07, 2019 11:04 AM | Anonymous

    By Jon Anderson

    We last explored the area's complicated history, involving a tiff between former Mayor Laura Miller and Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates. Let's turn our gaze forward.

    Last time, we explored how former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller has led the charge to stall redevelopment in Preston Center. We also saw how Miller’s battles with Councilwoman Jennifer Gates have spilled into a tit-for-tat battle on Twitter. Today, we take a look at Gates’ efforts.

    As noted, within three months of the city adopting the Northwest Highway and Preston Road Area Plan (which is not legally binding) the Preston Place condos burned down. That plan called for minor changes to both Preston Center and the Pink Wall’s existing zoning while leaving Preston Hollow’s single-family areas untouched.  Once the fire was out, the residents decided that rebuilding would be financially impossible and looked at their options. They uncovered Planned Development District 15. PD-15 dates back to 1947, when the entire Pink Wall area at the northeast corner of Northwest Highway and Preston Road was owned by the Prather family—who also developed Highland Park Village. At the time, it was zoned for commercial construction.

    In the 1960s, when the city was formalizing its zoning and initiating planned development districts for exception zoning, much of the Pink Wall had been developed into two-story apartment buildings. Those were categorized as MF-1, allowing a maximum of three stories. Undeveloped at the time was the northeast corner of Northwest Highway and Preston Road, specifically the area between Preston Tower and Athena high-rises. This is likely the reason they escaped the deed restrictions placed on the rest of the Pink Wall.

    As PDs go, PD-15 is old and odd. It’s the 15th one the city ever designated, and the specifications are a scant four pages with a couple of surveys. A PD today might be 10 times as long, providing a lot more detail and intent. PD-15’s brevity leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

    Preston Place discovered that their only option would be to rebuild exactly what was there, even the exterior. That’s a project that, 40 years later, isn’t economically viable. But any change would require the PD to be reopened. The issue PD-15 has that most others don’t is that it caps residential dwelling units for the district. While other PDs can seek augmentation via a zoning case, this one can’t because changing the cap requires opening the PD and changing the limit. In over 50 years, it’s happened only once, after a high-rise was proposed in the 1970s for Preston Place.

    Today, the options are:

    1. Get unanimous approval from the six buildings in the PD to increase or abolish the cap. This would also be an opportunity to change or add any other outdated requirements. The owners could have also met with the known developers and nailed down exactly what new construction they would allow. It’s a level of control most neighborhoods would kill for.

    In July 2017, Gates held a neighborhood meeting at Christ the King church. It attracted between 150 and 200 residents. Representations from multiple city departments were on hand to answer questions. At the end when a “show of hands” vote was taken, easily 90 percent of attendees wanted the PD reopened and accommodations made for the passage of time.

    Shortly thereafter, Gates formed a committee with representatives from each of the six buildings within PD-15 plus a few folks from the surrounding neighborhood. (Full disclosure, as a PD-15 resident, I was an early member of the committee.) It became quickly apparent that the towers didn’t want any increase beyond the four-stories contained in the Northwest Highway and Preston Road Area Plan, which was largely authored by Laura Miller. Note: Even were four-story construction agreed upon, the PD would still have to be opened to accommodate it.

    Feeling their obstinance wasn’t being respected, representatives from Preston Tower reached out to Miller to pull her into the process. In November 2017, I resigned from the committee because I was expected to sign a letter written by the then Athena HOA president and Laura Miller. It demanded Gates reaffirm Miller’s area plan, withdraw PD-15 from the authorized hearing queue, and demanded the towers get outsized representation.

    The towers’ inflexibility meant the required unanimous approval wouldn’t happen. The meetings abruptly stopped. Another reason for stopping was that because of the Preston Place hardship, the authorized hearing would begin in months rather than a year; that city-run process didn’t require unanimity.

    1. Hold an authorized hearing where the city manages a process to seek agreement on revamping the PD, including the dwelling cap.

    On April 26, 2018 Gates kicked off the authorized hearing process to try and broker a deal between the neighbors to provide PD-15 with an economically viable way to redevelop and fulfill the overwhelming desires of the initial 2017 meeting.

    The month before the initial meeting, the towers held their own meeting to scare residents and incite opposition. The graphic above was pilfered from a “what if” session conducted during the first committee; many thought it was an actual proposal.

    The April kick-off was attended by supporters and opposition (more opposition than the initial July 2017 meeting). Non-resident Laura Miller literally waved a rejected low-ball offer from her friend Leland Burk for Preston Place. Miller said Burk’s deal would not require any increase in density or height and that Preston Place residents were just greedy for not taking it. However, Burk told more than one city staffer that while his (1/3 lower) offer wasn’t predicated on a zoning change, he wasn’t interested in rebuilding what was originally there either.

    As a resident, I too spoke, saying simply, “To all those championing four-story construction on one hand while hating the newly-built Laurel with the other – remember, the Laurel is four-story construction.”

    Gates asked residents wanting to serve on the new committee to contact her office. Her only caveats were that those from the original committee would not be reselected (because they’d already proven they couldn’t compromise) and those wanting to kill the process would not be selected. Made perfect sense to me.

    Over the ensuing months the new committee met roughly twice a month. The first sessions were spent educating lay people on PD-15 and the intricacies and considerations of zoning. After all, you have to know the current conditions and what’s possible to change. It’s important to know that while Miller never showed up at any committee meetings, she was busy trying to kill it from behind the scenes.

    Figure 2: PD-15 specifically cut out of the Preston Road Area Plan scenarios

    The “no” campaign met with committee members whenever they were allowed and sent incendiary “doom and gloom” emails rife with inaccuracies to committee members and city staff seeking to stop the proceeding – which would essentially leave Preston Place owners paying mortgages on cinders. They also met with Gates on more than one occasion. Their default “setting” was adherence to the Northwest Highway and Preston Road Area Plan.

    Ever since the Preston Place fire, Gates has sought to create a forum where neighbors could reach an agreement on how to proceed. Realizing some thought she was pushing an agenda, she largely stayed away letting city staff run them. Unfortunately, this second committee also devolved into the towers versus the low-rises.

    In early November, Gates halted the stalled committee again, sending them home until January. In the meantime, city staff will be evaluating the PD and crafting their own recommendation.

    Turns out there’s nothing like adult oversight to get the kiddies in line. During the hiatus, the committee members, fearful of the city’s recommendations, have been meeting furiously to craft their own compromise.

    Gates is doing her best to protect needful constituents from the unthinking masses. On January 7 we’ll see what both the adults and the children have done at the Walnut Hill Recreation Center beginning at 5:30 p.m. Public invited. The recap will be posted at the following day.

    Preston Center Parking Garage

    At the center of Preston Center sits a disheveled 2-story parking garage. The Northwest Highway and Preston Road Task Force identified it as a major impediment to revitalizing Preston Center. Through a convoluted series of events, the city of Dallas owns the land and must provide parking for Preston Center. But what gets built rests with the landowners surrounding the garage – known as the Preston Center West Corporation.

    A goodly proportion of Preston Center landowners have inherited property purchased two or three generations ago. Rent checks are the trust fund to operate their lives. Currently, the checks are enough. They’re not looking to interrupt the gravy train even if it meant doubling the rent their property generates (in line with Preston Center East rents). That’s a problem.

    Redeveloping the garage will interrupt Preston Center; that’s what all large construction projects do. That explains why at Gates’ first garage committee meeting in September, the best option, burying the garage with a park on top, received “low” support by the Preston Center landowners. It also explains the “high” support for a new all above ground garage and a possible partial park with a partially above ground garage; above-ground is faster to build.

    Not prepared to perpetuate the horribleness of another above-ground garage, Gates is working all the angles that don’t have strings attached.

    Like PD-15, Gates has assembled a stakeholder working group consisting of four members of the Preston Center West Corporation and four from the community including Betsy del Monte – who opposes St. Michael’s and All Angels’ proposed development blocks away, which would put two high-rises, one office and one apartment, on the Frederick Square block north of the church.

    In addition to PD-15 and the garage, Gates is working a number of transportation issues including the exploration of new Tollway ramps at Walnut Hill, storm water mitigation, a Texas U-turn at Northwest Highway and the Tollway (which I personally think is unworkable).

    The next public meeting for the Preston Center Garage Study and traffic mitigation will be on January 31 at the Walnut Hill Recreation Center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. [Editor’s Note: We originally had the date wrong here. It’s the 31, not the 30.]

    St. Michael’s and All Angels

    Unlike PD-15, the Preston Center development district doesn’t have a cap on any type of units. Therefore, when St. Michael’s is ready, they will file a zoning case with the city that will have to pass the City Plan Commission and City Council.

    At both CPC and Council, the community will have a chance to voice support or opposition to the project as well as squeeze in pre-session lobbying.

    At this point Gates does not support or oppose the project. She wants to research what they’re asking for and hear from constituents.

    To me, if St. Michael’s is building the square footage that’s allowed by zoning (just spread over their block), then any protests about traffic (the biggest complaint) will likely fall on deaf ears. Whether allowed density is 200 feet east or west will have no impact on overall traffic patterns. I’ve captured my thoughts already. If significant changes are made, I will review them.

    Gates Isn’t Perfect

    Having watched Gates with incredulity since the Northwest Highway and Preston Road Plan debacle, I can say that I see a representative trying to engage her constituents. I see her sometimes exasperated by an uninformed (or bamboozled) opposition, usually without any workable suggestions of their own. For Gates, it surely doesn’t help when the former mayor of Dallas undermines you at every turn.

    I will say that seeing the make-up of various committees under Gates’ leadership, she sure doesn’t stack the deck with “yes wo/men,” as some who disagree with her accuse. She also posts all documents online for everyone to see.

    Let her do her work and then judge.

    View article online

  • December 17, 2018 9:22 AM | Anonymous

    By Jon Anderson
    Published in FrontBurner


    Preston Center is a major asset that lies empty beyond office hours. Former Mayor Laura Miller is at the center of it. 

    On November 30, the Dallas Morning News published an editorial titled, “Don’t let Preston Center become an anchor holding Dallas back.” The piece narrowly focused on the decrepit central garage in Preston Center—a big problem and equally big opportunity—while ignoring the greater Preston Center area, and the actual anchor holding it back: former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller.

    Instead, on December 8, the News published a guest editorial by Miller that Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates called out in a tweet: “@DMNOpinion published a column by Laura Miller today that is filled with inaccuracies and misinformation regarding Preston Center…”

    Who’s right here?

    Let’s Review Miller’s Preston Center History

    Preston Center is today much the same as it was 50 years ago—minus the anchor department stores that have vanished, taking foot traffic right along with them. It’s an aging shopping center dominated by a central garage where most people, typically from surrounding office buildings, go for lunch and little else. This is something Gates is trying to change. Given the complex ownership structure of its buildings, this is difficult to achieve.

    There are ongoing attempts to bury the decaying garage and bring a Klyde Warren-esque feel atop it. Projects proposed in recent years attempted to increase the residential component of the center, which would likely bring more people to the area at more times in the day and night. These proposed developments offered better sidewalks, improved streetscapes, and more quality retail. The consultants employed two years ago as part of an area plan for Preston Center made the same recommendations to revitalize it. And Miller has fought nearly every one of them.

    I’ve spent several years covering development surrounding Preston Center. I remain unable to explain Miller’s continued opposition, and she has not spoken publicly about the source of her concern. As I’ve written about Preston Center and spoken with other stakeholders, they too remain confused by her actions. In an absence of explanation, all I can do is report on visible actions.

    Let’s start in 2014. Developer Luke Crosland wanted to build a residential high-rise in Preston Center called Highland House, which largely targeted wealthy empty nesters. Almost immediately, Laura Miller mounted a campaign to kill it. It worked. Crosland sold the property to Miller’s pal Leland Burk (to whom I heard Miller whisper “Don’t worry, you’ll get your high-rise” concerning the same property at a task force meeting. And, in April 2018, Miller waved around Burk’s lowball offer for Preston Place, shaming owners for not taking it). The Dallas Observer published a very good feature back then about this mess, which provides plenty of detail about how it all came about.

    Also in 2014, Transwestern began the long process of constructing an apartment building at the northeast corner or Northwest Highway and Preston Road. Again, Miller became a central opposition figure on the protracted battle, which at one point had been reported dead by Laura Miller’s hand. It ultimately succeeded in passing Plan Commission and City Council and has been built.

    Transwestern’s Laurel apartments. Four stories and still opposed by Laura Miller. (Photo courtesy Transwestern.)

    In 2015, Harlan Crow wanted to construct a pedestrian bridge from the Preston Center central garage to his property’s second floor to safely transport shoppers to a new Tom Thumb grocery store. Crow had volunteered to tear the bridge down at his own expense should the city ever decide to fix the parking garage. (The city owns it, but can only make parking changes with the unanimous approval of the buildings surrounding it. Just another complexity holding Preston Center back.) Again, Miller led the opposition (here, here).

    Harlan Crow’s Skybridge would have brought a grocery store to Preston Center. (Photo courtesy Crow Holdings)

    When the Crosland deal came about, Councilwoman Gates formed a neighborhood group to study the existing conditions and devise a plan for the Preston Center area’s future. Some reported this was at Miller’s request. Meeting for the first time in March of 2015, the task force included Miller and resulted in the Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan that was adopted by the city in December 2016.

    There were almost two years worth of monthly meetings. About $350,000 was spent on consultants. By July 2016, Gates’ task force had effectively been steamrolled by Miller. It was Miller who brought together the rest of the task force members to meet in secret, out of public view, and devise their own plan, according to two members of the task force. The exhaustive (though confusing) research paid for by the task force was dumped or placed in an appendix. The task force wrote its own plan that met members’ own personal agendas and/or business goals.

    Writing for, I shredded Gates and the task force. (April 2015, July 2015, October 2015 (1), October 2015 (2), October 2015 (3), January 2016 (1), January 2016 (2), January 2016 (3), January 2016 (4), February 2016, March 2016 (1), March 2016 (2), May 2016, June 2016, July 2016 (1), July 2016 (2), July 2016 (3), November 2016 (1), and November 2016 (2).

    At the time, I was concerned about the research being conducted by Kimley-Horn and how it was presented. The data wasn’t user-friendly, which resulted in a complex delivery that confused everyone in the room. Repeated, detailed requests for simplification fell on deaf ears.

    I could, however, agree on the essence of their recommendations for Preston Center. These included increasing residential occupancy, which would increase foot traffic and vibrancy. It shared a goal of decreasing the percentage of office space in order to mitigate traffic and change Preston Center’s appearance as a ghost town in the evenings and weekends. Think more West Village and less today’s office park/food court.

    Once authorship was taken over in July of 2016, critics argued that the resulting plan was light on facts while stuffed with personal agendas. According to task force member Peter Kline, he and Miller co-authored the final version and he doesn’t classify it as a plan. “To call it a plan is an overstatement,” he said in an interview. “It was a series of compromises where everyone in the task force would sign off on the broad picture.”

    I called out the plan’s recommendations for Zone One (which encompassed Preston Center) and Four (which ran from Preston Road to Hillcrest between Northwest Highway and Bandera, including the Pink Wall). The remaining zones were unchanged single-family areas.

    Within the plan that was passed, Preston Center’s Zone One essentially reads like the status quo. Its landowner task force representatives didn’t want any changes. Zoning within Preston Center allows for significant untapped density and little oversight on what can be built—office, residential, whatever. Maximum heights there reach up to 17 stories.

    Post card showing Pink Wall before the wall and before Preston Tower.

    The Pink Wall’s Zone Four was a similar do-nothing outcome. The plan offered to increase the existing three-story cap to four stories, but shrunk the amount of land that developers could build on. That one additional story is crumbs compared to the untapped potential for density in Preston Center. And like the rest of Miller’s Area Plan, the task force never studied whether four-story construction with smaller footprints was economically viable to build. It’s not. The recommended changes would effectively be a wash for developers—there wouldn’t be enough money in the new builds to warrant them changing what was already there.

    Or to put another way, the only way to build four stories would be to cheapen the land and the resulting buildings so much so that the neighborhood would suffer depreciation. Cheapening the land to that extent would equate to a price below the cost to buy an existing condo on the open market. If the only ability to redevelop involves losing money, there will be no redevelopment until the properties have deteriorated enough to make the money work.

    Backing that up, two financial studies have been provided by one developer (here, here). One was authored by Joseph Cahoon an adjunct professor and director for the Folsom Institute for Real Estate at SMU’s Cox School of Business. Hardly the sort of person who risks their professional reputation for a few bucks to placate a developer.

    Kline echoed my feelings on the Pink Wall and the six parcel planned development district (PD-15, in city parlance, which includes the area between Preston Tower and Athena high-rises). Zoning in PD-15 is limited by the total number of residential units, with height being somewhat secondary. The odd density limitation is part of the ongoing neighborhood battle to redevelop the burned Preston Place and other complexes within the district.

    “It was not studied in great detail,” the task force member said. “We never discussed the (planned development district) in the task force specifically. We did what the representatives said their residents wanted.”

    In July 2016 I wrote, “There are decrepit complexes that can’t afford repairs whose only economically viable option is to be torn down. But within current zoning, redevelopment isn’t financially viable … the pipe dream sees a developer making a dime with less lot coverage in exchange for a piddly single additional story?”

    But Gates Made a Mistake

    Gates’ key mistake was likely believing Miller’s report wouldn’t matter. That, like its 1980s counterparts, it would sit on a shelf collecting dust. It may have been why Gates allowed Miller to ride roughshod over her task force and craft the self-serving plan. It was a grave miscalculation that revealed itself all too quickly.

    In December 2016, three months after the city adopted the task force’s plan, calamity hit the Pink Wall. Preston Place burned down. Six months later, a developer came forward for the neighboring Diplomat condos. In September 2018, St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church unveiled their second set of plans for their Frederick Square block— a project Miller has also been fighting since 2016 and continues to oppose.

    A flawed Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan that was expected to die on a shelf was suddenly pressed into service and seized upon by Miller as (selective) holy writ.

    Second iteration of St. Michael’s proposed development. (Photo Courtesy St. Michael’s)

    Remember the consultants’ recommendations for Preston Center? Increased residential, lessening office, more vibrancy? Compare that list to Miller’s protests: Highland House residential high-rise, Transwestern’s Laurel apartment building, and the skybridge to Tom Thumb. At every turn, Miller was protesting the very projects Preston Center was judged to need in order to revitalize itself.

    Miller is currently fighting St. Michael’s latest combination of residential and office project with community open space. In truth, I’m not a fan of the project either, but not because of the components—I just don’t care for the buildings’ placement and the large above-ground parking garage.

    The church owns the whole block, but only the western end near the Tollway is within the zoning district that allows for significant height and density. The eastern Douglas Avenue end of the block is zoned for three-story residential. The church wants to spread those high-density rights across the block—no increase in total square footage, but height would be extended to the whole lot. And what could be 100 percent office space built by-right contains two buildings: one for office and one for high-rise apartments. There would be a significant green setback from Douglas and space for community events and a farmer’s market.

    When the plan was announced, the press release contained eight—eight!—mentions of the Preston Center and Northwest Highway Area Plan. And yet Miller is opposed.

    Kline said he was for the project.

    “St. Michael’s bent over backwards,” he said, adding that he hoped it would be an example to other developments. His only wish is that the project “was in the middle of Preston Center rather than the periphery.” Continuing, Kline said Miller had tried to get the former area plan task force members to all come out against St. Michael’s but only two – Betsy del Monte and herself – wound up opposing the plan.

    Rendering showing A.G. Spanos’ new Diplomat in situ. (Photo courtesy A.G. Spanos)


    Miller’s Tactics 

    Being a former politician, Miller knows how to craft a cult of personality including other former politicians. Easily impressed community residents grab their smelling salts because the former mayor of Dallas is speaking with them. She also knows that people who want to believe something will believe anything that reinforces that belief without question.

    Her editorial in the News trades on the same tropes she’s honed in recent years to oppose every development around Preston Center.

    She opens with citing “traffic gridlock, zero pedestrian amenities, a shortage of parking.” We all want to believe this is true, but it’s not.

    Kimley-Horn reported to the Preston Road and Northwest Highway Task Force that multiple traffic studies going back nearly 20 years showed that traffic on both Northwest Highway and Preston Road has been decreasing overall (yes, it vacillates year to year but the overall trend is down). In a meeting with the a Pink Wall zoning committee earlier this year, the Texas Department of Transportation reported that traffic continues to decrease at Preston Road and Northwest Highway.

    Preston Center parking was similarly shown by Kimley-Horn to only be an issue between noon and 1 p.m. on weekdays. They employed car counters to track patterns throughout multiple days. And even at lunch, parking was only 85 percent full. At evenings and weekends, it’s a concrete desert.

    Pedestrian amenities were never built and little space exists for them. Preston Center goes from road to sidewalk to building with little break. If pedestrian amenities are such a hot button, why isn’t St. Michael’s being praised for their efforts to bring green space to an area that desperately needs it? One of Miller’s thoughts is to shrink Northwest Highway and build a multi-billion dollar underground tunnel connecting the Tollway and Central. What are the chances of that?

    A.G. Spanos’ latest 7-story rendering for Diplomat parcel. (Photo courtesy Spanos)

    Within the Pink Wall zoning district, Miller claims that developers want to “demolish four low-rise condo complexes and replace them with rental-apartment towers as high as 25 stories.” I’ve been in a hell of a lot more meetings than Miller and can confidently say no plans exist to demolish the four low-rises and replace them with towers. One isn’t for sale, another doesn’t appear to be under contract, another is asking for seven stories, and the fourth, the burned Preston Place, has only shown an amorphous blob eerily similar to the Centrum in Oak Lawn that wants to go tall on a portion of its site (much smaller than shown, in my opinion).

    Miller continues, “Hal Anderson, who designed and developed the iconic Pink Wall community 60 years ago — one of the last fully owner-occupied, tree-lined, condo communities in Dallas — would be heartbroken.”

    Ludicrous. Hal Anderson’s original plan for Preston Tower was to build a second 29-story tower sideways on the Preston Place lot. His plans for the 21-story Athena originally called for 40 stories. The only thing Hal Anderson would be heartbroken about is that it took so long to reach the potential he foresaw, but that the economics of his time wouldn’t allow.

    Miller wants us to further believe she has 78 percent support from Pink Wall residents. She doesn’t. First, no vote has been taken to understand what residents feel. Secondly, her 78 percent is tied to Preston Tower and the Athena, which have similarly not asked their residents’ opinions. Instead, their HOA rules allow their board to cast a single vote for everyone without consultation.

    The only link to understanding area sympathies are the responses the city received to Transwestern’s Laurel two blocks away, “242 surveys sent, 165 were returned and of those 96-percent were in favor of the development with just seven dissents.” Vastly different than Miller’s unquantified claim of 78 percent dissent.

    I could go on and on, point by point, but I think the picture is clear.

    Miller ends her editorial by saying, “We all want Preston Center to be redeveloped.” Given her history of unending opposition to every project in recent memory, that statement is worth questioning.

  • December 12, 2018 12:06 PM | Anonymous

    Juvenile detained with robbery suspect arrested on unrelated charges, police say

    By Maria Guerrero and Frank Heinz

    NBC 5
    Published Dec 10, 2018 at 6:56 PM | Updated at 7:13 PM CST on Dec 11, 2018

    [DFW] Dallas Police: 9th Armed Robbery Linked to Crime Spree

    Dallas police say a ninth armed robbery is believed to be linked to a recent crime spree involving the same suspects. In some cases, the victims have been forced back into their homes and robbed of their property and vehicles. (Published Monday, Dec. 10, 2018)

    Dallas police confirmed Tuesday morning two people are facing charges related to a recent string of aggravated robberies in the Dallas area. A third person arrested, a juvenile, was arrested on unrelated charges. Tuesday afternoon two more individuals were detained and questioned in regards to the robberies.

    Deputy Chief Thomas Castro said Tuesday morning investigators had a good idea who one of the suspects in the string of robberies might be and that in following up on that, three people were detained and interviewed at 4:23 a.m. Tuesday. One of those people detained now faces two charges of aggravated robbery and could be implicated in other offenses.

    Castro said a second arrested person is being charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, for driving a car stolen in a recent robbery, but that he has not yet been tied to the actual armed robberies.

    The names and photos of those arrested are being withheld due to the ongoing investigation and more arrests are expected. Police said four vehicles were stolen in the nine robberies, all of which have been recovered and are being searched for evidence.

    Map of robberies

    The arrests came the day after a ninth armed robbery, on Dec. 6 along Hobson Street, was determined to be linked to crimes reported in southern Dallas, Downtown, Old East Dallas and Lower Greenville, all believed to have been committed by the same group of people.

    In some cases, the victims have been forced back into their homes and robbed of their property and vehicles.

    In a similar case in Carrollton, terrifying moments were captured on home surveillance video Sunday where a man walking to his front door in the Indian Springs area is confronted by an armed man who demanded his bag, debit card PIN and items in his hand.

    The video then showed a second robber running up to the victim and demanding that he get on the ground. The men stole the victim’s vehicle, according to the victim’s son.

    The victim was too shaken to speak on camera but the family released the door camera video to NBC 5 hoping to make others aware.

    Carrollton police said Tuesday morning that they have no reason to believe the robbery in the Indian Springs neighborhood is related to the Dallas robberies other than the method of operation. Carrollton police said the two men "in the one Carrollton robbery are definitely black" and were "definitely last seen driving a blue Toyota Camry and a black Lincoln Continental."  Carrollton police added the black Lincoln Continental was pursued and recovered.

    In Dallas, there is only a vague description of the suspects, believed to be Latino between 17 and 20-years-old. The suspects were seen driving around in two vehicles including a black Cadillac 4-door sedan and a gold pickup truck.

    Though the suspect descriptions are different, Castro said Monday investigators in Dallas were looking into the Carrollton robbery to see if it was connected.

    “Some detectives are aware of that and are reaching out to Carrollton and they have discussions with those detectives to see if there are similarities,” Castro said.

    Dallas police would not say whether they believe the robberies are becoming more violent in nature, however in the latest robbery, on Dec. 7 in the 5900 of Llano Avenue, police confirmed a robbery victim did sustain injuries during the incident.

    NBC 5's Courtney Gilmore contributed to this report.

    View article and news story online

Preston Hollow East Homeowners Association
PO Box 25528
Dallas, Texas 75225

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