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  • February 01, 2019 11:47 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    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 member (Administrator)

    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 member (Administrator)

    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 member (Administrator)

    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 member (Administrator)

    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

  • November 30, 2018 1:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dallas Morning News

    To understand the oddity that Dallas can be, we need look no further than Preston Center — that time-warp that anchors, in every sense, one of the city’s greatest areas of potential.

    Dallas has a well-earned reputation for ripping down whatever stands in the way of what’s next, with a habit of substituting plaques for the meaningful places of our past.

    But at Preston Center we are faced with a backward circumstance where so much energy and effort has gone into the permanent sustenance of ... a parking garage.

    And not just any parking garage, but a parking garage that, in itself, symbolizes a suburban past that the corner of Northwest Highway and Preston Road should have left behind long ago.

    Instead, because of a strange arrangement between the city and myriad stakeholders/investors/owners who control Preston Center, we have had stagnation that has stymied the potential to transform not just Preston Center but the larger Northwest Highway corridor into a truly urban part of Dallas, with all of the benefits that suggests: increased residential density, walkability, true transportation options and a boost to the tax base that could benefit all of us.

    The issue is germane today because there are, at long last, signals that some compromise is brewing between the city — which owns the parking garage and is required to provide parking for the center — and the aforementioned stakeholders who have wielded veto power over anything other than just another parking garage.

    City Hall has pushed, sensibly, against an effort to simply park another parking garage where the current version — aging and misdesigned — sits now. Instead, a proposal to use city funds to bury a new garage and place a useful public park atop it was floated to a less-than-enthusiastic cadre of stakeholders at Preston Center.

    Unfortunately, that appears unlikely to be what the public will get. Instead, a hybrid plan that would see some sort of public space capped atop an above-ground garage appears to be gaining traction.

    Should that come to pass, it would mark a missed opportunity to truly move forward with Preston Center. But it may be the only way to move any direction at all, so with grudging consideration, we would gingerly support a plan that provided a true public space. Design is critical, insofar as it incorporates this land as a usable public space that will enhance the Northwest Highway corridor and be a building block for a more urban future.

    Which brings us to a couple of other concerns, one specific, one general.

    The specific concern was raised in a recent column on these pages by Michael Morris, transportation director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

    The NCTCOG was tasked with studying Preston Center and offering ways forward. Sensible ideas emerged that Morris has rightly promoted — including adding a Texas U-Turn on the Dallas North Tollway at Northwest Highway, better timing traffic lights to prevent backups and installing desperately needed pedestrian infrastructure.

    But Morris also posited the following question: “Why not review Dallas North Tollway ramps that have been missing for generations to determine the appropriate balance of travel to and from the tollway on city thoroughfare streets?”

    Inside the vagary here is the suggestion that Dallas should accept additional toll road ramps at Walnut Hill Road, just north of Northwest Highway and Preston.

    This is exactly the opposite message that Dallas residents have been trying to send Morris for years. Dallas does not want its future to look like its past — with expanded highways pumping more traffic onto arterial streets. The sound rejection of the Trinity River toll road should have been lesson enough to Morris, the NTTA and anyone else who thinks the city should pave its way to the future with on/off ramps.

    Which brings us to the bigger problem that Preston Center represents — the persistent opposition to change in an area where the market is calling for it. A master plan for the area completed two years ago with the input of a committee of residents reads more like a recipe for continued paralysis than a genuine vision for moving forward. Its concludes that traffic must be addressed before redevelopment can commence.

    That’s the wrong way to approach this area.

    The intersection of Northwest Highway and Preston Road is an opportunity for Dallas to embrace the sort of urban and urbane future that is probably inevitable anyway, but that is stymied and thwarted by a handful of opponents who would have us wait until circumstances are perfect to move forward. That’s great for those who prefer things just as they are — even when it is increasingly evident that things as they are aren’t working as they should.

    The area’s future is in increased residential and commercial density that will increase values and create a neighborhood where above-ground parking garages are a poor value for the land they occupy and where people can get where they are going without a car.

    The sooner that Preston Center’s stakeholders, as well as landowners up and down Northwest Highway, recognize that, the sooner Dallas will be able to build toward a better future. 

    View article online

  • November 27, 2018 6:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Candy's Dirt
    by Jon Anderson

    Laura Miller Ambush Gates

    As promised, It’s time to see what’s been going on outside of view – a gift just in time for the holiday season. There was a meeting on November 1 at City Hall with Council Member Jennifer Gates, Plan Commissioner Margot Murphy, and a bevy of opposition to the Authorized Hearing within PD-15 behind the Pink Wall.

    The opposition was a combination of the usual suspects and a few oddities:

    Group One:

    • Former Mayor Laura Miller
    • Former State Representative Steve Wolens (Miller’s husband)
    • Former Texas Senator John Carona
    • Former State Representative Will Hartnett
    • Former District 13 Council Member Sid Stahl
    • Former District 13 Council Member Donna Blumer
    • Former District 13 Council Member Mitchell Rasansky

    Group Two:

    • Preston Tower authorized hearing committee members: Tatiana Frierson and Bob Bowling
    • Athena authorized hearing committee members: Barbara Dewberry and Margaret Darden.
    • Roger Albright: Athena and Preston Tower legal council
    • John Pritchett: President of the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association and Preston Tower resident and representative on ill-fated first PD-15 task force
    • Steve Dawson: Northwest Highway and Preston Road Area Plan Zone 4 representative and neighborhood representative for ill-fated first PD-15 task force. Dawson’s family own a small apartment building inside the Pink Wall while he lives in Park Cities.

    Looking at the first group, you begin to wonder why these people are even concerned with this issue. I don’t recall any of them attending a single Authorized Hearing committee meeting – certainly ante to the game for forming an opinion so strong you’re signing letters and demanding meetings with the council member?

    There certainly isn’t much personal skin in the game either. Miller and Wolens live in a magazine-worthy, multi million-dollar home on the other side of the Tollway (renting Wolens’ mother’s former Athena unit). John Carona has two homes in DCAD, each about two miles from the Pink Wall. Donna Blumer is over six miles away. Will Hartnett is about three miles away, while Mitchell Rasansky lives three and a half miles away. Octogenarian Sid Stahl is a leasing tenant of the Athena (so if there ever is a vote, he has none).

    It’s safe to say that this group, with the possible exception of Sid Stahl, will suffer no ill consequences of any increased density within PD-15. Any potential financial hit to Miller/Wolen’s Athena values are unlikely to land them in the poor house either (and many would argue their stance, if successful, would damage their condo’s value). So this group has almost no personal financial or aesthetic consequences in development within the Pink Wall nor is there much of a real-world concern for traffic within its boundaries. Aside from being personal friends of the Miller/Wolens, why are they involved?

    Yes, Stahl, Blumer, and Rasansky are three of the four prior District 13 City Council Members. But isn’t it the height of political tackiness for them to take an uninformed stance to criticize the current District 13 representative? It would be one thing if current Council Member Gates asked for their input, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  One wonders when they had the chair how they would have reacted to being told their job by predecessors who left office decades ago?

    Also, while they paint themselves as concerned citizens, they have no clue what the area residents really want (no one does) and yet hold themselves up as stalwarts of the oppressed. Those with good memories will recall much of this group lined up behind Miller fighting Transwestern’s The Laurel, protesting Highland House (the kind of development Miller’s Preston Center Plan begged for) and the Preston Center Sky Bridge. Her current hobbies include opposing anything being done in PD-15 and the St. Michael’s redevelopment. For any development project in recent years near Preston Center, Miller has been the “no to gal.”

    The remainder are towers representatives and local development agitators (although Dawson could be in both categories given he, too, doesn’t live in the area).

    It’s funny. These groups claim to represent 78 percent of the residents of PD-15. But they don’t really. In zoning cases, the city doesn’t allow individual owner voting within multi-family housing unless HOA rules allow it. Regardless if we’re talking about a handful of townhouses or a complex of 1,000, the city boils it down to a single vote of everyone. A complex can escape this dictatorial voting by inserting language into their HOA documents that enables individual owner voting. Neither Preston Tower nor Athena have such language.

    Many HOA documents are so unanticipatory on issues like this, often the HOA boards don’t even have to poll their co-owners for guidance. An HOA board can simply vote their personal desire. And so, it’s on the strength of two HOA boards alone that the claim of 78 percent representation is made. No developer has presented to residents, no debate has occurred, no vote taken. The original task force meetings and current authorized hearing meetings are sparsely attended by towers residents enabling this asleep-at-the-wheel hijacking.

    When towers representatives say they’re doing what residents want, it boils down to who they talk to in their everyday lives and who they run into in the elevator. Hardly representative. When Laura Miller says she speaks for 78 percent of residents, she’s talking only to the HOA boards – because the rest of the residents don’t matter for the purpose of inflating the support for her position.

    The Meeting

    According to emails obtained through an open records request (here and here), we can see Miller trying to setup a meeting between her “group one” and Gates. The topic was a letter Miller wrote and they signed nearly six months prior in May – before the Authorized Hearing committee members had been announced. In an old-school power play move, they wanted Gates on their turf – Carona’s Associa offices (Associa is a nationwide HOA property management company).

    The question I ask myself is, “What happened in October that caused Miller to resurrect her months’ old letter as entre to a meeting with Gates”?

    Gates agrees and a date is set, but at City Hall. Then Miller adds in “group two” from the towers. Gates is unhappy with the large group and wants to meet with them separately. She later tells John Carona, “I have been ambushed and treated disrespectfully in the past by Laura [Miller] and I will not have that happen again.” A city staffer passing outside the meeting tells me that Miller’s voice was heard to loudly scream at one point “This is your fault!”.  That tidbit certainly strengthens Gates’ wariness of Miller.

    In my opinion, it would have also be interesting for Gates to see how the puppets act without the master. Ultimately, Miller got her way and all 15 are invited. It seems Blumer, Rasansky, and Carona beg off citing confusion and double-booking.

    Rasansky begs off telling Gates “I know zoning. The developers should file their own zoning cases, as is the norm.” Had Rasansky been keeping up with this process, he would have known that unlike other zoning cases, PD-15 has a cap on the total number of units in the PD. This makes it impossible for developers to file a zoning case except for the surplus 65-ish units that are a shared resource between six parcels spread across 13-ish acres. As Gates said last week, such a case would be DOA at City Hall. At a bare minimum, the dwelling unit cap must be lifted for cases to proceed.

    Donna Blumer’s regrets say in part that, “However, please be assured that I remain in full support of the others who signed the letter addressing the neighborhood’s concerns.” That support is for a letter signed by a handful of HOA representatives without the input or support of their residents.

    While Carona says he’d be “Glad to meet with the residents of the low rises …,” “he later says, “At the moment, the only people I’m personally interested in meeting with are those that have requested to be in Thursday’s proposed meeting,” although later stating “Candidly, I have no desire to interfere.” (Then why are you?)

    In a nutshell, these three former local and state lawmakers were willing to jump into an issue they know little about without first trying to get a balanced perspective.  Uninformed and listening to one side isn’t the best way to make a decision – especially troubling from former lawmakers.

    Sources say Carona has made no overtures seeking to understand the low-rises’ side.

    The Recap

    Laura Miller enlisted a group of former politicians and personal friends to stump for a cause that many, if not all, had little personal stake in and who are highly unlikely to fully understand the issue outside what Miller has told them.

    After the meeting, Miller sends a “thank you, but…” letter to Gates. In it she twists again noting that “the two developers who are driving this process”. Funny, but for months, the trope was that developers would bypass the neighborhood. Once they presented their plans, suddenly they’re driving this process. It’s a “have you stopped sleeping with hookers?” no-win argument.

    She later notes, “The traffic levels in and around Preston Center are completely unacceptable.”  Funny how the Preston Center task force Miller drove reported that traffic has been decreasing for nearly two decades along both roads. It would be more accurate to say that traffic around Preston Center is becoming less unacceptable every day.

    Even though city staff reiterated this external research in the past few months, Miller quotes Elizabeth Mow, Assistant Executive Director for NTTA as saying, “It’s gridlock all the time.” As a local resident, I can tell you that outside rush hours, it’s not gridlock even most of the time. If Mow was referring to the Tollway (which seems more likely given her job), there’s not a lot to do, nor will PD-15 development have a noticeable effect.

    There is also talk of the Texas U-Turn on Northwest Highway and the Tollway. As I pointed out nearly three years ago, there isn’t the physical space to put one that would help with Lomo Alto/Tollway turn-around traffic.

    Post Recap

    On Nov. 8, Miller distributed an alarming email and petition encouraging residents to protest both PD-15 development and the St. Michael’s project. Not surprisingly, Miller used her typical charged and unproven language about her representation of 78 percent of PD-15 residents and traffic while inserting the baseless claim that developers want to build 25-story high-rises all around Athena and Preston Tower – no plans for four high-rises have been presented or asked for except in Miller’s (and coincidentally) the towers’ representatives’ dreams.

    Miller’s stance on St. Michael’s cracks me up. The press release about the proposed development calls out how the development adheres to her Preston Center plan eight times in slightly more than a single page – and yet Miller is opposed. Would nine or 10 genuflections have changed her mind? (Ironically, one of her chief gripes about PD-15 is that development goes against her Preston Center Plan.)

    I still have no idea why Former Mayor Miller has inserted herself into all things Preston Center. It all reminds me of the seven-time Academy Award winner who winds down their career as a game show host breathlessly trying to hang on to the spotlight – in this case, the kiddie pool of neighborhood development.

    View article online

  • November 09, 2018 10:06 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dallas News
    Steve Brown, Real Estate Editor

    The newest apartment tower on the way in Dallas' Victory Park project won't open until 2021.

    That's probably a good thing.

    The Dallas area has seen a flood of new high-rise, high-priced rental projects in the last few years and more are on the way. Developer Hines' 39-story Victor tower in Victory Park will be one of the biggest.

    The builders are betting that with a 32-month construction schedule, most of their competitors will be out of the market by the time The Victor opens.

    "We are well aware of the supply Dallas has built unlike anywhere else in the country other than New York," said Hines' Corbin Eckel. "Luxury residential has seen a large influx of new units at the same price point."

    Dallas leads the country in apartment building with almost 35,000 units in the construction pipeline. So far, the local market has gobbled up almost everything developers can throw at it, fueled by several years of more than 100,000 jobs being created every year in the area.

    But a flood of high-rise projects coming to the market in the next couple of years will be the real test.

    In the last year and a half, more than a dozen high-rise apartments with about 3,000 luxury units have opened their doors in the Dallas area. And another 15 luxury tower rentals are under construction or about to start with a staggering 4,500 units.

    "There's still quite a bit of high-rise product on the way," said Greg Willett, top economist with Richardson-based RealPage.

    Most of the new tower apartments are headed for Dallas' Uptown and downtown markets. But there are high-rise residential buildings in the works up in Plano and Frisco, too. The average monthly rent for these projects is just under $2,000 a month — nearly twice the overall monthly apartment cost in North Texas.

    The most expensive penthouse apartments can run well over 10 grand a month.

    "That pool of resident prospects for high-rise product looks comparatively shallow," Willett said. "Thus, we can only handle a limited block of completions in that niche at one time."

    So far, occupancy levels in the apartment towers are more than 93 percent — slightly less than the overall market.

    "Even more telling, rents are being cut 0.8 percent on an annual basis in the high-rise segment," Willett said.

    With so many more new super-luxury, super-price apartments on the way, don't be surprised if there are more bargains offered for renters. A month of free rent is already common in the market.

    High-rise rental developers are betting that local job growth and moves to the area will keep filling up their new units. And lenders are keeping a close eye on the development pipeline.

    "You are going to see capital markets limit new project developments," said Hines' Eckel. "The banks are aware of the supply in Dallas."

    View article online

  • November 08, 2018 10:20 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Candy's Dirt
    by Jon Anderson


    The run-up to Wednesday’s tenth PD-15 meeting should’ve filled area residents with anger. The self-centered towers were at it again. On Monday, Athena management company ICI Real Estate sent residents an “URGENT!!!” call for Athena residents to attend last night’s meeting (Preston Tower did the same).

    It said Bob Bowling from Preston Tower was going to make a motion to dissolve the authorized hearing and send developers directly to City Plan Commission. Athena representative Margaret Darden was scheduled to second the motion after which residents in the audience were encouraged to stand and applaud. It was so kindergarten, I’m surprised there wasn’t a warning about not eating paste.

    Their argument consists of the same tired, disproven tropes as always – four high-rises, unprecedented traffic and 10 years of non-stop construction. Blah, blah, blah. If you want to sing that song, read this or this.

    NOTE: ICI seriously overstepped their bounds by sending such a loaded, propaganda-filled email to residents under their own account. Darden and Dewberry should have sent their drivel opinions and plans from their own accounts. (Full disclosure: I send email wrap-ups and links to PD-15 stories to residents within the building under my personal account. I have never asked or even thought to involve the management company.)

    You may recall back in July, I reported on an email Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association (PHSNA) president John Pritchett sent to committee members where he said they’re “not the A-Team in terms of zoning matters.” Apparently, Towers representatives Bob Bowling, Tatiana Frierson, Margaret Darden and Barbara Dewberry agree with the assessment, so hot are they to disband the committee. It’s almost comical, too. The Laurel apartments on Preston Road and Northwest Highway are pretty universally disliked and yet these representatives are in the same camp as Pritchett, who —to hear him tell it — single-handily led the negotiations for the neighborhood with developer Transwestern.

    NOTE: If any member of any committee feels too stupid to do the job, resign and stop trying to crater a process everyone else is working in good faith to complete.

    Storming the Gates

    This is all on the heels of a meeting last Thursday between Council Member Gates, Plan Commissioner Margot Murphy and a city attorney, and an opposition consisting of the usual suspects – former Mayor Laura Miller, husband Steve Wolens, John Pritchett, Athena reps Margaret Darden, Barbara Dewberry, Preston Tower reps Tatiana Frierson, Bob Bowling, and Roger Albright (Towers attorney). Also part of the parking pass request was a Who’s Who “Who Was” of Dallas politics (in addition to Miller and Wolens).

    Based on email exchanges obtained from an open records request, the purpose of the meeting seemed to essentially be to harangue Council Member Gates and Commissioner Murphy into disbanding the authorized hearing. Once I’ve parsed the documents, look for a column next week – let’s call them the PD-Papers. The only shame is that Councilmember Gates’ office isn’t wired for recording.

    And then this morning I read in the Chicago Tribune that a city project to improve O’Hare airport had whittled 12 submissions down to five. The remaining five would create models of their proposal that would circulate through the city for public comment. It reminded me that on a smaller scale, this is what the authorized hearing committee should have been but for the pettiness of the towers.

    It’s on the heels of these backstage machinations that I entered PD-15’s meeting number 10.

    … and I loved it.

    Councilmember Gates was the lead speaker with a backup band from city government. A cop even whisked through to see if there was going to be trouble (waving canes can hurt). But no police were needed. No city hall backup band was needed beyond the odd clarification during the Q&A.

    With smoothness hinting at practice, Gates simply closed the doors to Crazytown – without the finger-pointing I personally couldn’t resist. She outlined and reiterated what has been said and reported for over a year. Simply:

    1. Developers can file for a building permit only if they want to rebuild exactly what exists/existed.
    2. Developers can file a zoning case for the 65-ish surplus units that remain unbuilt in PD-15. But the case would be “DOA” at Plan Commission and City Council because assigning those surplus units to one property would enrich them at the expense of the other property owners in PD-15. Translation: Not gonna happen.
    3. The representatives from the six properties within PD-15 could unanimously agree to changes to the PD and present those to Plan Commission and Council. That process failed a year ago almost entirely because of Preston Tower and the Athena.
    4. The current Authorized Hearing process is the only way to increase the limitations within the PD and move forward.

    So the plan for Preston Tower’s Bob Bowling to call for a dissolution of the Authorized Hearing to force developers to file zoning cases directly with Plan Commission was always a fool’s errand. It was comical to listen to towers representatives surprised to (again) re-learn the truth behind this process. Athena representative Barbara Dewberry even commented that the towers had been told something different by their attorney Roger Albright.  Gates answered with number two above – yes developers could file, but it would be DOA. Even with all this (and what you’ll see below) near the end, Bob Bowling spoke about what he’d planned to do earlier. He ended by saying that if January doesn’t go well, he’ll bring his motion again to dissolve the Authorized Hearing and let developers file their own zoning cases – you know, that thing that can’t work (insert eye roll).

    Gates went into further detail, that too had been covered in prior meetings. The city would not issue a building permit for a project that would exceed the capacity of sanitary sewers. It’s unlikely stormwater flooding would be made worse by development because the lots are pretty much covered in concrete already which is the driver of runoff (nowhere for the water to go). Chief Planner David Cossum made these points months ago, but much like the concrete-covered land, some ears were similarly covered.

    Gates did suggest that between a small office budget she controls and the developers at the table on Preston Place and Diplomat, a traffic optimization study should be completed. Of course, the few thousand dollars such a study would entail could have been paid for (perhaps multiple times) by the towers’ $400/hour attorney engaged to fight the process.

    Go Play While Mommy and Daddy Work

    The next step is that public committee meetings have been suspended until January. The realization that the children were unable to share their toys forced Gates to engage city staff to craft their own recommendation. That plan will be presented to the committee in January for discussion with the hopes of reaching enough consensus that it could proceed to a full-on public outreach meeting before heading off to Plan Commission and Council.

    It’s hugely sad that these people (mostly the towers) in their unending attempt to hold everything back (based on erroneous information from multiple sources), have squandered a once in a lifetime opportunity to shape their neighborhood. Put in perspective, imagine …

    A child grocery shopping with a parent. The parent tells the child to get some broccoli for dinner. The child throws a tantrum wailing they weren’t eating broccoli ever, ever, ever. You and I know that child is getting broccoli. But what if the child had asked for peas instead? They’d be eating peas that night because it was a win-win. The towers (ironically, housing an inordinate number of grandparents) have spent over a year bitching about broccoli rather than negotiating for peas.

    Finally, realizing some collaboration was needed for consensus, Gates encouraged the committee to continue to meet privately to see if their impasse could be breached. The Preston Place (Provident) and Diplomat (A.G. Spanos) developers were similarly encouraged to work together on a solution. All parties were encouraged to share with city staff and ask questions as needed between now and the January meeting.

    Committee member Jim Panipinto suggested that the developers work with city staff to craft the recommendations – hell no. Those directly enriched by a process shouldn’t be crafting the parameters of the process. It’s more than a little “finger-on-scale” for my tastes.

    Given this new timeline, there could be a sick satisfaction in this being mostly wrapped up in March, the second anniversary of the Preston Place fire. Amongst the petty bickering and power plays, something that seems to have been discarded from memory.

    View article online

  • October 26, 2018 10:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dallas News
    Steve Brown, Real Estate Editor

    Last year, almost 100 percent of the apartments built in Dallas-Fort Worth had something in common: They were all high-end rental units.

    With developers in the biggest apartment-building market in the country aiming for the same slice of the rental pie, North Texas now ranks high among markets with the largest share of pricey, luxury apartment building.

    D-FW has more high-end apartment buildings than any other metro area in the country, according to a study by Yardi Systems, just as in 2017. Nationwide, 8 out of 10 apartment communities that opened last year targeted high-end renters.

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    "Encumbered by high construction costs and encouraged by a surge in demand for rentals, developers have bet big on high-end apartments," Yardi analysts say. "Back in 2012, high-end properties represented about half of all new completed construction, but now these projects occupy the lion's share of the multifamily industry.

    "Nationally, about 87 percent of all large-scale apartment buildings completed in the first half of 2018 are high-end."

    The surge in construction of deluxe rental units comes at a time when demand for affordable apartments in major U.S. markets is at an all-time high.

    "Almost all of the new dwelling units being delivered are Class A — they are higher-end product," said John Sebree, national director with commercial property firm Marcus & Millichap. "The number of new high-end households being created is a much smaller percentage.

    "A large percentage of those new households are B and C apartment tenants, and we are not creating any more B and C product."

    What's worse, thousands of older B and C apartments around North Texas are being knocked down for pricier rental communities.

    (The share of high-end apartments being built nationwide has almost doubled./Yardi Systems)

    Because of the shrinking pool of older apartments, rents in those units are rising at a higher percentage than new luxury apartments that are flooding some markets.

    High-end apartment rents are up less than 1 percent this year in D-FW, and neighborhoods with older units are seeing rents rise more than 3 percent.

    "The strongest rent growth has been in the neighborhoods where we are not building much in this cycle," said Greg Willett, chief economist with Richardson-based RealPage. "We have really filled up the neighborhoods where you see Class C units.

    "Historically, you have had chronic vacancies there. Those areas are now jam-packed full."

    While D-FW's employment base and population are growing, incomes are not rising fast enough to keep up with apartment rents, which have grown almost 40 percent in North Texas since the recession.

    "A bigger share of the population can only afford those Class C units," Willett said. "They have been priced out of the middle market and upper-tier properties."

    Developers say rising land, construction and financing costs make it almost impossible to build workforce apartments in many urban areas.

    "We have chosen to play in the upper end," said Tom Bakewell, one of the founders of Dallas-based apartment builder StreetLights Residential. "We are going to go even higher-end."

    StreetLight's newest Dallas rental high-rise on the edge of Highland Park has average rents of $5,000 — almost five times the D-FW average. Tenants' average age in the McKenzie building is in the 50s, and they lease units for as long as two years.

    "We are going to try and roll these out in more cities," Bakewell said. "We will only do a few of them in most markets."

    Dallas and Fort Worth have one of the country's largest shares of new high-end apartments. (Yardi Systems)

    View article online

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

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