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  • January 07, 2019 11:04 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Jon Anderson
    Dmagazine.com

    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 CandysDirt.com 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

    Dmagazine

    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 CandysDirt.com, 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)

    Editorial
    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

    PD-15

    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.

    Inn crowd: How empty Dallas apartments are being revived as new hotel brands

    "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

  • October 19, 2018 11:02 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Preston Hollow People
    October 19, 2018
    Staff Report

    National Night Out attracted throngs of residents Oct. 2 at Preston Hollow Park where members of the Dallas Police Department, Preston Hollow Homeowners Association, and the Center for Transportation Safety spoke on neighborhood safety.

    Juli Black, president of the Homeowners Association, emphasized neighbor awareness, and Neal Johnson of CTS spoke about bicycle safety. In Briarwood, 13 restaurants participated in a Taste of Lovers-themed event along with the Briarwood Crime Watch Association.

    (Photos: Chris McGathey and William Legrone)

    View article online

  • October 11, 2018 2:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Jon Anderson
    Candy's Dirt

    Tower Spacing: Through Thick and Thin, Thick Matters

    There’s a bit of a special language being formulated between the Authorized Hearing committee members. For example, when the city facilitator recaps a prior discussion by saying, “We agreed on X,” a committee member or two will pipe up “We didn’t agree on that.”  What they really mean is they didn’t. And since they didn’t agree, there could be no agreement. Everyone believing they’re getting 100 percent out of this is a recipe for nothing ever being decided. Ancient children not wanting to share their toys.

    Parking

    The session revolved around a review of responses to last meeting’s homework on a variety of topics, and trying to get some consensus. The first of those topics was a discussion of parking requirements. In many regards it was a pointless discussion. The committee members are not parking experts so to ask their opinion on whether it should be one space per bedroom, 1.5 spaces per unit or two spaces is all so much guesswork. Woven into this was the fear that developers would build too much parking and be left with a surplus once Uber took over the world.

    Here’s the thing, there’s never unused parking in multifamily developments. If there was a global automobile rapture tomorrow, parking spaces would be repurposed for storage (much to the chagrin of the storage industry), or amenity space, or even built out for additional living space (above-ground, flat garages). It’s not like it would go to waste. So don’t worry about too much, only too little.

    There was light discussion on street parking with a few wanting to eliminate it. But you can’t really. Each building will likely maintain a handful of outside spaces for drop-offs, quick visits and the like, where going into a garage is a little silly.

    Beyond numbers, most seemed OK with at least some above-ground parking so long as it was camouflaged in some way (wrapped in apartments or attractively screened). I did smile at one response that thought underground parking should be required for Athena and Preston Tower as though they should dig a hole 50 years post-construction.

    Height Limits Using RPS. (Boo-boo: Preston Tower is 8-stories taller than Athena but only 17′ taller?)

    Residential Proximity Slope (RPS)

    You recall, RPS is not required for PD-15 but many want to see how using RPS would play out. RPS is a slope that runs from single-family neighborhoods towards areas with higher allowable buildings. It’s designed to curtail tall buildings from looming over homes by pulling them back and away. Think about the stair-step buildings you see at Preston Center along the tollway that pull away from Devonshire.

    RPS caused a lot of heebie-jeebies. Diamond Head Condos’ representative was particularly vocal about not wanting to be subjected to the measure because it would limit their redevelopment from infinite height.

    But the funniest head-snapping happened when someone said RPS should be used, and that the Athena and Preston Tower should be subjected to it should they ever redevelop voluntarily or as a result of an act of nature (shrinking their allowed heights).  You never saw two grandmothers stammer “grandfather” so fast. You see, they’re OK dictating to everyone else and giving no purchase, but limiting their properties sent a few volts through.

    And you know what? As negative and stingy as the towers have been, were I a low-rise representative, I’d make it my life’s work to tie the Athena and Preston Tower to the RPS.

    Sorta in the same ballpark as RPS is Tower Spacing – step-backs when two tall buildings are too close.  Athena said “yes” and Diamond Head said “no.” I say “yes” and here’s why:

    Everyone points to Preston Tower’s garden building, saying it’s not on top of Preston Tower, but here’s the thing: The garden building is two units deep. Diplomat and Diamond Head are two buildings deep with a slight separation. This makes their buildings twice as thick as the garden building and therefore twice as close to their neighbors. As it stands, there is a wider separation between Diplomat and Royal Orleans already, but Athena and Diamond Head get REALLY cramped at height. If Diamond Head Condos is going to extend into the residential floor plane of Athena there needs to be a step back. I would daresay that the complexes on Diamond Head’s northern boundary would want a step back, too.

    Oh, and by the way, it doesn’t matter what I, Athena, or Diamond Head think. PD-15 states that if some parameter is silent in the PD-15 documents, it defaults to MF-(3) within Chapter 51. Tower Spacing is denoted in Chapter 51. While the committee may be empowered to waive it, unlike RPS, they’re already governed by it. City staff seemed to position it as an option. Not really. It’s there.

    One protectionist thing the towers representative said I did agree with: Diamond Head lamented having to look out her window at the tall face of Athena. The response to Diamond Head was, “you knew what you were buying” – and they’re right. It’s a corollary to moving next to an airport and complaining about the noise. I have no sympathy for that argument.

    Diamond Head Condos

    This is as good a place as any to say that Diamond Head annoyed me last night. I’m not telling tales out of class here as I spoke to their representative after the meeting. Their goal last night for any dimension was the tallest, widest, densest structure possible – more than a little greed. She said later that she figured the city would probably not approve such a building, but they wanted an enormous envelope so a developer could then fight it out at City Hall.

    The first thing I said was that her unrealistic excessiveness was scaring people and causing some to dig their heels in (counterproductive in a negotiation). The second thing is that a huge envelope that you then leave the city to decipher misses a trick. The wonderful thing about this often-confusing and frustrating process is that it places a level of control in the neighborhood BEFORE projects go to Plan Commission and City Council. Why would you want two sets of eyes on something instead of three? Especially when one of the sets is the very local neighborhood that can add some specific tweaking that might not matter to the city, but would matter a great deal to the neighborhood?

    What I didn’t say, only because it occurred to me later, was that even if a virtually unlimited buildable envelope was given, the city would knock it down to something realistic when a developer tried to fill it. Developers don’t pay on “maybe,” they pay on “permits.” So whatever a developer agreed to pay (on contingent) for a seemingly unlimited envelope would be discounted right back to what they got permitted. So there is no point in getting a bazillion dollar buildable envelope when the city will only ultimately approve a quarter of a bazillion dollar project. The ultimate money paid to the landowner is the same. But the process is stretched out unnecessarily due to the battles that would be fought and it needlessly scares the behoozis out if the neighborhood. Ultimately it serves everyone if you work towards an 80-90 percent nailed down envelope so a developer only needs minor tweaks.

    Setback relief could eat into the frontage road??

    Setbacks

    More comedy ensued on setbacks. I’m going out on a limb and say this homework question wasn’t explained very well.  There is an existing 100-foot setback from Northwest Highway north to Preston Tower, Preston Place, Royal Orleans, and Athena. As far as I’ve determined, it’s in each of the building’s deeds. But the question asked what an appropriate setback should be.

    Before getting to the responses, it’s important to know that the actual Pink Wall from Northwest Highway to the first curb is about five feet. Then there’s a parallel parking lane across most of the stretch (call it 10 feet). Then there’s a generous two lane road. After that there’s differing land uses before hitting a building. All totaled, 100 feet.

    Three committee members were OK with a 30-foot setback from the “property line” which is Northwest Highway. That would result in a building almost in the middle of the frontage road. At 40 feet, it would only be a handful of feet north of the roadway before a sheer face of building would be possible.

    Maybe you want to rethink that. Not only would it pull the buildings out of alignment, but it would be fairly ugly (you don’t see single-family homes next to the sidewalk either).

    There is really only one reason to even consider this – Royal Orleans. While Preston Place has all the land it needs at about two acres, Royal Orleans sits on a lot made tiny by required setbacks on all four sides. If they could build significantly into the 100 foot Northwest Highway setback, it would make their property more valuable. But at what cost to the neighborhood aesthetic? The building already encroaches onto the 100-foot setback with a yard and pool that pinches the frontage road.

    Their representative seemed to be advocating for zero setback outside the frontage road. This would add about 65 feet to their buildable lot and pull one building significantly out of alignment. Coupled with their desire for the “front” of their building to face Diamond Head Circle leaving the frontage road framed by a tall, sheer block jutting out of alignment and into the view plane.

    No. I’m sorry, that’s too much ugly to swallow. I didn’t design PD-15 and the current owners of Royal Orleans likely didn’t purchase with the hope of cashing out to a developer (and if they did, they shouldn’t have bought the smallest plot in the area). Sure, it’s frustrating and feels unfair when neighboring buildings are able to redevelop into more salable projects, but life ain’t fair. While some accommodations may be made, Royal Orleans’ dirt simply isn’t worth as much because there isn’t enough of it.

    Also, Royal Orleans has been in talks with Preston Place’s buyer, Provident. If Provident connects the two parcels, no setback relief is needed, period.  And the neighborhood certainly doesn’t need both buildings to be pulled forward.

    Side And Alley Setbacks

    Who’d a thunk there could be so much hoo-ha about alley setbacks. They’re currently 20 feet which essentially equates to the carports lining the alley. For some reason city staff kept harping on wanting sidewalks in the alley. Why? Leisurely strolls by mechanicals, HVAC chillers, and whiffy dumpsters all while gazing poetically up at power lines?

    Side lot setbacks range from 10-to-40 feet with a patchwork of sidewalks. I urge ALL committee members to carpool around Uptown, Oak Lawn, and Knox and look at new apartment buildings and their setbacks. Most are 10-ish feet plus a sidewalk – pretty dang close to the street. Put in perspective, my sofa is 10 feet long, and as a setback not too impressive. As for sidewalk width, let’s call it a two-scooter passing width.

    Height And Density

    The question of height returned silly answers. Responses were cast for all the low-rises between 25 and 330 feet tall.  Density-wise, responses ranged from existing units per acre to 160 per acre (35 units per acre MORE than A.G. Spanos is asking for seems excessive). Helpful, no?

    The Athena and Preston Tower were pegged at their existing heights with other replies including RPS (205′-285′ – or 125′ for garden building), 250′, and 330 feet tall. Ditto on density here too – existing to 160 per acre. Again, not too helpful.

    One committee member’s math skills proved shy of the mark. It was posited that $700,000 townhouses would be just as profitable for everyone. Nope. Here’s the deal: assuming the average footprint of a townhouse and cramming 15 on an acre (pretty crammed), that’s a project value of $10.5 million. I believe A.G Spanos proposed Diplomat project (about an acre) will have a done-done value of $50 million give or take. If we believe the rumor of an $18.5 million price on Preston Place’s two acres, Provident would only have $2.5 million left for a full build out. Certainly to err is human.

    Leading The Kitties To Water

    This meeting city staff were more noticeable in their opinion on the path forward. Some found this off-putting, but I was thrilled. Without someone to help guide this process and capture decisions when made, this process would stumble on longer than a Law & Order franchise. As long as staff isn’t putting words in the committee’s mouths, I’m good with a little cat herding.

     

    Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.

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

info@pheha.org

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