by Jon Anderson
Packed House at Park Cities Baptist Church
If you’ve been following along in your prayer books, you know that over a year ago the Preston Place condos burned. You may also know about the failed attempt at negotiating an area redevelopment plan. I’ll even toss in bonus points if you’re aware of the Athena and Preston Tower working with former mayor Laura Miller to stymie everything.
All caught up? Good …
Last night, Dallas City Council member Jennifer Gates assembled the neighborhood to discuss the history and next steps in the process. What was a surprise to most was that the authorized hearing, first mentioned last summer as having a two or three year waiting list, had been bumped up in the schedule and was beginning immediately. Gates made available applications for representatives on the authorized hearing committee.
But I get ahead of myself.
PD-15 with Northwest Highway to the south
Full Disclosure: I live in PD-15, and the publisher of this blog, Candy Evans, owns a unit at The Seville on Averill Way.
According to the city planning representatives, the concept of what became Planned Development District number 15 (PD-15) began in 1947 but was only called a PD when PDs were begun in the 1960s. Prior to its official PD designation, the area was zoned for commercial development, which also allows residential construction. It was during the official PD designation in the 1960s that the zoning was changed to its current MF-3 (multi-family 3) under section 51 (not today’s 51-A) zoning parameters.
Unbuilt 1970s high-rise proposed on Preston Place lot
MF-3 under section 51 allows for unlimited height, 60 percent lot coverage, various setbacks and other parameters. Overlaying that are the PD-15 documents that limit the number of dwelling units possible in PD-15. There are currently between 60-65 unbuilt units available (the leftover from a failed high-rise project on the Preston Place lot in the early 1970s).
Those 60-65 surplus units are now a shared resource among all members of PD-15 and all would have to agree to allow another parcel to utilize them. The only way a property can be redeveloped without a zoning hearing would be to rebuild the same number of units as currently exist or get the members of PD-15 to unanimously agree to change the PD’s parameters.
Last summer the PD-15 working group assembled by Gates tried to come up with just such an accommodation that the buildings would all agree to. The process bogged down into two sides equally unwilling to compromise.
Because of all this, a developer can’t just file a zoning case with the city for a specific project (as they usually do), seeking more than the existing dwelling units listed in the PD documents. In Preston Place’s case that would be 60 units on a two-acre plot and 15 units on Diplomat’s one-acre — numbers that are completely unrealistic given land values and the quality of building expected by the neighborhood.
Enter the Authorized Hearing
An authorized hearing is when the city instigates a look into the appropriate zoning for a given area. The city assembles a contingent of area residents to meet and hammer out an agreement, with the city acting as information resource and mediator. The outcome can be to leave the area untouched or to make specific accommodations in return for givebacks from developers.
And that’s where I reside. Camp Negotiate.
Once questions and comments were heard, the expected dire predictions of overcrowding and its resulting traffic were heard. Somehow, redevelopment of these few parcels was thought to have a huge impact on Northwest Highway and Preston Road traffic. That intersection sees tens of thousands of cars each rush hour. The increased traffic from those few hundreds of new apartments amount to a rounding error.
Now internal roads? Absolutely there will be impacts. But it’s up to the neighborhood representatives in the authorized hearing to negotiate solutions for new projects (if this, then that). Ditto parking, flooding, and all the other Pink Wall woes. Ultimately, not everything can or will be fixed (there’s simply not enough money in these few deals), but the area will be better off than it would be without a successful negotiation.
The most galling sentiment was that somehow the authorized hearing took away residents’ rights. Poppycock. Yes, the authorized hearing removes the requirement of unanimous PD-15 approval for changes, but given the contentious, non-negotiable attitudes of those working group members, “unanimous” was never really in the cards.
The Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan Noose
Many spoke in a reverence for the Area Plan, perfectly at home in the Baptist church’s fellowship hall. Cheers were shouted anytime a speaker mentioned support for the plan and its recommendations. Area Plan task force members Steve Dawson and former mayor Laura Miller seemed to place the plan in the same pantheon as Mom’s apple pie and baseball. Neither are Pink Wall residents. Neither are towers residents (Miller’s husband inherited his mother’s Athena unit that they rent but have never lived in, see here). Neither stumped for towers’ representation on the Preston Center task force they sat on while deciding the area’s fate.
Side note: It was funny to hear Dawson wax about the preciousness of the neighborhood and then have to grudgingly answer an audience chant of “Where do you live?”
Answer: University Park.
I finally had to get up and have a say (something I rarely do). I pointed out the truth Gates was unwilling or unable to admit. Namely that there are no financial underpinnings in the Preston Center plan to support any of its conclusions (here, here). There is more math in the following few paragraphs than exists in the 95-page Preston Center Plan.
Because of this, I told those cheering for four-story construction while booing the ugliness of The Laurel apartments on the corner, that quality matters. If they want Laurel clones, by all means beat the area down to four stories, but zip-it later when you don’t like the results. After all, assuming a 20 percent profit margin, every dollar the neighborhood beats out of a project removes 80 cents in quality from the construction. Construction margins don’t decrease, construction quality does.
Miller Greed Shames Preston Place Owners
During Miller’s comment, she said that a supposed contingent-free offer to purchase Preston Place for $12 million was turned down in lieu of the current $18 million contingent offer from Provident. (It’s been known that Leland Burk, a friend of Miller and also in the audience, put in an offer to purchase Preston Place.) Miller’s point seemed to be to greed-shame Preston Place residents for not taking the lower offer.
Assuming both numbers are correct, who among us would take $12 million when $18 million is on the table? Zero. That’s the difference between $200,000 and $300,000 — a whopping one third less — per Preston Place homeowner. So why should Preston Place owners, who lost every possession to fire, some without insurance, be greed-shamed? And why should they be shamed by a woman living over a mile away (with a big dining room) in her 9,168-square-foot mansion sitting on two manicured acres in Old Preston Hollow?
Ultimately, the meeting went as expected. The towers have been ginned up against rational development and the authorized hearing process. Those sentiments were well-heard. The remainder of the participants coming from around the Pink Wall (some even from the towers) and Preston Hollow were more open to the process.
Gates did say one thing that would disqualify someone from being part of the authorized hearing. Anyone stating their opposition to the authorized hearing was out. At the very least, that leaves out non-resident landlords Laura Miller and Steve Dawson, Preston Tower residents John Pritchett and Susan Conard, and Athena residents Carla Young and Brett Fincher, along with anyone else who signed the letter last November to Gates.
But I think Gates needs go a step further. I believe anyone who served on the original PD-15 working group should also automatically be excluded. They’ve proven they don’t have what it takes to reach a compromise and are too entrenched in their positions to be of value. And, even though I resigned because of the shenanigans, this also includes me.
Don’t restart the car if there’s still sugar in the gas tank, you won’t get far.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email email@example.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.