Recall the apartments Transwestern wants to build at the intersection of Preston and Northwest Highway? I am just starting to peel back the story about the company’s proposed 80 to 100 million dollar project. Last week, I met with the managing developer of the proposed project, Mark Culwell, Jr. a very nice man. He made it clear that his company wants the full cooperation of the homeowners before they commence any building or seek re-zoning from the City. Stay tuned for that story.
Reminder: a two-block strip of dirt from Preston to Hillcrest was developed about 50+ years ago as multi-family living. Legend has it Ebby Halliday (who offices and lives across the street) christened it “behind the Pink Wall” because the area was fenced by a coral-y pink brick wall. The area has long been a favorite for singles, divorcees, and older folks leaving larger Preston Hollow or Park Cities homes but not quite ready for a retirement home. The area is treed, quiet and generally safe. In recent years, the blocks closer to Hillcrest have been re-developed with luxury condos, including developer Robert Edelman’s Drexel Park Hollow, which are now being leased after a few auctions during the recession. The Sorrento is the newest condo in the area, located next to the post office on Turtle Creek.
On January 25, there was an HOA meeting at the Preston Center Black Eyed Pea, hosted by Transwestern and Sarah Dodd, Dodd Communications, who specializes in real estate PR and has been retained by the developer. (I was out of town and unable to attend the meeting.) The Preston Hollow East Homeowners Association encouraged homeowners to attend the meeting, and I’m told there was a good turn-out. Jennifer Staubach Gates is the Councilwoman for the area, but she has recused herself because Jones Lang LaSalle, her husband’s firm, has interest in the development. As such, Lee Kleinman of District 11 is the neighborhood’s point of contact.
I also had a chance to talk with Pamela Smith, president of the Townhouse Row HOA, the 12 brick townhomes that line Preston Road along Townhouse Row, backing up to both Averill Way and Bandera. Of the 12, 9 are owner-occupied single family townhomes, while three are rental units.
Pamela explained she helped organize the Townhouse Row owners first in 2013, and shopped for a buyer, as the owners have been approached by several buyers, all wanting to raze the property and build higher density units at that very prime location.
“We clearly understood our responsibility to be thoughtful about who the buyer was,” said Pamela. “We wanted to understand who the buyer was, how they do business, and what they intend to do with the properties.”
The properties, said Smith, have always been zoned for multi-family, not single, meaning any developer can buy and build up to three stories WITHOUT a zoning change. Transwestern would need a zoning change to go 8 floors vertical and to increase density.
The Townhouse Row HOA put together a short list of buyers who they determined appropriate, and asked for detailed presentations. After all potential buyers made presentations, the TRHOA chose Transwestern.
“We thought Transwestern had done the best homework and research, they took time to really understand the property,” says Smith. “They had a high bar to reach and understood that any development they build must be of high quality to interact with the estates across Preston Road.”
Their intention, she says, is to rent units to high net worth individuals and families who prefer to rent, not own. Since the recession, which was triggered by real estate, experts say a higher number of wealthy Americans are opting to lease rather than buy. In fact, the recession CREATED the lease market as cash-strapped homeowners signed up tenants to live in homes they couldn’t afford. Nationally renown New York City appraiser Jonathan Miller, who is also a friend, thinks of it as an expansion of the high-end housing market:
“The high-end rental market’s strength is a phenomenon that has been growing along with the purchase market,” says Jonathan Miller, president of New York City-based Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers, alluding to the uptick in sales of luxury properties in hot real estate markets around the country. “In other words, the high-end housing market has expanded.”
Townhouse Row owners (and the corner multi-family unit) are under contract to sell with Transwestern, should all the fairy dust of this real estate project fall in line. Pamela Smith won’t say how much she and the others have been offered for their homes.
She said her fellow Town House Row owners liked how Transwestern wants the development to meld with the neighborhood to the east, the neat brick condos, while improving the Averill Way entrance at Preston Road with landscaping, but still leaving a nice amount of green space. Plans call for a park of about a 60 foot width, 100 feet deep, as a buffer to to single family homes on Del Norte that back up to the Pink Wall. All parking would be underground. There would be public sculpture and a water feature visible from Preston Road.
“Transwestern was thoughtful about the details,” says Pamela Smith, “like the wider sidewalks that make it appealing to walk. We like having people walking up and down this street 24/7.”
Public spaces in the plan will make it more vibrant, she says. When I asked if the 8 story height could be too dense, she said developers generally need vertical density or height to make investors happy. The only portion of the development plans slated for eight stories will be the very tip of the corner of Preston and Northwest Highway, where a two-story apartment is currently situated. Residents on Averill Way and Bandera generally do not like the tenants who lease those apartments, and, off record, rumors have flown for years that they are a sort of “crack house”.
Full disclosure: I own a property on Averill Way.
Contrast this to Transwestern bringing in spacious, luxurious apartments at $5000 a month a pop. Clearly, Pamela Smith and company think the development will be good for the Pink Wall and raise property values behind the Pink Wall.