Plan Commission 2

Coming as no surprise, the final Preston Center Area Task Force plan passed Plan Commission Thursday. Even with all the political puffery and backslapping, approval took about 15 minutes. I say it comes as no surprise because there’s nothing surprising, insightful, or controversial about it. In fact, it could have been written two years ago before a single meeting was held or a single dollar spent.

A few self-congratulatory task force members got up to heap praise on the plan. Peter Kline and others said that for the first time in 40 years this group is actually in agreement.  Bill Archer said, “I don’t think there’s anything controversial in the plan.”

Well, ya got that right.

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5350-s-dentwood-dr-dallas-tx-MLS-33

By Donovan Westover
Special Contributor

A crowning Dallas midcentury modern jewel, the Grady Vaughn house — family residence of the late Dallas developer Allan Zidell since 1971 — has hit the market. It is one of the most significant midcentury masterpieces not just in Dallas, but in the country. Built like a fortress with maple studs, the home sits on an unusually lush wooded and waterfront-ed 1.36 acres in the honeypot of Preston Hollow at 5350 South Dentwood Drive, right across from former Dallas mayor Laura Miller and former Texas state representative Steve Wolens.

5350-s-dentwood-dr-dallas-tx-MLS-25

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Task Force Title SM

UPDATE:  Both D Magazine’s Frontburner and Dallas Morning News’ City Hall Blog referenced this posting today.

 

The session on Feb. 16 was different from the recent Preston Center Task Force meetings. Nearly all the task force members were there … and about 50 residents showed up as well! Before I run through the high points, a pair of interesting things …

During the meeting, I was paying particular attention to Laura Miller, as she tends to speak often and with some authority. I’m not sure if her demeanor had softened with the blue jeans she was wearing, but at some point I realized she’s smart-smart versus just opportunistic-political-smart. I’m not saying I completely agree with her, but she connects the dots quicker than most. And lately, I’ve been in too many rooms filled with people unable to connect the dots.

Secondly, after the meeting I approached councilwoman Gates to make a (constructive) suggestion (that I’ll get to later) and her preemptive question was to ask if what was said tonight matched up with the plan I’d crafted oh so many months ago. “Kinda” I said, caught a little off guard. (In truth, I’ve said I don’t have the resources to drill into development comparisons as these consultants have, but my plan and conclusions have a lot of similarities.)

Anyway …

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Preston-Center-parking-garage

The Preston Center Task Force meetings have given Jay Grogan plenty of time to talk about the office tower St. Michael’s and All Angels wants to build on its empty lot, but said nothing until documents came out, says Task Force member Laura Miller.

By Laura Miller
CandysDirt.com Contributor

Editor’s Note: CandysDirt.com continues to expand, explore, and evolve to serve the real estate needs and curiosity of North Texas. We focus daily on this fast-growing region which is metamorphosing before our eyes, reshaping some of our most beloved neighborhoods. Whereas we always want to bring you the inside story and scoop, sometimes we have to go outside our staff to become the best informed. It is our mission to not just earn your trust and confidence in our reporting, but to fill a void we see missing from conventional daily journalism: the inside stories about where we live. We want to connect you to the highest caliber voices in our midst, and we will do so from time to time with guest contributors. Today, we welcome former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller who serves on City Councilwoman Jennifer Gates’ Task Force Committee to develop a Preston Center and Northwest Highway Area Plan that will examine existing conditions and future needs & improvements within the area. 

A few observations about the new office tower St. Michael’s wants to build next to its church on Douglas Avenue from the perspective of a Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan Task Force member trying to find the right balance between new development and current traffic and parking problems:

Besides being a terrible idea (the church’s property serves as a much-needed buffer between high rises and homes), what is also unsettling about the proposal is that it was purposely kept from the Task Force. When you’re spending $350,000 to analyze one neighborhood — $250,000 of taxpayer money and $100,000 in private funds — a full picture of what is going on under your nose is obviously necessary for a successful result.

Unfortunately, the Task Force only found out about this project because this past fall, a concerned citizen gave me a copy of a confidential Request for Proposal (RFP) that real estate attorney Jay Grogan had sent out on Aug. 3 on behalf of St. Michael’s and All Angels Church (SMAA). The 10-page RFP described the proposed office project in great detail and required interested developers to pay a $5,000 non-refundable application fee; the winning bidder (which has been selected but remains unknown) was also required to make a non-refundable $25,000 donation to the church. Since our Task Force meets so rarely, the first opportunity I had to raise the issue with the group was Dec. 3, although I had called several members previous to the meeting to see if anyone knew about the proposal (no one had).

There was one paragraph in the 10-page RFP that particularly surprised me:St. Michaels

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New-Transwestern-rendering-Preston-Rd

Last night Candy and I, both Pink Wall property owners, attended the (hopefully) final neighborhood meeting with Transwestern on their proposed complex on the northeast corner of Preston and Northwest Highway. It goes before the City Council on Aug. 20.

While the proposed structure will not win any design awards, it’s inoffensive. And of those attending this meeting, there were certainly more positive than negative.

We all have differing thresholds of skill and patience. Watching this gathering I was stunned how well the Transwestern representatives kept their cool in the face of some ill-conceived, often repetitive questions. I kept mumbling under my breath during most of them, thinking the answers were either idiotic, obvious, or previously discussed ad-nauseum in the nearly two years this has been percolating.

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Preston Center Task Force Map

The Task Force’s 1,630 acre charge

As CandysDirt.com readers (and likely most all of Dallas) know, Councilwoman Jennifer Gates formed a task force to hire a consultant to tell them how bad traffic and parking are in the Preston Road and Northwest Highway area. Granted the scope of the project is much larger (see map), but this intersection is where the action will be. I just heard today that the consultant has been selected who will deliver suggested solutions for their $350,000 fee.

During the last task force meeting on April 27, it was revealed that they were about $100,000 short and seeking donations from concerned area citizens and businesses needing a tax write-off. The other $250,000 is being fronted by North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTOG).

NCTOG is a voluntary coalition formed from local government representatives from the 16 counties surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth and includes 235 members. NCTOG is a political subdivision formed by the State of Texas in 1966. NCTOG’s mission seems to be to a shared resource to help municipal planning in the region (judging from current job vacancies, traffic management is a large part). Unfortunately their reports and recommendations carry no force so no matter how smart (and right) they are, local governments can ultimately do whatever they want. Funding comes from member dues and local, state and federal government agencies.

The initial data will take 12-18 months to gather and present to the task force. I then easily foresee another 6-12 months of digesting and bandying around various scenarios before crafting a final document to present to the City Council. Or in other words, about two years. Then the work begins to beg, borrow and curry favor to implement whatever recommendations have made it that far. Best guess for seeing a first shovel hit the ground? At least four years from now … if at all.

If at All

  • “If at all” because if Dallas and University Park City Councils are not even supportive enough to fund the study, then surely they’re not anxiously waiting, wallet outstretched, to unleash the millions needed to actually better the area, are they?
  • “If at all” because, as pointed out by Morning News blogger Robert Wilonsky, today’s fracas is a near word-for-word repeat from 1976 which sought (unsuccessfully) to back-zone properties to three stories in an effort to curb development and traffic.
  • “If at all” because two later studies in 1986 and 1989 received little/no action or funding from the city.
  • “If at all” because Mayor Mike Rawlins, faced with overflowing property tax coffers, would rather cut taxes than fix crumbling infrastructure. Infrastructure that’s admittedly underfunded by the Texas Transportation Commission by $2-billion annually in the NCTOG area (I hate taxes too, but I hate crappy roads more).

I think the City Council is more likely to thank the task force for their work before ushering them out with a case of Rice-a-Roni and a year’s supply of Tic Tacs. The anti-development crowd knows the game being played is to stall and starve developers. The death of 1,000 City Council postponements.

Begun in 2014, we will spend over four years pretending this is a difficult and time consuming project. It’s not. In fact, I spent a few hours over a weekend and crafted the poor-man’s Preston Center Traffic and Parking Plan. I have mailed a copy to each member of the city council so that, years from now, I’ll have my big, fat, “I told you so” moment.

Granted my plan is more concise and isn’t full of the pretty sketches of happy, dog-walking models on tree-lined, car-less streets – I’m not good with Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, or AutoCAD.  But don’t be fooled, these kinds of images are all just a marketing “show” put on for the tourists.

But the same recommendations on how to fix traffic and parking will be there. Why am I so sure? Because the area surrounding Northwest Highway and Preston Road is finite and so are the solutions. It’s the simple application of math coupled with a little research on traffic management theory. After all, we’re talking physical roadways here, not a TARDIS.

Jon Anderson’s Traffic Plan for Preston Center

Jump for more details.
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Preston center skybridge

Laura Miller wrote a note to homeowners inside the Athena, asking them to speak out against Crow Holdings’ proposed Preston Center sky bridge at the June 17 Dallas City Council meeting.

Midday Monday, residents in my high-rise received a double-forwarded note containing a letter I later found out was written by former mayor Laura Miller. The letter (after the jump) makes the case for opposing the sky bridge at Preston Center.

Since moving to Preston Hollow, I’ve noticed that any whiff of development is met with one-sided opposition. I’ve never seen any discussion or debate on whatever proposal is at hand. If it’s development, the knee-jerk seems to be to oppose it without giving the prospect an airing. I like air.

As I did with the latest Transwestern proposal for their much-diminished development on Preston and Northwest highway, I responded to the letter to provide counterbalance to the pointedly negative position.

Anyway, Miller responded to my note and in turn I replied back. You can read the exchanges that were sent to those 137 residents in the email exchange after the jump.

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8315 Westchester

Well this was a shocker: former City Council candidate Leland Burk has purchased the Preston Doctor’s Center building on Westchester, the one where Crosland Group was planning to build a luxury high rise called the Highland House. And the plans have been withdrawn along with the re-zoning request.

In his article, Dallas Morning News reporter Tom Benning makes it sound like Laura Miller single handedly stopped the Highland House project dead in its tracks. (Wonder if she handed him the story?) Have no idea what Burk plans to build, certainly going to dial him up lickety split. According to Benning’s story, (more…)