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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Ebby Exterior No Clouds

The iconic Little White House at Preston Road and Northwest Highway has been a fixture in the neighborhood since Ebby Halliday purchased it in 1964. (Photos: Ebby Halliday Realtors)

So much change is happening at the intersection of Preston Road and Northwest Highway. New luxury apartments are being built on the northeast corner of this busy intersection, construction cones seem a permanent fixture on the southwest corner, and Mark Cuban has bought up several lots nearby and razed the existing homes.

But the northwest corner, home of Ebby Halliday’s Little White House — the signature office of the grand dame of Dallas real estate — isn’t changing anytime soon. In fact, the iconic building was just renovated to perfection, offering gorgeous interiors for clients and the latest technology to the Ebby Halliday Realtors who office there.

“The vision for our remodel was an updated, usable, relevant space that works better; one that allows for easy collaboration between agents and staff,” said Keith Newman, the office’s sales manager. “As part of the remodel, every surface was touched, from the lobby, conference rooms, agent offices and workspaces, even the kitchen and bathrooms. While consistent with the office’s exterior, our interior is all-new, with artwork from local galleries, including paintings and vintage sculptures.”

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Plan 1 SM

Last night’s Preston Center Task Force meeting laid bare their purpose — development.  It’s funny how way back when, this body was begun to study traffic and parking in the Preston Center area and yet, as we’ll see, these critical concerns from neighbors have been kinda pushed into the back seat by development.

Back in February 2015, I outlined the need for a Zone Zero that would concentrate on developing the overarching calculations for what’s possible given the current infrastructure.  How could existing roads best be optimized?  What traffic patterns need to emerge? Once you’d optimized raw traffic flows, then you could measure impacts of development and resulting capacity increases against that baseline.  Roadway optimization is something that must be done before development impacts are assessed.

Last night, near the end of the meeting we saw one slide outlining the three-stage project TXDoT and NCTCOG will be embarking on IN THE FUTURE to address the optimization of traffic flow (here’s my plan from July 2015) and the central parking garage.  Their work will be barely begun as the Preston Center Task Force draws its last breath in June.  The Task Force was invited to be a part of that new project but several members responded that this “was beyond their scope of work.”

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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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My previous two posts covered the parking issues being raised (and how much the perception varies from reality) and St. Michael’s prayers to upzone one of their Frederick Square properties to accommodate a 250,000-square-foot office high-rise. Well, it ain’t over yet!

The other side of the complaint coin is traffic, or more specifically how much time does it take to get from Point A to Point B on Preston Road or Northwest Highway. Existing speeds for both roadways are 35 miles per hour. For example, that should translate into roughly six minutes to travel the 3.4 miles from Inwood to Shady Brook Lane along Northwest Highway without hitting a single traffic signal or slow-down. Unfortunately, you are almost guaranteed to hit a majority of the 11 traffic signals on this route, spaced on average one every 1,631 feet or 0.3 of a mile. Good luck with that!

Let’s continue the example.

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I bet the task force members thought I’d given them a Christmas present by not writing up the Dec. 3 meeting. Nope. I was just outta town. So what happened at that meeting (you didn’t show up for)?

First was a recap of a Nov. 3 meeting, the Task Force open house held to share preliminary data to area residents and to ask for feedback. As in previous open house sessions, there were “topic stations” setup with flip-charts and markers for capturing thoughts. This time, 66 residents attended. For those keeping count, that’s 1 percent of the 6,736 residents in the task force area. I suppose the other 99 percent were either out of town (like me) or more likely apathetic (waiting for any action to be a gavel-bang away before piping up). You know the type — the first to complain and the last to volunteer — and if you live in Task Force-land, you likely only have to look in the mirror. (Although I do love those with total apathy — no opinion and no interference.)

Before I get to parking, one topic seeped into every question posed of the meagre attendees. That question was, “How do we ensure Mark Cuban gets the shaft on Northwest Highway?” In one question, attendees were asked to put colored “dots” on locations they want to see Residential, Office, Greenspace, or “Other.”

First, there wasn’t a single dot placed that wasn’t spitting distance from the intersection of Preston Road and Northwest Highway. So again, while the task force’s mandate covers a huge area, only that intersection is of any real interest. Is that “concern” really just attendee self-interest? Probably. The vast majority of attendees to these meetings reside or have businesses within blocks of this intersection.

Does it call into question why a resident’s opinion on the outskirts of the task force area carries more weight than a non-resident who works daily in Preston Center? Probably. Should the task force have included the opinions of people who navigate Preston Center every day? Probably. Just 8 percent of survey respondents actually work in Preston Center. Given this task force is so focused on one intersection, shouldn’t University Park (one quarter of the intersection) officially be part of this foofaraw? Probably.

Have I said all that before? Very probably.

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New-Transwestern-rendering-Preston-Rd

As predicted, we are all two-weeks older since the Planning Commission fobbed-off the vote on the proposed Transwestern development at the northeast corner of Preston Road and Northwest Highway. What, if any, votes changed in those two weeks is unknown, but I suspect few. Certainly attendees were not treated to German band Texas Lightening popping out of a cake as I’d hoped.

In those two weeks Transwestern held a meeting largely for angry single-family homeowners upset that the proposal had moved on without them paying attention and seemingly their neighborhood association not informing them. Thankfully I was busy elsewhere that evening. However, I invited Candy over after the fireworks to spill the beans while I plied her with wine.

Also in those two weeks the opposition became a bit more organized and vocal, certainly putting up more of a show at today’s Planning Commission meeting.

And a show it was… hours of tedium and speechifying. It was like church without the wine and crackers.

The same tired rubrics about density, traffic and parking ultimately found no purchase with the Commission. Especially after both the Transwestern-hired traffic engineering representative and the City traffic planning representative spoke. Those arguments were shot, gutted, stuffed and mounted on the rumpus room wall. (more…)

New-Transwestern-rendering-Preston-Rd 

After attending my first Dallas Planning Commission meeting yesterday, I called my doctor for some anti-depressants to keep from cutting myself. I’ll give Commissioner Margot Murphy credit for putting attendees out of their misery quickly by moving the item up in the docket, but fault her for asking for a two-week delay in what has been nearly two years of tedium (history here, here, here and 25 more stories posted on Candysdirt.com). When the vote was taken to postpone, clearly not everyone was a “Yea” but no one had the guts to rock the boat and say “Nay.”

Why was the delay asked for? Shenanigans. Plain old political shenanigans.

Ya see, the Preston Hollow EAST Homeowners Association (PHEHA) which is directly north of the proposed development is apparently claiming surprise at the Planning Commission vote and in general at not being notified of the latest Transwestern proposal that’s been floating around since March. (You remember March, that was when we were hoping for a little rain.)

Ashley Parks, previous president and current PHEHA board member for the seemingly new post covering “zoning,” apparently missed the stories in the press, the discussions from the Preston Center Task Force meetings (of which she’s an appointed neighborhood representative) and the meeting last Thursday at the Baptist Church called by homeowners to talk one last time with Transwestern.

Oh, and apparently Parks missed the strings of communications sent directly by and to her and current PHEHA president Judy Smiley. Here’s a refresher …

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