Laura Miller Asks Jennifer Gates to Replace Lee Kleinman as her Proxy: Kleinman Responds

NO-to-Transwestern-DealA few weeks ago we told you that Laura Miller, Mitchell Rasansky and a bevy of Preston Hollow  “VIPs” had joined the debate over a multi-family complex in the early works over at Preston and Northwest Highway, Behind the Pink Wall. This development is the source of all the “No” signs cropping up in Preston Hollow as far east as Hillcrest, as far west as Midway Hollow, and as far north as Forest.

Well, now Miller, that is former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, has taken it one step further. She WROTE an email to Jennifer Gates asking her to replace Kleinman, claiming he is unwilling to meet with Jennifer’s constituents. Well, she didn’t say he was “unwilling”: she said appoint someone who is MORE willing:

“Therefore, former Councilman Mitchell Rasansky and I respectfully request that you replace Councilman Kleinman with a colleague who is more willing to meet with your constituents — hopefully before the application is filed. There is much at stake here for our neighborhoods but no elected official to talk to. You are unavailable, and your proxy is unwilling.”

In the March 25th correspondence, the VIPs had asked Kleinman to hold a public meeting so hundreds of area residents can “both ask questions about the proposed development and provide feedback to you about the many challenges of living in residential neighborhoods located on and around one of the busiest state highways in Dallas.”

That would be the Northwest Highway and Preston Road intersection, and particularly Northwest Highway.

But Kleinman says he HAS had plenty of meetings with homeowners. He told Scott Goldstein at the Dallas Morning News : “I’m willing to hear new information. But if all I’m going to hear is people saying [current zoning] or nothing … that doesn’t provide me any new information.” He also took his pot-shot at the Miller-Rasansky era of city leadership whose policy seemed to be to block developers before they even have a chance to blink .

“I know during the period of 2000 to 2010, Dallas had no growth, while our suburban neighbors grew,” Kleinman said. “The no-growth, anti-development policy of the council during that period set Dallas back ten years with regards to the massive growth in North Texas.”

I spoke with Lee a few days ago, and then again on Sunday. He says he understands the neighborhood’s concerns over the added traffic the Transwestern development may bring to the neighborhood, though he’s not certain that it is significant relative to the current load and capacity of Northwest Highway. He’s calculating 220 units each, two cars per unit, two car trips per day plus any household help. What we need, he says, is a traffic study — factual information to move the process along.

“I attended no less than 3 large community meetings, and 3 private meetings” he told me. “I’m not interested in a meeting with homeowners screaming at me and the developer. I’m very clear on what a lot of the neighborhood is worried about.”

There is a legally defined process for the re-zoning, and 2 public hearings will be scheduled once the case is filed.  The developer was not obligated to hold nor attend any meetings with the neighborhood prior to the public hearings, but Transwestern has.  Unlike other developments. Kleinman points out that at one meeting he attended, more than 20 HOA Presidents and representatives were present.

He also told me that in one correspondence, Laura Miller accused him of not being familiar with the Pink Wall neighborhood. Kleinman pointed out that Laura “grew up in Baltimore, went to school in Wisconsin and has lived most of her Dallas life in Oak Cliff.  On the other hand, I grew up in the District (Alta Vista and Leachman Circle), went to school in the District (Withers and St. Mark’s) and earned my MBA in Dallas at SMU.  I even live closer to the intersection than she does.”

There are about 1100 Dallas residents living Behind the Pink Wall, and about an equal number living in single family homes north of the area. Not all of the Pink Wall residents are anti the development, Kleinman told me. In the meeting he attended with Michael Jung, who is representing the Preston Hollow North Homeowners, Kleinman said homeowners voiced a laundry list of issues which he says he heard loud and clear including:

-Concerns about the higher views.

-Concerns about site views overlooking the single family homes behind the development.

-People hanging on the balconies of the new apartment (the developer agreed to create false balconies to remedy).

-Loading and unloading zones and resultant traffic snarls (the developer agreed to create a loading zone to accommodate moving, and Kleinman says the target market is a far less transient population).

-Parking for guests and employees of the apartment tenants (the city requires one parking space per bedroom, the developer is providing 1.25 parking spaces per bedroom in underground parking).

-The neighborhood wants no changes to MF1 zoning, which is a 10 foot back setback, and 15 foot front setback (the developer has offered a 25 or 30 foot setback on the side adjacent to the single family homes, which start on Del Norte).

-The neighborhood would prefer condos over rentals.

As a property owner in the area, full disclosure here, this is one of my top concerns. I would vastly prefer to see these as condominiums. But Kleinman told me that the city does not discern between properties for lease or for sale.

“The city just sees multi-family,” he says.

In fact, many of the condos behind the Pink Wall started as rental apartments built in 1955 that were converted to condominiums in the 1970’s and ’80’s. The corner of the 80 acres was owned by Hugh E.Prather, Jr. (who died in 2010) and was zoned retail, according to Ebby Halliday agent Pete Livingston, who knows the area better than just about anyone and who lives there. Prather also leased the now-demolished Lochwood shopping center in northeast Dallas and was one of the founders of the old Park Cities Bank and the Northwood Club. He developed everything from resort properties on Padre Island to high-rises on Turtle Creek in Dallas. He was the son of Hugh Prather Sr., who along with John Armstrong developed  Highland Park. After the city annexed Preston Hollow in 1946, Preston Hollow wanted no retail zoning north of Northwest Highway PERIOD. The City of Dallas promised Preston Hollow they would not change any existing zoning. In exchange, Prather got 80 acres of multi-family to give up that one corner of retail.

“The zoning allowed for hotel and apartment towers,” says Livingston. “They thought even of building a Stoneleigh-type hotel and Maple Terrace.”

In the 1955 the  apartments were built, then 10 years later Preston Tower was built. Going up high, says Livingston, is the only way to preserve the green-space and tall trees in the neighborhood.

Kleinman told me he understands the homeowner’s concerns over increased traffic any high-density complex might add to their neighborhood — it is, he said, the most credible issue. And he wants to get a traffic study done in order to have factual evidence.

“It’s hard to tell where traffic is coming from on Northwest Highway,” he says. “How much of it is a spill-over from people avoiding LBJ now because of the construction? ”

Good question. And how much more traffic would Northwest Highway get if we were to proceed with plans to tear out Interstate 345 closer to downtown? Northwest Highway has all but become the cross-town expressway for Dallas.

As Goldstein reported, Jennifer Gates got her email correspondence from Miller, took it to the City Attorney’s office, and then did not respond.

“The City Attorney and Jennifer had a confidential conversation,” says Kleinman. “My understanding of what went on in that conversation is that she was advised not to respond. Bottom line is that Jennifer Gates is not going to get involved.”

Kleinman also told me that the city was looking into ways to improve the Preston/Northwest Highway intersection. The traffic light in Preston Center south of Northwest Highway (in front of the retail) is controlled by University Park and could be better synchronized with the city of Dallas-controlled traffic lights to the north. Transwestern has also offered to add an extra turn lane on Preston southbound.

Laura Miller and her husband, Steve Wolens, live on South Dentwood in Old Preston Hollow in an 8500 square foot home they bought in November of 2002 from Tomima Edmark, creator of the Topsy Tail. Previously, they lived on Lausanne in Kessler Park. They paid $4 million-plus for South Dentwood. The house was built in 1952, sits on 2.08 acres, and has three stories, including a basement with living quarters. DCAD calls it at $3,736,710. I heard that the former mayor wrote an I-want-to-buy-your-house letter to Tomima, Dentwood never was in MLS. Tomima had split with hubby Stephen Polley a while back, and she got the house. At one point Laura and Steve fancied a home on Audubon Place, and later, the Frank Lloyd Wright house. What that tells us: they want and like their green acres.

If you take a look at the (currently) 57 comments generated by Goldstein’s blog, most are anti Laura Miller, who many blame with Dallas losing desperately needed revenue from Cowboy Stadium to Arlington. This was one of the more telling comments when you look at the area from an outsider’s perspective:

 “Has anyone noticed that there is the Athena and at least one other high rise less than 400 yards from the tract in question to the east on Northwest Highway? I do not understand why these folks in Preston Hallow are so bent out of shape since high rises have fronted the north side of Northwest Highway west of Hillcrest and east of Preston since the 1970s. Anyway, if you want to avoid high rises you probably need to move to Bonham!”

Here is Laura Miller’s email to Jennifer Gates:

Councilwoman Gates,

 

On March 25, 13 neighborhood associations in your district — plus six current and former elected officials — sent a letter to Councilman Lee Kleinman requesting that he host a public meeting to discuss Transwestern’s zoning request at the NE corner of Preston and Northwest Highway (a copy of the letter is attached). I understand that you asked Councilman Kleinman to handle this zoning request on your behalf due to a conflict of interest. There are now 20 HOAs trying to learn more about the impact that this project would have on our neighborhoods. In the letter, we specifically asked Councilman Kleinman to hold the public meeting before Transwestern files a case so that we can hear from the developer directly and, at the same time, give feedback in real time to the Councilman, your Plan Commissioner Margot Murphy, and Transwestern.

 

When Councilman Kleinman did not respond to the letter, I emailed him last Thursday 4/3/14 to follow up on the request. His response made it clear that he would not host a public meeting before a zoning case is filed. He also did not commit to holding a meeting after a case is filed. I emailed back the same day, asking him to please reconsider. He did not respond. It is particularly disappointing since his prior email correspondence on this issue, quoted below, makes it appear likely that he is meeting with the developer pre-application but not with area homeowners. The email thread is below.

 

While we appreciate your openness and availability on the 29-story Highland House tower proposal, there is no advocate or sounding board in the Transwestern case.

 

Therefore, former Councilman Mitchell Rasansky and I respectfully request that you replace Councilman Kleinman with a colleague who is more willing to meet with your constituents — hopefully before the application is filed. There is much at stake here for our neighborhoods but no elected official to talk to. You are unavailable, and your proxy is unwilling.

 

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Thank you,
Laura Miller

 

6 Comment

  • To say that the developer has offered to add more setback than is required by current zoning is deceptive. There is a “residential proximity slope” that is designed to keep tall multi-family or commercial buildings from dwarfing and overlooking residential lots. The current residential proximity slope is a mathematical formula that is essentially based on a 1 to 3 ratio – for every 1 foot you want to go up, you have to go 3 feet back. Essentially, what it would currently allow is a two story multi-family unit next to residential that could only become 3 stories several feet back from that. The developers are proposing a three story unit beginning 25 or 30 feet from the residential neighborhood, which would be in violation of the existing residential proximity slope.

  • I understand the NIMBY’s and the traffic arguments. But one just needs to look at the lagging price per square foot numbers behind the Pink Wall compared the Preston Hollow and University Park. It’s time for change and renewal, behind the Pink Wall as well. Maybe not this proposal, but while UP, HP and PH have torn down 2750s.f. homes and replaced them with 6500s.f. homes, a simialr formula needs to take place behind the PW for it to have a chance to avoid continued decline and stagnation.

    • Couldn’t agree more. How about truly walkable mixed use? A medical office on the corner and 2-3 story brownstones? Something like that, everyone could get behind. While we are at it, how about a pedestrian bridge over NW Hwy?

  • A planned mixed use development would be great, but that would require a huge capital investment along the order of what they are doing at Midtown. You’d have to buy up every single unit, garden apartments all the way to Edelman’s ugly Drexel. Won’t happen. I’m afraid if this developer gets shoved out of the picture, few, if any, will come back and risk crossing the VIP’s.

  • I say the taller the better, the more the merrier and the progressive city of Dallas accepts it’s international edge. We need to make a new community on this corner and if done right it will include the best of best, maximum pedestrian green space and a pedestrian corridor to university park. 8 stories on the transwestern site would allow much more green buffering and parks. At this location the trees for miles around are 60 to 100 years old. No one will be able to see anything and this 6 lane and 6 lane corner of Main and Main, adjacent to two major north south road ways, is the place for density. Pink wall property owners should want no less than the densest zoning that is amenable to this most viable multi-family residential property in the city. Hail to progressive city leaders and Pink Wall property owners. Step back curious Preston Hollow single family owners who have no standing. This is progress that city and citizens of Dallas desparately need. 100 million in tax value needs to become 1 billion! The master plan needed is for the intersection, not the land that surrounds. Towers have been OK here since 1946, it is time go to the next level.