It’s showtime: the case to rezone a critical portion of Preston Hollow to accommodate 220 luxury apartments at Preston & Northwest Highway heads to the Dallas Plan Commission and the City Council this week. Here is a video from the developer, Transwestern, narrated by Sarah Dodd, describing the development, the neighborhood, and all the stuff we have been reporting to you the last few weeks.
Of course, once the case is filed with the city, it could take weeks to have it scheduled at a City Council meeting, where supporters and opponents can speak. Homeowners have hired seasoned land use and infrastructure attorney P. Michael Jung to represent the neighborhood united behind the “No” signs. Mr. Jung declined to tell me who is paying his fee, but a recent memo circulating behind the Pink Wall indicated that homeowners were asked to contribute if they liked. I have been told that Howard Rachofsky was covering most of it.
Preston Hollow homeowners who have single family homes north of the area say they will fight to keep anything built on the property within current zoning. That is, three stories.
Their concerns: the project’s density will compound traffic woes at what is already one of the busiest intersections in North Dallas. And neighbors who live in close proximity to the proposed development say they do not want six stories, or a high rise, in their backyard.
The developer, Transwestern, says it’s addressing neighbors’ traffic and height concerns. As we have reported here for several weeks, the developer originally proposed an eight-story complex of 300 apartments. Then they scaled it back to six stories and 220 units.
Transwestern also now says it’s willing to provide land for a new right-turn lane from westbound Northwest Highway onto northbound Preston. The land value for that tiny space is $300,000, they say. (Yikes!) It has pledged $150,000 to $200,000 for a left turn lane off southbound Preston onto Averill Way, the street that connects to Pickwick and dead ends at Preston Tower.
Finances are usually why developers ask for more height.
Developers have certain formulas they need to meet in order to please investors, who supply the investment dollars and expect returns. Current zoning would allow apartment buildings or condos of up to three stories. The city makes no distinction between apartments or condominiums, it only sees multi-family.
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.”
At three stories, the developer says it could only build up to 130 apartments. And that would limit green space, probably mean trees mowed down and near complete coverage of the three acres.
The Texas Department of Transportation apparently has plans to improve the intersection of Northwest Highway and Preston. Traffic lights in Dallas, which operates the stop lights, are not synchronized with traffic lights in University Park. That’s why you often have cars backed up on Northwest Highway during high traffic times, when the light turns red. As City Councilman Lee Kleinman pointed out, too, Northwest Highway is currently absorbing a lot of traffic from drivers avoiding LBJ’s construction mess. TXDOT is evaluating the Transwestern offer.
Former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and former City Council member Mitchell Rasansky, who left his office in 2009 because of term limits, have also become involved in the Transwestern case. Many are wondering why. Laura Miller lives on Dentwood, 1.5 miles away, but her husband owns a unit at the Athena, one of two high-rises in the area that were built in the 1960’s.
In a letter written on March 25 initiated by Rasansky and Miller, and signed by a host of political VIPs, Miller asked council member Lee Kleinman to call (another) public meeting. Then she asked Jennifer Gates to replace Kleinman, who is Gates proxy due to a conflict of interest ( her father and husband are executives with Jones Lang LaSalle, who is representing the property sellers in the deal) asking her to appoint someone who is MORE willing to listen to the homeowners: Kleinman, who says he is way more familiar with the area than Miller, says he has met with home owners 6 times. Jennifer Gates did not respond to Laura Miller’s demands, presumably on the advice of the Dallas city attorney.