Highland House Town Hall Meeting Was Timely, Informative, Civil… Except for a Certain Ex-Mayor

HH Aerial Preston CenterUpdate, 12:05 pm: Susan Cox verified her information on Mark Cuban’s 5 parcels of land, his 8.681 acres at Preston and Northwest Highway — they are NOT zoned commercial as she had been told. They are still residential.

Update, 10:48 am: I’ve added the names & titles of scheduled speakers as provided by Jennifer Gates’ office.

Let me tell you, Jennifer Gates knows how to hold a Town Hall meeting. Give her an A+. First, she snagged a great big room at Northway Christian Church with about 300 comfortable seats to hold a crowd. The parking lot was full, and I counted roughly 150 bottoms in chairs. She had an agenda and speakers. She had police. She answered everyone’s question patiently, moved speakers with grace, and got everyone out on time. My favorite part was when she said at the end, (something to the effect of) she wasn’t going to say no to something without some research and discussion, and input from her constituents.

“I’m all about transparency and listening. But I work for you.”

The only one who spoke for an unduly long amount of time was former mayor Laura Miller. More on her in a bit.

The takeaway consensus was best summarized by a dentist at the meeting who actually offices in the building where Crosland Development wants to build a luxury apartment residence high rise:

-The building is in poor shape and needs to go

-There are not 1666 people a day using 8215 Westchester currently as the developer claims

-A residential property development would be most welcome in Preston Center

-The City of Dallas should do its own traffic study (“like Laura Miller said”)

-The proposed development is too tall, too big, too dense in it’s current state.

The meeting opened with a nice presentation by the Highland Park Independent School District, basically a longer version of what I posted yesterday. Then came the TxDOT guy, whose name I couldn’t catch and whose information few of us heard due to his accent. Preston Road and Northwest Highway are state highways, hence they come under TxDOT. University Park owns Preston south of Northwest Highway. And they control the traffic lights, which as I have mentioned are not in sync with Dallas owned lights at Preston and Northwest Highway. Jennifer Gates is working on that. There is a massive improvement project of Northwest Highway underway, from Harry Hines to Midway, then from Midway to Central (75). Nothing’s being widened, but the street will be made more efficient, with more lights and possibly more turn lanes and intersections. In 2010 there were 56,000 vehicles a day on Northwest Highway. They had a huge, long drawing detailing the improvements — I’ve asked for a copy to post here. I will also try and get hold of the TxDOT guy because he had to leave and we couldn’t correll him after for questions, and he seems to be most interesting.

Then the developer spoke, Rick Williamson for Crosland, and basically thoroughly outlined the plans for the building, just as I have reported. He explained how they have used drones to photograph site views and the privacy of the homes bordering Preston Center will be intact.

Jennifer took a little poll of all there — 3 stood up from University Park (I think there were more, they just didn’t stand) whereas most were from District 13. Questions that had been emailed were answered — no, this building could not be approved as DISD instead of HPISD; in the development process the city checks to make sure there’s enough water, electrical, and infrastructure to support it and not negatively impact the area. Rick said they had to replace sewers in Oak Lawn, at their expense, at Crosland’ ilume development. People are concerned about enough water and electricity — someone said in Devonshire they call Oncor “On and Off Again Cor.”

Then the speakers came up. Each as to have 3 minutes. First was Claire Stanard, who was clearly in favor of the project. I liked when she called Preston Center an urban pocket.

“As much as I am against the Transwestern project,” she said, Claire lives Behind the Pink Wall, ” I am for this project.”

Then came Laura Miller. I found it interesting how she managed to skillfully insert herself into (and give herself credit for) the origin of the Town Hall meeting, as if she had prompted Jennifer Gates to have it. As if Jennifer Gates would have spent the time getting a manicure or something had Laura not prompted her. Throughout her whole speech, way more than 3 minute, I felt as if she felt she was still back at City Hall and in control, the puppeteer pulling the puppets’ strings. She said Jennifer “promised her this month she would have a meeting”, and for that, Laura thanked her. So nice. Oh and it was Laura who alerted Steve Brown at the Dallas Morning News to write about this. Because NOBODY WAS WRITING ABOUT THIS. Says she called him. “Don’t you think a 29 story tower in Preston Center is news?” she says she told Brown? Then  she gave some “history of the development” which got every reporter in the room  — the Dallas Morning News, the Advocate, moi — scribbling. She talked about a lawsuit when Mitchell Ransansky had the City of Dallas sue the owners of that icky parking garage in the middle of Preston Center. From what I understand, that parking garage is owned by the businesses surrounding it, who are responsible for maintaining it, including Crosland Development through a quit claim deed of ownership going way back to the original owners of Preston Center. Mitchell Rasansky wanted to sell it or something, we must get our hands on that lawsuit. I think the City lost, but don’t quote me yet.

Laura basically made it sound as if Luke Crosland had been a crouching tiger waiting for years to pounce on the first unsuspecting City Council member who would let him pull the wool over everyone’s eyes! In so many of Laura’s words: Luke Crosland, the developer, came to Mitchell Rasansky when the project was to be where the current HopDaddy’s is. It was then a 14 to 16 story unit. Mitchell said no, don’t file it, I’ll oppose it. Then Ann Margolin took over Mitchell’s district, and she said no. Wow, so many “no’s”, I had no idea and I own property in this district! Then as soon as Luke heard that Margolin was not going to run, says Laura, he filed. POUNCE!

“All of us who live in this area were not told about this,” she said. Really? Since when does Laura Miller live in the area. She lives at 5335 Dentwood, 2 miles away, on 2.08 acres. Oh yeah. She and her husband also own a unit at The Athena, a high rise, presumably a rental.

There was not adequate signage, she said, the developer did not post the appropriate zoning change sign. Funny, I saw it the day I took a photo of 8215 Westchester. Laura insinuated the developers were trying to hide something. When I went out to take photos for my April 4th post, the local postman gave me the whole rundown on the building — who the developer was, the re-zoning, the two sisters who own it.

Laura, you just have to talk to the postmen, the real people. They know everything.

She said the first she heard of this project was when Lee Kleinman called her and asked, why are you opposing the Transwestern deal when you have a much bigger development going up across the street?

(In fact, Lee Kleinman told me he called her back because she had contacted him first, meddling in the Transwestern project, asking Jennifer Gates to appoint a proxy to replace Lee– remember?)

Laura did not mention the secret meeting her husband and Mitchell Rasansky had at The Athena on April 3, a sort of hand-wringing session to plot ways to stop all the big bad developers. The developers were not invited to that meeting. Neither was I, a homeowner on Averill Way.  According to someone at that meeting, Rasansky said traffic has been devastating to Dallas, and that if we search all the public parks, we will never find a monument to developers.

Then Laura said  — to the “wows” of the crowd — “the building you are asking for is as tall as the Hyatt Regency!” (Dying to hear rebuttal on this one.)

She didn’t like, didn’t trust the traffic study done by a 50 year old firm hired by the developer.

“I’ve never seen a traffic study done by a developer that wasn’t wonderful” she said, and got applause. She called for an independent traffic study by the City of Dallas. I hope it’s not like the study they just did on the gates at Love Field. She really should have stopped there. But then she said that Jennifer Gates really ought to open up the 1989 PD — planned development – that was put in place and may have led to this mess. Um, that meant that she, Laura Miller may have contributed to the mess during her tenure, which she admitted: every City Council member contributed to the problems, she said; the area has horrific traffic.

Recall that Laura Miller and Steve Wolens moved to their Preston Hollow mansion after living on Lausanne in Oak Cliff, a move they tried to keep hush.

She said we need to open up the PD and see what’s there now and what we want to see here in the future. In other words, have a re-do, a mulligan, with input from current property owners. We as in Laura Miller, who lives on Dentwood. And she called for a moratorium on all re-zoning cases around Preston Center until the city conducts a study of the area and its special challenges.

“Preston Center needs a lot of help,” Miller says. “What I’m asking is for Councilmember Gates and Commissioner [Margo] Murphy to please request that the CPC open up the two PDs and do a study of what’s there now and what can be there in the future.”

I may be wrong, but that PD is a done deal. The City Councilperson cannot control or “open up” what the developers et al put in place years ago. Laura urged that the current zoning be honored — to which she received applause.

“I know change is coming to Preston Center, but it must be change that is controlled,” she said firmly. “I recommend denial.”

To which she received a (partial) standing ovation.

More speakers came forward — none spoke as long or negative as Laura. One,  Edward Terry haines, a developer, spoke in complete support of the development but called the traffic in the area a “level F.” “We cannot continue to just say no!” said he, a Terry Mannings, I believe. Traffic has been an issue at Preston and Northwest Highway for 20 years, he said, we need to make a plan, make City hall get it fixed. We need a $100 million project in Preston Center. Then the president of the Preston Hollow East HOA Ann Beytagh spoke, talking about their concerns and the dynamic nature of this corner. The new Energy Transfer Building to the south of the proposed development will hold 1,000 employees. We have to think of Preston Hollow Village, the Provident project at Walnut Hill and Central with a Trader Joe’s. Twelve story apartments for seniors are coming at Central and Northwest Highway, and soon the Park Cities Y will be temporarily housed in Preston Center while they rebuild. Oh yes, don’t forget increased traffic at Love Field.

(God, this place is a hotbed!)

Her recommendation was to keep current zoning in place or a “thoughtful plan” for a change. She opposed piecemeal changes.

Next up, president of the Inwood Neighborhood Association Catherine Taylor : “we are suffering from a lack of adequate preparation, we need to take care of the problems we have before we approve any new development.”

Then up, the originator of the petition, UP resident Jill Fawcett . Her concern was the increased traffic overflow to University Park where kids ride bikes and play in the streets and on sidewalks. She was worried about safety issues and the apartment dwellers looking in her backyard even though Rick had shown a drone photo indicating no homes or yards could be seen from the windows. I think the nearest house is 1400 feet away. “I’m not convinced by a drone of the privacy,” she said. OK.

Then Paul Lee, from Devonshire, pro-development, a former HPISD trustee and Preston center tenant. Supportive of the development except “I would encourage Crosland to compromise on height, make it less than 26 stories tall.” A few other people spoke, audience questions were answered, and Joe Willingham (forgive if wrong), a property owner in Preston Center, said that progress in Preston Center was held back because of the lawsuit the City of Dallas filed against them. It just impeded progress. Now, Trammell Crow owns the old Sanger Harris/Foleys property currently loaded with Ross, Marshalls, and the beauty shops. Aside: I have heard a Central Market may be part of Trammell Crow’s plans for that building.Preston Pavilion

Jennifer explained the traffic light situation, a TIFF was discussed so the area could be guaranteed to benefit from the increase in property taxes Highland House would bring. It wound down when the dentist who actually works in 8215 Westchester spoke and basically summarized what most everyone felt. And then it ended. A very thoughtful group, respectful, civil. Every Town Hall meeting should be so mature, but then, this could be a reflection of Jennifer Gate’s calm spirit and the caliber of people who live in District 13.

I did notice something a little weird. I was sitting in the back. After Laura Miller spoke, and after most of the scheduled speakers, about two rows of people (ladies, mostly) got up to leave. I dont know if they had a scheduled basketball game, but I wondered if they weren’t maybe applause plants? In talking to people afterwards, the general feeling was that Laura Miller had been rather rude. Someone speculated she may be looking to get back into politics.

“I did not appreciate her cheap shots,” said Cliff Cary who lives at Imperial House. “She was very insulting to the integrity of the developer and the traffic engineer.”

Susan Cox, who had taken the body count of 8216 Westchester for the petition peeps, told me she was very concerned over this development and the increased traffic it would bring. She only learned of it March 31, about the time I did and posted (April 4).

“They didn’t have the zoning signs up, either, ” she said. Her beefs: the height, density, and too much traffic. Jim Gilliand says he also resented the intrusion of Laura Miller into the process and her negative attitude towards the developer.

“I think we are fairly represented now,” he said, nodding his head to Jennifer Gates. “Mitchell Rasansky was all about no and no.”

Then I chatted a bit with Susan Cox, the building count poll taker, over what was really scaring the beejesus out of everyone: Mark Cuban. He owns property, she said, and it is zoned commercial, and he is going to develop it, she said (so many words). No, said Jennifer, his property is zoned residential and that’s tough to crack. No, said Susan, it’s commercial. She tried to show us where she had gotten the information, then said it came from a commercial developer. But she had no proof in her hands.

“Well, trust me, I have no problem saying no to Mark Cuban,” said Jennifer, with a smile.

To be continued…

7 Comment

  • mm

    What a fascinating read! And yes, there’s tons of new projects going up that we really need an aerial map of all the new residential and commercial work going up between 75 and the Dallas North Tollway on Northwest Highway. I was just on Northwest Highway on Monday at rush hour in the rain and it was just terrible. One accident turns the huge six-lane thoroughfare into a parking lot!

  • This is great info. When I was a resident behind the pink wall in mid-90s, I saw the need for a cloverleaf at Preston/NW Hwy. Since that time, Preston Center has continued to attract more restaurants and tenants and therefore, more traffic. Long-term vision is needed for the area but it will take enduring necessary roadway construction and building construction in the short-term. As a parent traversing the area daily to get my child to and from Christ the King school, dodging the construction trucks associated with the new firehouse at Douglas/NW Hwy (By the way, can anyone tell me why that project has taken so long?) as well as those associated with the new building on Weldon Howell, has required more defensive driving skills and patience. Though everyone will not be happy, compromise will be key.

  • Last night’s Town Hall Meeting was well attended and well organized. I too thank Jennifer Gates and her office. The comments made by former Mayor Laura Miller were legitimate concerns and opinions of a nearby resident and after she spoke, she received thunderous applause and a standing ovation…the only speaker to receive such applause.

    As a home-owner living near Preston Center, my street is inundated with high speed “cut-thru” traffic during peak traffic hours. Other neighbors living closer to Northwest Hwy are experiencing the same problem. Though the developer contends that his project will reduce traffic from what the current medical building contributes, the facts prove otherwise. The proposed “Highland House” traffic would likely be double that of the Doctors Building.

    With the completion of the mammoth Preston Hollow Village, the completion of the new office building in Preston Center West and the newly announced Buckner twin tower 300 unit high-rise project, those living in Devonshire, Preston Hollow, Lane Park, The Meadows, The Pink Wall, etc., need to carefully consider the impact of yet another dense development into the area!

  • Thank you for recap and keeping us informed.

    Why can’t anyone provide clear next steps on traffic solutions?
    It’s a roundabout of discussion with signs pointing in different directions.
    Fix it!

    That seems to be everyone’s current frustrations and biggest fear of additional development.
    How ridiculous that it takes 20 minutes to travel less than a mile during peak and sometimes non-peak times. It doesn’t matter what direction your traveling . . .

    Well gots to go and looking forward to my 20 minute commute to home less than a mile away. Guaranteed to hit traffic . . . and forgive me as I drive like a NY cabby and take short cuts through side streets and cut people off.

  • Correction be noted that Catherine Taylor is Vice-President of the Inwood Northwest HOA.
    The meeting at the Athena on April 3 was for local area HOA representatives and Councilwoman Gates and Plan Commissioner Murphy were in attendance.