True confessions here: I did not get to Thursday’s meeting at six, since I thought it started at seven and had a commitment. Thankfully, Eric Nicholson from the Dallas Observer was there, and I am going to turn most of this post over to him to tell us what went down. I saw Laura Miller chatting with Jennifer Gates afterwards, looking oh so serious. (Eric says she was taking furious notes.) I saw Mitchell Rasansky come out of the meeting. Do former city councilmen and Mayors dabble in local politics forever? Obviously they are no longer getting paid, so who needs that pay raise Proposition 8? I spoke to people at the meeting who told me (as Eric indicated) that a small group grilled Jennifer Gates, almost insisting that she had an agenda of some sort.
Only one member of the audience truly grilled Gates on development in and around Preston Center, trying unsuccessfully to goad her into either pledging to defend the status quo or, conversely, to lure her into admitting she was gung ho for more development.
She assured them she did/was not. Michael Morris spoke. He is the transportation planner from the North Central Texas Council of Governments/urbanist bogeyman as Eric calls him, who’s in control of the purse strings. He’s the guy who everyone downtown is stoning for his support of a Trinity Tollroad. I was glad to meet him afterwards, and we are scheduling a sit down interview. He pledged $200,000 to $300,000 for a master plan of Preston Center, roughly half the cost. Eric says Gates is pretty sure she can “cobble together funds from the neighborhood’s well-resourced neighborhood groups.” I would call them well-heeled: they can afford to hire pricey attorneys to fight redevelopment they can maybe cough up funds for a study and plan to improve traffic. Morris told me after the meeting that Dallas traffic is inter-related: folks use Northwest Highway as a cross-town expressway (my words) because there is nothing downtown that moves without super congestion. As you know, there is talk of closing down those highways to create more downtown neighborhoods. And WALKABILITY! When they drive, people take the path of least resistance. I know we are all supposed to be walking, but that’s hard to do when you live in, say, Irving. Morris would like to see, maybe, a bridge over Northwest Highway to connect the neighborhood to Preston Center so they could walk. That would be wonderful: other day I almost had a wreck watching a woman cross that treacherous street with two dogs in tow and I was so worried she’d get hit I froze.
Morris used Garland Road as an example of what he envisions. Back in the day, 70 to 90 percent of the cars using it were passing through to Garland. With the construction of LBJ Freeway, among other projects, the situation flipped, with 70 to 90 percent of trips being local.
My first, brief impressions of the bogeyman was that he was a pretty nice guy who might understand that all Dallas traffic is inter-related. So the take-aways for you from the meeting, as so well chronicled by Eric, and from my post-mortem convos with residents who attended: – Parts of Preston Center are choked with traffic and pretty dumpy given the wealthy demographics that surround it — some of the highest net worth individuals in the country. No duh. From comments, I think some people like it that way. – The study will take a year and a half to produce a master plan for the area to guide development, the whole purpose of this exercise. Do we want apartments in Preston Center? (We already have the Shelton, condos, remember.) Does Mark Cuban want to build a commercial complex next to Ebby Halliday’s Little White House? I swear that man has half of Preston Hollow on Prozac. Should another developer dare to explore a purchase there, should the condos Behind the Pink Wall rise up more than the 3 stories they are zoned for? -I heard there are a couple of lawsuits pending at The Imperial House over the movement there to sell those units for re-development, they being right on Northwest Highway and buffered from the single family homes two blocks south. -Some folks think a small group of loud residents are hindering progress in this area. -Folks who supported the Transwestern deal Behind the Pink Wall felt almost threatened or bullied at some point to speak their mind. -Could the Pink Wall become another Vickery? If the neighbors keep it from re-development, they may find themselves with a slum in their backyard instead of 4 or 5 story apartments. – That God-awful traffic light at Northwest Highway and Preston:
The only sure-fire remedy is to upgrade the signals, which will be a challenge as Dallas has a long list of dire infrastructure needs that trump a single set of stoplights in Preston Hollow and is unlikely to cough up any cash before the next bond program.
Again I ask: why are we even considering a City Council raise when we cannot afford to fix our streets and traffic lights? That’s like me buying a Birkin handbag when my roof is caving in. Gates has created seven geographic zones (Zone 1 is Preston Center; 4 is the condos behind the pink wall; the rest are the single-family neighborhoods). Each zone will elect a pair of representatives to form a task force to guide transportation, land-use planning, competitive bids, basically the fate of the whole area. Interestingly, and I hope you can see it on the map, area 7 was stretched out to include Laura Miller’s residence. How much do you want to bet she will be on that task force? To be continued, and if you were there I’d love your take. PS: Always take Douglas north to cross Northwest Highway, then go right on Park Lane. PPS: If we think this is a bad intersection, check out Beltline & Preston.