Crow Holdings Wants to Build a Skybridge From the New Tom Thumb to That Preston Center Parking Lot

Preston Center parking garage

Update: Just got word that Margot Murphy, City Councilwoman Gates’ planning commissioner, will hold this item until mid January. Letter to Jennifer Gates attached below.

This is one of those stories that makes me love what I do ever so much more. The Preston Center real estate saga continues only — please do grab your seat — now Rick Williamson, president of the Crosland Group, is on the same team with former Mayor Laura Miller.

Yep, the two are really working together.

You may recall that the Crosland folks credited Ms. Miller with single handedly destroying their plans for a luxury apartment tower in Preston Center called Highland House.

What in the world could bring about this union? Crow Holdings, who purchased The Pavillion at Berkshire and Westchester, backing onto Douglas, last December. The company wants to build a dang SKYBRIDGE connecting that old double decker parking lot in the middle of Preston Center West to their property. Why? The folks doing the leasing, Lincoln Properties, are negotiating for a 50,000 square foot,  tw0-story Tom Thumb  — I think we told you this — and Tom Thumb apparently wants to give shoppers easy access to that second story parking garage with grocery carts.

Whoa, I thought all development was on hold at Preston Center pending a master plan land use study that Dallas City Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates is pursuing?

Last spring we told you oh so much about the efforts of the Crosland Group to build a (at first) 29 story luxury apartment tower in the heart of Preston Center to be called The Highland House. The site was proposed for 8215 Westchester Drive, an aging, two-story medical office building. The city and the Plan Commission planned to hear the case  April 17th, but that never happened. Instead there was a groundswell of opposition. Most came from Laura Miller and a bevy of citizens concerned over increased traffic and congestion, but a lot came from Park Cities parents who feared an onslaught of divorced families enrolling their kiddos in HPISD.

Then there was the Transwestern project at the intersection of Preston and Northwest Highway, RIP. A huge swath of neighbors opposed this plan to demolish 12 aging dowager townhomes and the Preston Center Apartments, and replace them all with luxury apartments. The surrounding neighborhood, from the acre plus estates west of Preston to the McMansions and ranches east of it, were in strict opposition: Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, Rachofsky, Lisa Blue, you name it. Transwestern dropped that project like a hot potato after owners of the town-homes and the complex could not agree on a lesser price — it was rumored that each Townhome was going to net a million bucks — once Transwestern had lowered its density to satisfy the neighborhood.

So now we have a potential Tom Thumb where Marshalls, Ross, and a suite of beauty salons exists. That space used to be Foleys, who bought out Sanger Harris, which offered an old-fashioned, small-town department store shopping experience. Was one of the most convenient stores when it existed.

Which reminds me: that building has a great parking garage right behind it. It’s three stories and always has space. Why does Tom Thumb need a skybridge across Berkshire to the Preston Center garage?

About that garage: it is owned by the City of Dallas, but the 70 plus owners of the properties surrounding it, all have deeded rights to its use.  That includes Luke Crosland. The owners, known as the Preston Center West Corp., have to maintain the garage. With so many owners it might be hard to achieve any drastic development or improvements on the thing — Luke Crosland once wanted to build a Niketown there when that was the hot shop du jour, then a movie theater, then high-end stores. Later he tried to build an apartment tower and a Marriott. Preston Center West is, to Crosland (and I concur), a mess, as he told Eric Nicholson of The Dallas Observer — poor Rick Williamson was even hit by a car on the streets:

It’s a disgrace, Crosland mutters with a mournful shake of the head. Here, Preston Hollow and the Park Cities converge with two of Dallas’ busiest streets and the bustling Dallas North Tollway to form an unimaginably rich vein of real estate wealth. There should be an appropriately upscale mix of shops, offices and apartments. Instead, he says, there’s a strip center better suited to Des Moines.

Actually, no, that’s not fair. A U.S. capital, even Iowa’s, is too generous a comparison. Peoria, he decides. Preston Center is like something from Peoria.

Well, now it’s going to be Peoria with a little Peachtree Plaza thrown in, with a skybridge to get foggy when it rains, strewn with grocery carts IF the City grants Crow Holdings a Special Use Permit (SUP) to build it. According to preliminary reports, City staff is recommending approval.

“It is anticipated this additional infrastructure will facilitate a safe and efficient means of allowing patrons who utilize the garage to traverse across the street in a safe and efficient manner, as well as ensuring vehicular movements are not impacted by the proposed grocery store (allowed by right),” they write in zoning documents. And have no fear about the span’s aesthetics and safety; staff notes that Crow will be required to comply with no fewer than 19 provisions of Dallas’ code that apply specifically to skybridges.”

 Here is what I do not understand: we cannot build an apartment complex because that will bring about more traffic and congestion, even though people tend to come to their homes and stay. But we can build a 50,000 square foot Tom Thumb that will bring about an estimated 6000 car trips a day?  Don’t get me wrong, I love the place, but this whole scenario seems a little ODD.

“Let me tell you, if the city allows a skybridge to be built over a city road, it is going to be really hard to take it down,” Laura Miller told me. She is also concerned that the addition of a skybridge, even if temporary, could severely affect a major redo of that parking garage, which almost everyone, including Miller, agrees is an eyesore.

Rick Williamson agrees.

Truck at Preston center

Will trucks squeeze under the proposed skybridge?

“If it’s not a revocable lease, it is a HUGE deal because it will make it way more difficult to ever do any improvement to the parking garage,” he says. “Effectively it stops development. How can you initiate development when you have someone who has a right to a walkway?”

Reportedly, the City is considering a revocable lease: he who giveth can taketh back.

How do developers even obtain a skybridge  walkway? They sign a lease with the city for use of the air rights, and pay rent.

So surprise surprise, all control is in the hands of Dallas City Hall. If Crow Holdings is asking for special permission and access for a grocery store, perhaps the city should also ask them for a traffic and circulation study of the neighborhood. Mind you, the grocery store can still go in under the current zoning, but sources tell me that apparently the skybridge is a deal-breaker for the Tom Thumb lease.  Without the bridge, Preston Center might have a world-class PetsMart  — Purina instead of pate.

There’s more. Apparently Crow wants to limit the amount of time people can park on the second level of the deck —  police cars and ticket people who violate the time limit designated area for grocery store parking. I wonder how that will fly with the deeded rights of the Preston Center West Corp? This could all get tied up in court. Oy.

If you read the application, Crow says they want to “increase the underutilized second level of parking deck.” Doesn’t look underutilized to me. The top level is pretty full during the day — this photo was taken on December 12, a Friday. Most people who park on this level are employees who work in Preston Center businesses.

But again I ask? Crow has a perfectly wonderful parking garage behind Foleys/Marshalls/Tom Thumb that dumps out to Douglas.

“The skybridge to the city’s lot may be cheaper than improving their parking lot,” said Laura Miller.

The city may also be eyeing tax revenue from capturing sales taxes on Tom Thumb purchases that used to be dumped in the coffers of Highland Park from the Highland Park Village store.

Another wrinkle: if property owners lose parking spaces in the re-striping of the top deck of the lot, they could also lose what is called their Delta parking credits. Delta credits are the difference between what’s required by code and what’s required by zoning because of the shared use of the deck.

Last Thursday, Crow Holdings met with the Preston Center West Corp. in a “private” meeting. Rick Williamson and the Crosland folks were not invited.

Will Laura Miller’s presence, this time on the same side as her former opponents, influence City Hall? Some reporters gave her a whole lot of credit for killing Highland House, and even the Transwestern deal. Dallas Plan Commissioner Bobby Abtahi had said that he regretted that the two developments couldn’t reach a compromise with neighbors. Saying the area is prime for walkability, he also said “Miller’s involvement in the Highland House case influenced the Plan Commission’s deliberations, but no more than any other citizen who knows how to work the system.”

“I don’t think that her position and former position in the city was as important as the fact that she prepared,” he says.

She is prepared again, now working with the same people whose development she opposed just a few months ago.

“You and I were both at that meeting (Oct. 30) where Jennifer Gates very clearly stated to all of us there that she did not support any further changes in Preston Center for the zoning process until the master plan is complete,” Miller told me. “And here we are all now finally coming together to really map out a future for that part of Preston Center, then this,”

It’s a rare kumbaya moment, the likes of which are few and far between in the real estate biz. Don’t touch that dial!

 

Letter to Jennifer Gates