CD Exclusive: Transwestern is BACK at Preston and Northwest Highway: Lower Density, Seeking Neighborhood Support

New Transwestern rendering Preston Rd

Proposed luxury apartments at Preston & Northwest Highway, northeastern view

Surely you recall last year’s Behind the Pink Wall ordeals where Transwestern tried to buy out  a group of homeowners — Town House Row, Preston Center Apartments — to build luxury apartments on a glorious slab of real estate dirt at the corner of Northwest Highway and Preston Road? Recall how homeowners hired P. Michael Jung to fight this? Things got a little political when the City Councilwoman for the neighborhood, Jennifer Staubach Gates, had to recuse herself because her husband works for Jone Lang LaSalle, who were involved, but Lee Kleinman stepped in for her.

Well, Transwestern is back, but this time it’s a different approach. After many months, meetings and media coverage, Transwestern has listened to the neighborhood. And is listening still: I’m told the first call Mark Culwell made was to Ashley Parks, who lives at the intersection of Del Norte and Preston Road. They still want to re-develop the property, but they have scaled their plans way down after getting neighborhood input on what they want. Transwestern is now asking for ONE ZONING CHANGE on about HALF the property.

Honestly, if I link to all the stories we wrote on this topic, this post would be nothing but links. The owners of Town House Row, a cluster of 12 1950’s era townhomes, consolidated to market themselves to a developer. Their broker found an interested buyer in Transwestern, who then reached out to the owner of the Preston Center Apartments on the corner of Preston Road and Northwest Highway, and cobbled the final deal together. Word was Transwestern was paying top dollar for the dirt, almost a million per townhome, most of which are on DCAD books for about $380K. 

It looked like they walked, but Transwestern always remained interested in this corner. Smart. The deal stalled last spring, and honestly, I hung up my notes. I was disappointed because fresh housing at that intersection would have been so very, very good for highest and best use of the land, neighborhood values, and growth in our city. Just as I loved Luke Crosland’s concept for a luxury high rise in the heart of Preston Center. Countless owners Behind the Pink Wall wanted to see this happen. The wealthy owners of single family homes wanted to keep status quo of the three-story tall structures that have always existed at that intersection. They screamed about traffic, a legitimate concern, but one we may have to live with if we want Dallas to grow.

Transwestern went back to the drawing board, and started reaching out to the neighborhood again. They got on the regularly scheduled condo HOA agenda meeting last Thursday night at Preston Tower. Full disclosure: I own property Behind the Pink Wall, thus I got word of this real fast. 60 representatives covering all 35 homeowners associations from Behind the Pink Wall gathered to hear the company out. From what I’m hearing, the meeting went down pretty well, and all cards were placed on the table. Transwestern brought in their fresh new proposal: fewer units, less density. They are proposing 164 units instead of the 220 units proposed last year — down from an original of 296.

Currently about 125 units could be built on this property without even going to City Hall!

The northern tract of land closet to the single family homes like Ashley Park’s will not need to be re-zoned because Transwestern intends to build there completely within the code. That is, they will erect a three story complex with a park buffer closest to the single family residences. They will still have a swimming pool and underground parking for about 2 cars per unit. The four story building, the only one requiring a zoning change, will be at the corner of Preston and Northwest Highway, where Preston Center Apartments exist currently. That will be the highest density complex. The apartments themselves will be large and luxurious, the smallest unit coming in (now) at 1080 square feet with pricing at $2.50 a square foot. The average size unit will be 1400 square feet and most will be two to three bedrooms. 

New Transwestern PrestonRoad_Scene2

Proposed apartments, view looking west on Averill Way from, say, The Seville

I have listed all the changes from the developer below. This is a significant move for the area, and a great gesture on the part of Transwestern who I thought frankly never wanted to see Preston Hollow again. I asked Mark Cullwell what made him come back.

“It’s a great piece of real estate,” he told me. “As developers, we have a responsibility to this iconic corner. We need to do what’s right here, and we still think it will work and we will have an end result everyone can be proud of.”

Obviously that must mean a little less moola for the sellers, the Town House Row owners and the owners of Preston Center Apartments on the corner. Mark would only smile, but he did tell me that in the last 18 months since Transwestern first met with neighbors at the Black-Eyed Pea restaurant, real estate dynamics have changed in Dallas. The rental market is stronger than EVER. He thinks they can now pull off lower density because rent growth has helped his economies. Also, by cutting the size of the building down, he is reducing some construction costs. The faster they get it going, the quicker the construction period, the lower the carry and the better those economies will be.

Which brings us to the Task Force (or as I have baptized them, the TSK TSK Force) investigating a “masterplan” for Preston Center. If someone should say, ‘oh let’s wait for the committee to figure out Preston Center’, that would be like waiting for Godot and delay construction another God knows how many months. Which might make those good economies take a dive. (Why do you think Trammell Crow CBRE rushed to get that silly Sam’s in over on Central? Duh.) Already we are hearing talk of interest rate changes mid-year. The real estate business is SO contingent on timing — as Mark himself told me. Here’s what he’s got:

Location — there is really no better

Timing —  the economic recovery is underway

Concept —  housing demand is for high end luxury rental units such as these

We have a lot more to bring you on this. There was even a murmuring at the Thursday night meeting that maybe this area does NOT WANT to be a part of the Tsk Force Master Plan Study. Why? Because most urban planners like higher density compact living as a means of population growth when land is limited, as it is getting in Dallas. So the MasterPlan committee may even suggest higher density at this location. That is why at least one person at that meeting supposedly said, maybe we need to pull out.

Stay tuned, more coming… but I have to say I remain most impressed with the way Transwestern has handled this. In fact, maybe I should write a textbook on the process called How To Work With a Neighborhood to Get Support for a Real Estate Project. They met with the residents, they listened, they tweaked, they met, they involved, tweaked again, they walked, they returned. They never went to the plan commission. Even now their message is clear: Transwestern is humbly taking this project to the neighborhood to gauge support before they proceed. They are saying, we want to bring $80 million of improvements to your area, but first, we want your blessings!

If they don’t get them, then Transwestern is really moving on.Preston center apartments

Pink-Wall-townhouse-row1-5

 Preston center Apartments & Town House Row

NO ZONING CHANGE NORTH OF AVERILL WAY

We have listened to our neighbors and the message has been clear: no change of zoning on the property closest to single-family homes. We will be developing the northern tract of land under the current multifamily zoning. Our plan includes 42 luxury rental units with underground parking. Heights will respect the residential proximity slope and will not exceed 36 feet/3 stories.

 

PARK/GREENSPACE REMAINS

We have always valued green space as an important element in urban design. We have been pleased at the positive feedback we have received about our proposed park at the northern end of our development. Even though we are not requesting a zoning change north of Averill Way, we will still be incorporating the park space for the enjoyment of the entire neighborhood.

MODEST HEIGHT AND DENSITY REQUEST

We will be seeking a modest zoning amendment for the property between Averill Way and Northwest Highway. Currently, an aging apartment complex and townhomes occupy this prominent corner and our plan would enhance this prestigious location. Our request for this corner includes:

  • 122 luxury rental units
  • 4 story development (only one story higher than what is currently allowed)
  • 48ft. height allowance
  • Underground parking
  • 6ft. Sidewalks (city code only requires 4ft. sidewalks)
  • Enhanced landscaping


SIGNIFICANT DENSITY REDUCTION FROM ORIGINAL PROPOSAL

Below is a recap of the significant density reductions achieved as a direct result of our collaboration with the neighborhood:

November 2013: 296 luxury rental units proposed

April 2014: 220 units requested in official zoning application

March 2015: 164 total units proposed (this includes both tracts of land: the north side of Averill Way that does not require a zoning change and the hard corner of Northwest Highway and Preston Road).

*It is important to note that the current zoning on this entire property allows for approximately 120 apartments.

HEIGHT REDUCTION FROM ORIGINAL PROPOSAL

November 2013: 8 stories proposed

April 2014: 6 stories proposed

March 2015: 4 stories proposed on property at the corner of NW Highway and Preston Road/no zoning change requested north of Averill Way.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE AREA MASTER PLAN?

  • This dramatically reduced plan is an excellent example of neighborhood self-determination. After more than a year of working together with your neighbors and Transwestern, you have dictated what you would like to see on this corner.
  • You have invested countless hours influencing the proposal that is before you today.
  • The Master Plan study will take a minimum of 18 months before recommendations are made. Your neighborhood has already gone through an extremely thorough process of vetting and influencing the Transwestern proposal, and this developer has proven his desire to continue to modify the proposal to respect the strong neighborhood input.
  • This is a guaranteed compromise that the neighborhood has worked very hard to successfully negotiate. There is no guarantee what the Master Plan will recommend. Many urban planners subscribe to a planning theory that emphasizes a walkable, compact built environment and may suggest significantly more multi-family density at the corner of Northwest Highway and Preston.

We are dedicated to creating a development that is worthy of this exclusive address at the gateway to Preston Hollow. We look forward to continuing to work closely with you as we move forward on amending our zoning request.

Sincerely,

Mark Culwell, Transwestern

5 Comment

  • Thanks for the update, Candy. This sounds like a great plan for the corner and the neighborhood. Let’s hope that reason prevails among the local citizenry and that they ignore the hysteria and disinformation on this plan that will most certainly originate from a vocal few.

  • I think it is great that Transwestern is back in the saddle again. I saw and heard about their latest proposal last Thursday night. What they have brought to the table is a very high end, conservative, and thoughtful plan that would be a tremendous asset for this somewhat blighted area. Their projected rental rates would be some of the highest in the city and as a nearby property owner, I could not be more pleased.
    The meeting was hosted by the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association of which I am a member and for a short time, previously a board member. By default, the PHSNA seems to have ended up as a haven for a few anti development chain rattlers who have fought the Transwestern project from the beginning. Unlike the neighboring single family HOA’s to the north and west, the PHSNA is an association of 36 condominium associations existing behind the Pink Wall. To say this is a loose associations of associations would be an overstatement. Somehow this group came to be perceived as the voice of the 1100 or so property owners living within the Pink Wall boundaries.
    During Thursday nights discussion, I asked the leadership of the PHSNA who exactly they were speaking for. At the same time, I asked those in attendance who represented condominium associations if their ownership had voted for or against the Tranwestern project. I think there were five hands raised and most of them had votes of their boards, not their owners. As turns out, the PHSNA has never hosted a meeting of all of the 36 HOA’s that it claims to represent, to discuss and vote on the goings on behind the Pink Wall. Before that, the 36 condominium regimes need to have there own voting. PHSHA is the same group that joined the other neighboring single family HOA’s, hired a lawyer and has lobbied for a bureaucratic master plan that will not even be a reality for years. This group and the others have attempted to get the city plan commission to call for a moratorium on development until the proposed mater plan is completed. This group had even joined the other single family HOA’s protesting a quality Preston Center concept currently on the table from Crow Development.
    What we determined the other night is that the PHSNA has no standing what so ever to represent the 1100 individual property behind the Pink Wall, or the the 36 Condominium regimes that make it up.
    As a result, a PHSNA member/officer has retracted a letter sent to the Dallas Plan Commission where he had stated that he spoke for the 1100 property owners and 1500 residents behind the Pink Wall. The letter was drafted with a plea for the Plan Commission to not to approve the Crow development in Preston Center.
    I personally think a master plan is not a bad thing but surely not necessary for quality redevelopment to take place during this time of demand for fresh product at this key location. Dallas is in a cycle of productivity, money is available, quality developers are ready willing and able and the City and county of Dallas would benefit from much needed expanded tax base.
    The PHSNA has done good things behind the Pink Wall including a neighborhood watch patrol, adding some stop signs and senior discount cards. I personally think if the PHSNA or any other group that wants to speak for others needs to make sure they have the standing to do so and property owners need to understand the risks associated by granting representation.
    I see better days and better times ahead, I just hope Tranwestern will bring their deal to the Plan commission and go though the drill. All the required studies will be done and as always, those who approve or oppose will have a forum to do so.

  • I really hope this goes through cause I heard that if it does not the owner of the apartments in the corner will not care and start excepting section 8 , Good luck to that !

  • We have a condo behind the pink wall that is one block away from the site and we were never informed or polled about this project. Who are all these “happy” neighbors who have agreed to this project? It seems like just a few people are in on this deal while the rest of us owners were kept in the dark.