The Preston Center Sky Bridge: Laura Miller Rallies Residents Against Development, But Does Her Opposition Make Sense?

Preston center skybridge

Laura Miller wrote a note to homeowners inside the Athena, asking them to speak out against Crow Holdings’ proposed Preston Center sky bridge at the June 17 Dallas City Council meeting.

Midday Monday, residents in my high-rise received a double-forwarded note containing a letter I later found out was written by former mayor Laura Miller. The letter (after the jump) makes the case for opposing the sky bridge at Preston Center.

Since moving to Preston Hollow, I’ve noticed that any whiff of development is met with one-sided opposition. I’ve never seen any discussion or debate on whatever proposal is at hand. If it’s development, the knee-jerk seems to be to oppose it without giving the prospect an airing. I like air.

As I did with the latest Transwestern proposal for their much-diminished development on Preston and Northwest highway, I responded to the letter to provide counterbalance to the pointedly negative position.

Anyway, Miller responded to my note and in turn I replied back. You can read the exchanges that were sent to those 137 residents in the email exchange after the jump.

You should know my personal biases. I am prone to finding ways to make things work or to compromise. I rarely say “no” unless something is patently immoral or idiotic. I am prone to over-thinking and researching issues to death. I have no real opinion one way or the other about any Preston Center area development at this time. So far, what’s proposed would have no impact on me, my life or personal enjoyment of my home. I will not cry or celebrate any outcome. I am merely here as a neutral, unpaid resident.

Note: The exchanges have been arranged chronologically for easier reading (the reverse of email strings).

First, an email written by Laura Miller:

Laura Miller Letter to Athena Residents

My first reply:

All,

Let me preface by saying I don’t care one way or the other on these issues. My personal life will not change one bit by what happens with Tom Thumb or the SkyBridge (I don’t shop at Tom Thumb and spend little time at either shopping center). I’m just peeved by the one-sidedness against any and all development sent be people who are supposed to represent us but don’t provide balanced facts.

To clarify some disinformation…

The SkyBridge is built to be removable should Preston Center ever initiate plans to change the parking structure.  In fact, the license agreement for the SkyBridge states that the bridge would be removed with 30-days notice of a change.  (I think the Task Force knows theirs is a hopeless cause who’s only outcome will be to stall development and so “removable” will become permanent.)

The Task Force is NOT wholly against the SkyBridge.  Slightly more than half and only 8 of the 25 who signed the previously attached letter are even part of the Task Force.  Many on the Task Force have a goal to stall all development in an effort to stall Mark Cuban’s plans for his lots on Northwest Highway.  I believe it’s the same reason Transwestern and Crossland have been continually slammed for development.  The anti-developers are playing a larger game.

The SkyBridge CAN’T be opposed by the Preston Hollow East, Preston Hollow South and Inwood-Northwest Highway homeowners associations because without any balloting, they have no idea what their constituents want. Steve Dawson who represents our “zone,” doesn’t even live in the Pink Wall “zone” and yet is voting “no” for “us.”  The recent Transwestern balloting should prove that the opposition to these developments may be louder, but their opinions are not universal or probably even the majority.

The 55,000 square feet being carved out for the grocery store are not new, but repurposed from existing structures.  In order to keep the status quo of parking and traffic, only stores equally failing to attract enough viable customers will be allowed.  Why would we want to setup the area for failure? Why would we want a shopping center without viable tenants and useful shops? As a resident, which is more useful to you, a grocery store or cheap shoes and factory-second clothes?

The SkyBridge will NOT bring an additional 2,500 cars to the area.  The majority of the cars are already there but will shift because of the closure of the Tom Thumb across the street. Much of the incremental increase in shoppers will be workers and residents adjacent to Preston Center who will likely walk.  Any additional cars will not add significantly to the traffic problem for the simple reason that grocery shoppers from outside the immediate area will not be flocking to the store during rush hours.  Like all grocery stores, their traffic patterns will be mid-day, evening and weekend shoppers. And if shoppers find only a full parking lot and stuffed roads, they will go elsewhere and the grocery store will fail — costing no one but Crow Holdings.

BUT if the parking lot is stuffed 24/7, that might be the last-straw that gets the landlords who control the parking structure to the table to hammer out a real solution.  So far, they’ve opposed all efforts to expand or change the structure that I’m aware of.

The SkyBridge is 61-feet wide ONLY at its widest where it connects and an elevator is installed.  It’s NOT 61-feet spanning Westchester.

The SkyBridge is part of Crow Holdings that already have access to 40% of the parking spaces in the garage because of their ownership of the surrounding buildings.  Crow is simply trying to make access to a new grocery store easier and less problematic for pedestrian and car traffic at street level. If approved, Crow will also spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to update the parking structure in addition to the costs for the SkyBridge.

Finally, with the Tom Thumb closing in Preston Plaza, if killing the SkyBridge also kills a grocery tenant for the space, the nearest grocery store will be Central Market on Royal and Preston or the Tom Thumb across from North Park.  Is that what you want? (NOTE: I should clarify that I don’t know the existing Tom Thumb will definitely close, but with the closure of the similarly-sized Highland Park Village location, it seems likely the smaller neighborhood stores are becoming less and less profitable.)

I urge you to weigh both sides of this (or any) issue before making a decision.

Jon Anderson
Athena Resident

At the suggestion of her husband, Steve Wolens, Miller responded. Rather than begin a new thread, I answered her comments in bold. Below is the combined note and my reply.

Thanks Steve (who is my husband, as most of you know; we own a unit at The Athena). And thank you Mr. Anderson for sending out this email.

I am one of the 13 who were selected by Councilwoman Jennifer Gates to serve on the Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan Stakeholder Taskforce. We are charged with coming up with a master plan for Preston Center and the residential neighborhoods around it, including the Pink Wall area, your building and Preston Tower. Jon: The Master Plan is nearly two years away from delivering any meaningful recommendations. Halting all development for that period is unrealistic. It’s doubly unrealistic to wait given the City’s history of doing nothing with the two previous studies decades ago. The City budget is not overflowing so much that Preston Center is likely to receive much if anything.

I am attaching a letter that 7 of the 13 of us sent to Councilwoman Gates on 3-11-15, stating our opposition to the sky bridge. An 8th member, Bill Archer, who owns four properties in Preston Center with his wife Marguerite Lobello Archer (whose father built Preston Center), did not sign the letter but is also opposed — this is reflected on the flier you all received today about the City Council vote on Wednesday. I wrote the flier. Its contents are accurate. Jon: Accuracy wasn’t my issue nor were people’s personal opinions. The exclusion of differing opinion was. All I have heard is opposition to any and all development in the area, and that’s clearly not the only opinion, nor is waiting for two years for the master plan the only option. I prefer debate to monologue.

Those of us opposed to the sky bridge all want one thing: we want the Area Plan work to be done so we can find solutions to the horrendous parking and traffic problems we have right now in and around Preston Center. Councilwoman Gates promised at the kickoff town hall meeting for the Taskforce on 10-30-14 that she wanted to “take a breath” on all zoning cases in the area until the Area Plan was done. We all applauded that statement. But that is not what has happened. Instead, Transwestern is back with another proposal; we have been opposing the sky bridge since October (with no idea still how the Councilwoman will vote on Wednesday); and Mark Cuban wants to build medical office buildings on the five single-family lots that he purchased along Northwest Highway between Ebby Halliday’s white house and Northwest Bible Church. It goes on and on. Everyone is exhausted by these highly divisive zoning cases. Jon: Zoning requests and development often operate hand-in-hand. Freezing this process for years is unrealistic. Yes, there are multiple projects on the table and each one should be heard – not simply discarded out of hand. I also have no belief the Task Force will accomplish anything that’s ultimately acted upon – heck, TXDoT can’t even figure out how to deal with the traffic signals on Preston at NW Highway and Berkshire without creating a bigger mess. The previous studies in the 1980s, when the area was already deemed over crowded, produced little to no action – not even a follow-up for 26 years.

I also understand your desire to stop Mark Cuban, but single-family lots on NW Highway across from Preston Center are an anachronism that is simply unrealistic to maintain. Even you point out that Cuban’s property is bounded by non-residential zoned operations. There are no other single-family parcels on NW Highway from the Tollway to well past Central. Even University Park’s lots are being converted to multi-family.

It is a fact that city staff has determined that 2,500 cars a day will come to a grocery store if it is located on the second floor of the old Sanger Harris building where this skybridge would go. Since the top parking deck is completely full five days a week, from 11:30 am to 2 pm, how will all these cars find a spot on an already full deck (see attached picture)? They will go up and down the ramp, round and round the deck, back down the ramp, circle around the entire parking garage, and go back up the ramp until they find a spot. What that will do to the already overloaded intersection at Preston and Northwest Highway is a nightmarish prospect. Jon: Are the 2,500 cars in addition to the current traffic generated by Tom Thumb on the other side of Preston and the current traffic generated by the existing tenants of the property? If so, I seriously question that number. And as I said, and you illustrate, if grocery store customers are frustrated by traffic, they will leave and not return. But can we really judge a project fairly based on the parking lot being full for just 2.5 hours a day from Monday-to-Friday? Surely Crow Holdings and the potential tenant understand this.

I am involved in this as a volunteer homeowner (and Athena condominium owner) who wants our quality of life to be better in our beautiful part of town. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to find a way to divert all the through-traffic using Northwest Highway as an alternative to LBJ? And how about creating friendly, attractive pedestrian pathways for area homeowners to be able to access Preston Center safely and without our cars? More parking, more landscaping, wider sidewalks and paved roads in Preston Center — many of us on the Taskforce are hoping we can make that happen. We are using the best local transportation experts to analyze traffic and parking patterns and find solutions. Jon: Without widening NW Highway and seizing land in the process, this is a pipe dream. It’s physically impossible to divert cut-through traffic onto NW Highway without increasing its capacity – it’s the reason they’re cutting through the neighborhood in the first place. Also, given the fragmented ownership within Preston Center, it’s improbable we’ll see much in the way of agreement to invest and change to provide the landscaping and green spaces you desire (and does anyone see the City footing the bill?). These are the same owners who a few short years ago fought the city to stop redevelopment of the parking structure that might have actually helped the situation.

But if we keep adding density and more cars to an already overloaded area — while we are getting our arms around the problem and trying to find answers — how is that conducive to a good outcome? It’s not. Jon: Two years is a long time to wait for a process that’s been ignored for decades (including – slightly cheap shot – while you were mayor) and only now, with development on the table, the neighborhood suddenly comes alive to stand in the way. In summary: It makes no sense to oppose the Sky Bridge simply because the parking lot is full for 2.5 hours during the weekdays. The Sky Bridge is also removable, the license agreement states it can be ordered removed with 30-days notice. If it’s inconsistent with the master plan those opposed are laying their hopes on, it gets removed…done, gone. If anything, the risk and money are Crow’s and the grocery store’s to lose. Residents however, might get a usable grocery store.

Again, I have no ax to grind nor any stake in the outcome here. I only ask for more evenness in the discussion.

I respectfully ask that all of you who agree with this send an email to Jennifer Gates at jennifer.gates@dallascityhall.com and ask her to please, at the very least, NOT CONSIDER any sky bridge until the Area Plan is finished.

It would be even more wonderful if you would join me — and other homeowners and business property owners — at Dallas City Hall this Wednesday, June 17, at 1 pm for the skybridge vote at the Dallas City Council. It will be a lively debate — I promise! We must stand together on behalf of our neighborhood and ask City Hall to help us. I would be thrilled to see you there.

I appreciate you reading this. Please email me with any questions. Jon: Ditto.

Laura Miller
cell 214-XXX-XXXX

In closing, I ask that everyone, opponents and supporters of the Sky Bridge contact Councilwoman Gates at the email listed above. She needs to understand what all of her constituents think.

2 Comment

  • Improvement(s) to Preston West should be the first consideration. Is Crow Holdings bridge the beginning of improvements? I live beyond Walnut Hill, so I don’t have a voice in this debate, but I feel it is starting from the wrong direction already.
    What can be done? What should be done… then, is Crow Holdings willing to do any of those items that are desired.
    I also question Laura Miller’s fierce insertion into this discussion. Remember – she is the one totally responsible for the Cowboys paying heavily into Arlington’s tax coffers – NOT Dallas’, and – when she chose to endorse various candidates for the Dallas City Council and a few other places — those candidates LOST. Her persistent leadership in this discussion tells me – it’s not the side to support.

  • mm

    As far as I know, there is (and never has been) a plan for the update and upkeep of Preston Center West. It’s a community without an HOA that socks no monies away, refuses to agree on anything (that costs money) and so nothing gets done.

    The Crow sky bridge (Preston Center West) makes their second-floor properties more valuable due to easier access, but he’s also committed A LOT of other monies to fixing up the garage in general for everyone’s benefit.

    Because of the fractured ownership in Preston Center West, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see true holistic planning resulting in a center that looks half as nice as Preston Center East (one owner).

    I have no history with Laura Miller, she exited office as I arrived in Dallas. But from her involvement here, I to have my doubts about her ultimate goals … whatever they may be.