Smoke on the Wall-ter: More Real Estate Plots Behind the Pink Wall

Planned Development District 15

Planned Development District 15

Several sources have overheard that some of the “natives” are getting restless behind the Pink Wall. Specifically that the two neighboring condo buildings at 6307 and 6306 Diamond Head Circle (Royal Orleans and Diplomat) were seeking an agent to market the properties to developers.

One source said a developer (Providence, folks who brought us Preston Hollow Village) had made an offer of $110 per square foot for the Diplomat complex of 14 units sitting on 41,349 square feet of land ($4.55 million). It was rejected as being low-ball. For reference, it’s been rumored that an early Transwestern bid for its on again-off-again-on- again project on the corner was at least 1/3 more.

Tract 4, known as Royal Orleans, with Northwest Highway frontage, has 20-units on 43,994 square feet with underground parking. I am not aware of any bids on this parcel.

Of course, given its high-rise neighbors, Athena and Preston Tower, a developer may think 20-stories is possible. As of today, according to city planners, they’d be wrong … 18 stories wrong.

History Lessons: Location

Of course I trundled down to City Hall to see what was up. The area encompassing Preston Tower (Pickwick Lane) to Baltimore and two lots deep from Northwest Highway (ending midblock in the alley between Bandera and Diamond Head Circle) is a Planned Development District (PD).   PD-15, as it’s known, dates back to 1947 when the land was first converted from farmland. (Should there be a quiz later, there are currently 375 PDs listed in Dallas.)

Originally the PD-15 area was zoned commercial (C-2) but was converted to residential (specifically apartments) in the 1960s. For those keeping score, there were exemptions made for the commercial operations on the first two floors of Preston Tower.

PD 15 encompasses 14.2 acres subdivided into six tracts containing the Preston Tower and Athena high-rises and four apartment (now condo) projects of two and three stories.   The Royal Orleans, fronting Northwest Highway, is separated from The Diplomat by Diamond Head Circle.

I’m told by City Planners that everything within a PD is approved as a total project, so it’s not a case of being zoned a certain way (like C-2 or MF-3, etc.). Instead, they’re “zoned” by the component projects that create the whole PD. So as part of the PD-15 project, both these buildings are limited to the height and number of units currently occupying their tracts.

1973 Unbuilt Tower on Tract 3 with Royal Orleans and Diplomat in the foreground and a much flatter rendition of the already-built Preston Tower. Courtesy of Thomas E. Stanley Architects, Dallas

1973 Unbuilt Tower on Tract 3 with Royal Orleans and Diplomat in the foreground and a much flatter rendition of the already-built Preston Tower. Courtesy of Thomas E. Stanley Architects, Dallas

History Lessons: Construction and Usage

In 1973, developer Raymond F. Ratcliff applied for permission to erect a third high-rise on Tract 3 that would have been 19 residential stories plus ground floor and parking. Between the City Planners and the Pink Wall and Preston Hollow residents, the building was shot down to the three-story, 60 unit Preston Place we see today sitting on 77,315 square feet.

 

Drawing of Preston Place from Northwest Highway, Circa 1973

Drawing of Preston Place from Northwest Highway, Circa 1973

Given today’s concerns about traffic and density, attempting to place a high-rise here would result in an epic conniption fit that would surely make the 1973 action seem like a spat.

Connecting the Diplomat and Royal Orleans Lots

As I wrote, current density cannot be increased on any of the tracts without City Planning approval and any proposal to change the components of the PD would open itself to public scrutiny and outcry. However, speaking with one of the City Planners … on paper … without any additional input, they would lean towards OK-ing a high-rise because of the Athena/Preston Tower precedent. (Cue Jennifer Gates).

Interestingly, any proposed high-rise on these tracts would, unlike the Preston Center’s fracas, finally give Laura Miller a personal stake in its outcome. The views from her and Steve’s Athena rental property would be impacted. (Full disclosure: As would mine — definitely have to put more clothes on!)

But all is not lost … also part of the original PD-15 documents is this poison pill:

Permanent vehicular access must be provided from the proposed apartment building on Tract 3 to Diamond Head Circle (a private street). Diamond Head Circle must be designated as a perpetual access easement. (Ord. Nos. 14241; 24637)

So while there may be a way to legislate an upzoning of either of these properties, it’s unlikely that both tracts could be joined to build a connected development.

Developers would first have to gain ownership of that portion of Diamond Head Circle. If I’ve learned anything from the Preston Center West garage, ownership is probably convoluted and may even require the unanimous approval of all the five buildings within PD-15 connected to it – a near impossibility to gain from either Athena or Preston Place.

Secondly, a developer would need to also get the Tract 3 perpetual access easement clause nullified. However, this may not be as difficult as it seems. Looking at the photograph of the unbuilt high-rise, it seems that the access clause might have been inserted specifically for that unrealized building. A developer would have to prove Preston Place (Tract 3) no longer requires Diamond Head Circle access. And with the prospect of the sheer face of a high-rise an alley’s width away, Preston Place would be fighting it tooth and nail.

I wouldn’t hazard a guess on the odds of both of these requirements coming together.

I Told You So

In April, I sent a note to residents of the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association warning them that upzoning on Northwest Highway would place pressure to sell-out on the low-rise buildings on Northwest Highway surrounding Athena. I noted that allowing Transwestern’s four-story development on the corner might be used as a “cap” on higher buildings along Northwest Highway. After all, a few short blocks away is the five-story Sorrento at Turtle Creek and Bandera, and its under construction neighbor.

I’m Not a NIMBY

I have no problem with these two buildings selling out and increasing their density – 14 and 20 units on an acre of land is very low-density. (The Royal Orleans is also particularly unattractive.) I also have no problem with the Diamond Head condos (Tract 1) being redeveloped to increase density. What I am against would be irresponsible and unfair boxing-in of one building by another. I would also specifically be against high-rises because the interior roads, some almost one-lane wide, are incapable of being expanded to support the additional traffic generated by that kind of density.

What to do?

I was congratulated by the city planner for coming in before there was anything on the table and doing the research. Too often, she said, people dash into the barn after the horse is gone. In that vein, I think it’s time the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association got their permission slips in order and took a field trip to City Hall to meet with planners and make their thoughts known. If not, that picture from 1973 may (high) rise from the dead.

 

Remember: Do you have an HOA story to tell? A little high-rise history? Realtors, want to feature a listing in need of renovation or one that’s complete with flying colors? How about hosting a Candy’s Dirt Staff Meeting? Shoot Jon an email. Marriage proposals accepted (now that they’re legal)! sharewithjon@candysdirt.com