Quieter, More Conciliatory Laura Miller at Transwestern’s Meeting Behind the Pink Wall: Plan Commission Hearing Set for August 20

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We have written about the shenanigans behind the Pink Wall ’till we are blue in the face. We mentioned in March that Transwestern had come back to the sellers, the united owners of Townhouse Row and the Preston Center Apartments smack at the corner of Preston and Northwest Highway, tweaked their plans down to way fewer residences and asked for a zoning change only on one parcel of the property they want to buy. They are proposing 164 units instead of the 220 units proposed last year — down from an original of 296. Of course, 125 units could be built under current code without getting within a spittin’ distance of City Hall.

Well, Thursday night about 80 residents from the neighborhood piled into Fellowship Hall at Park Cities Baptist Church to hear Mark Cullwell and Bill Dahlstrom of Transwestern announce that after many months (almost 24), meetings and media coverage, Transwestern has listened to the neighborhood. They listened with a stethoscope. And they are listening still: they get it that the neighbors are worried about density, and traffic, and parking, and delivery trucks, and maids coming to the apartments to clean. They get it that people are worried about who will pay $2,500 a month for rent? They are even worried that people won’t lease an apartment on the noisy corner of Preston and Northwest Highway even though, of course, apartments have been there for the last 50 + years.

Laura Miller resurrected and wedged herself into this battle last summer with the first stirrings of residential development in Preston Center. (Does she care about commercial or just residential?) Transwestern had miraculously achieved consensus on the 3 Pink Wall acres, the first time in years, and Luke Crosland wanted to build a high rise in Preston Center on Westchester. Not sure exactly what she is seeking, since she and her husband own a unit at The Athena, one of the two high rises on Northwest Highway that have been high rises for about 50-plus years. And they live over a mile away on Dentwood drive in a $5 million home. She says she is not against development (or so I heard in a podcast on Frontburner) but simply wants to manage the development that is inevitably coming to the area.

She also wedged herself onto the Task Force Master Plan Study for Preston Center, which I call the Tsk Force, because they need (a) funding and (b) seem to be slow to actually do anything. When City Plan Commissioner Margo Murphy hinted that the City Attorney will likely recommend this zoning change because the Task Force hasn’t really gotten organized, Laura stood up and explained that the Tsk Force was indeed at work.

Transwestern Meeting1
That’s Laura Miller, great white jacket, second to last row next to man in white shirt

The meeting went like this:

John Pritchard, who heads up the Preston Center Southeast Homeowners Association, explained that if the ‘hood gives Transwestern their increased density — one story, a few feet in setbacks — and they will give the neighborhood:

1) A dedicated turning lane from Preston Road onto Averill Way,

2) They have moved courtyards inside the development at the neighbors’ request,

3) They will build 3 stories on the northern wing of the property that adjoins the single family homes on Del Norte, the first residential single-family street to the north,

4)  They will build 1.91 parking spaces per unit on the South section (agreed to in the draft PD docs) and one per bedroom on the North portion as per Dallas code. They will also have visitor parking,

 5) They will be good neighbors,

6) Construction workers will be bused to the site,

Though Laura Miller didn’t come out and actually BLESS the project, no hissy fit was thrown as she had done at past meetings. She didn’t say the Transwestern project would be as high as Reunion Tower. She listened, and later, after several residents in the room said aloud that Transwestern had been a good neighbor that has BENT OVER BACKWARDS, that they supported the zoning change and four stories was OK, she asked to take an informal “unscientific” poll for the benefit of the Tsk Force. She asked who in the room would support MORE four story development along Northwest Highway.

From what I saw in the back of the room, almost every hand went up.

Then a woman reminded Laura that there already were two high rises in Preston Center: Preston Towers and The Athena. (The one you have a unit for rent in, Laura.)

How many people would support even higher, Laura asked?

About 20 hands went up. And no groans.

Transwestern Meeting 2
Laura scribbling her famous notes, head down

Laura appeared to be OK with that.

“We would hope this is the ONLY case that the plan committee considers until the Task Force completes it’s study,” said Laura.

Most people at the meeting understand Dallas is growing and is expanding its waistband as an urban city. About 10,000 people are moving here a month. You cannot go out, you can only go up. And Preston Center is, as one woman put it, ripe for developers.

“Y’all are coming,” she said.

“This process will definitely be a deterrent to other developers,” said Mark Cullwell, speaking of the 24-month time frame and hoops he has had to jump just to get one extra story.

There were only two truly negative voices in the group. One was from a resident of Preston Tower, who claimed there was retail in Transwestern’s drawings — THERE IS NO RETAIL, THE AREA IS ZONED RESIDENTIAL —  and then talked about a fire station that some group tried to move to Inwood Road in the 1980s. It wasn’t a Mitchell Rasansky moment, but the fire station comment was still a head scratcher.

There was a most negative woman in the room who, I have learned, was once head of security at The Hockaday School, who lives in the area but does not support the zoning change. She demanded to know how much money the extra story was netting Transwestern and acted as if the sellers of the property were the devil incarnate: “it’s those owners at Townhouse Row”, she said, “who won’t take less money for their property.”

Cullwell explained that only 15 to 18 percent of the capitalization was the land value.

(Those damn sellers, how dare they try to profit off their land?)

Another resident asked Culwell what his hard building costs were in the building: $175 per square foot, said Mark.

John Pritchard, who is, by the way, an agent with Virginia Cook, put it this way: The area is zoned for three-story multi-family. If Transwestern does not get this deal, if they walk, another developer will come in and build something within the zoning and not be as nice about it.

They won’t have to be.

Background: Surely you recall last year’s Behind the Pink Wall ordeals where Transwestern tried to buy out  a group of homeowners — Townhouse 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 Jones Lang LaSalle, who were involved, but Lee Kleinman stepped in for her.

Well, Transwestern is back, but this time it’s a different approach.

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 closest 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 two 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 1,080 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. 

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Candy Evans

A real estate muckraker, Candy Evans is one of the nation’s leading real estate reporters. She is also the North Texas real estate editor for Forbes.com, CultureMap Dallas, Modern Luxury Dallas, & the Katy Trail Weekly. Candy has written for Joel Kotkin’s The New Geography, Inman Real Estate News, plus a host of national sites. Constantly breaking celebrity real estate news, she scooped former president George W. Bush's Dallas home in 2008. She is the founder and publisher of her signature CandysDirt.com, and SecondShelters.com, devoted to the vacation home market. Her verticals have won many awards, including Best Blog by the venerable National Association of Real Estate Editors, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious journalism associations. Candy holds an active Texas real estate license but does not sell. She is on the Board of Directors of Braemar Hotels & Resorts (BHR).

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