Update 6:34 p.m: Lee Kleinman tells me that the Rudners sent flowers to his office staff. Now that’s the Preston Hollow way!
If the last meeting in Fellowship Hall at Park Cities Baptist Church was leaning more towards conciliation, it was back to square one Thursday night. This was a different group, a crowd comprised of more single family homeowners, about 66 in number, from Del Norte and north, Preston east to Hillcrest. These were residents concerned for their property values and the traffic in their neighborhood many believe will be diverted and choke their streets. In the words of Realtor extraordinaire Steve Collins: “traffic is like water: it flows to the path of least resistance.”
Easy program: Lee Kleinman introduced, Transwestern spoke, and the audience had questions, lots of questions. First up was Steve Rudner, a resident on Woodland, who was promptly scolded by Lee Kleinman for being quite rude to his staff. After learning that the luxury apartment project had not been ditched, Steve apparently made some angry calls to City Hall.
But tonight, Rudner was direct and smooth, and seemed to know not of what he did.
“I thought we made it clear with our signs and outcry last year that we are opposed to this zoning change,” he said. “The burden should not be on the residents. We do not support a project that does not comply with the current zoning restrictions.”
After he spoke, there was applause.
Next came my friend Claire Stanard, whom I have asked to draft a guest post on this topic. Articulate and direct, always polite, Claire was clear why she opposes the request to change the zoning of a corner of the property: traffic.
“You are commandeering Averill Way,” she declared. “You build this, you sell it off (to some Japanese company), and then all bets are off. You’re going to dump 350 additional cars onto Bandera, my street. We are a walkable neighborhood!”
This is not like the Drexel, said Claire, a community of townhomes west of Edgemere. The development will be located at the busiest intersection in the City.
That’s Preston and Northwest Highway, which was eventually named Ground Zero by another speaker. And that was basically the sentiment of all 7 or 8 who took to the mic to express not only their surprise that the project had not died back when they tried to bury it, but lament about the extra traffic the development would be diverting onto their peaceful streets.
All but one speaker was negative, more on him later.
At first I was surprised to hear such widespread out-of-it-ness. First of all, not everyone reads us (they should), but we covered this and told you everything last March. Transwestern says it reached out to the homeowners — and Steve Collins did tell me that Transwestern’s general counsel asked him to have lunch, but only a few weeks ago – – “notice” given to the neighborhood at large was feeble, at best, said Steve. Transwestern says it informed neighborhood leaders, then asked them to spread the word via the homeowner’s association website and emails.
After talking to many people after the meeting, I think there was a misconception that came when Jennifer Gates, prompted by Laura Miller, created the Preston Center Task Force at another meeting last May at Northway Christian Church. The focus of the meeting then was Highland House at Preston Center. Which is now dead. Jennifer Gates has recused herself from the entire Transwestern case. Last night, in fact, Lee Kleinman explained the process to the assemblage: he does not even discuss this case with Jennifer. (And he does not know his position yet.) Transwestern applied for the zoning change BEFORE the Task Force was created. They never withdrew their application, they modified it to the current lower density.
But the majority of homeowners in that room last night thought the Task Force had somehow put a stop to ANY AND ALL development at Preston Center, including the Transwestern project.
But as Margot Murphy explained, and Jennifer Gates made very clear last May, cooperation with the Task Force (i.e. holding off on development) was VOLUNTARY. She has no authority to halt zoning change applications.
“There has never been a moratorium,” said Margot Murphy, also at the meeting, ” there cannot be a moratorium. Listen to the City Attorney on this next Thursday,” she advised.
And if she even ASKED nicely, with sugar and honey, for all developers to wait until the Task Force completed its work, she was recused from the Transwestern deal. This is all Lee Kleinman’s baby.
I can see where the confusion came in. Most of these homeowners are busy with work and family, they put up a good fight and thought it was done. Instead, the Transwestern case was carved out of the Task Force.
Back to Steve Collins, who had called me earlier. An activist veteran of this area, he says the issue is about dollars and cents. It’s not that he’s opposed to developing the area, it’s that he is opposed to rezoning and bringing in more traffic.
“People take shortcuts through our street, skipping Del Norte because of the dead end at Edgemere, and they zoom down a street of 52 homes filled with little kids,” he said.
Earlier he told me that the owners of Town House Row are making a killing on this sale, way more than the $350k-ish the townhomes traded for recently.
“These homeowners are suddenly land speculators,” he said, ” I’d like to re-zone my block for 75-story high rises and make a killing off my land sale, too.”
Do the land profits of one group potentially hurting the property value or lifestyles of another?
“If this deal goes through,” Steve told me, “the people who live on the corner of Del Norte and Preston directly behind the new development, will lose easily $100k value in their property.”
None of the affected homeowners on Del Norte support the zoning change. Behind the Pink Wall, in the multi-family, Transwestern has won 56%+ approval.
He also told me that developers will be lined up behind Transwestern to build within the existing zoning should they walk, the land is that valuable.
In fact one homeowner at the meeting shouted out, let’s give another developer a shot at this.
There was more, like talk of deed restricting for the concerns of the neighborhood, but this is a smart group: they know deed restrictions are not enforceable by the city. It’s up to the neighbors to seek legal remedy from their own pocketbook. As for the turning lane Transwestern is planning to build onto Averill Way off southbound Preston Road, these folks said that won’t help the traffic one bit.
The speaker who named the site “Ground Zero for traffic in Dallas” commented that apartments are great when they are new, but what happens when they get old and go downhill? I believe he said he moved to Dallas in the ’80s, thus he may not be aware that the area Behind the Pink Wall started as Garden apartments in the ’50s and ’60s and were later converted to condos. They ARE old: full disclosure, I own a unit at The Seville.
Now about that one speaker who is FOR the development. He is a newcomer, from the Chicago area: Rob Weiss. Lives on Bandera. And can you actually believe that when he spoke, the people of Preston Hollow booed him? One woman in the back loudly shouted out, “we don’t care about your opinion” and “go back to Chicago!”
I had to move away from her to hear.
Rob started by saying, “Not everyone is against this project. And folks, the traffic is not going to zero down.”
Not going to zero down at Ground Zero, whether Transwestern gets one extra story or not!
Despite the boos, Lee Kleinman kept order, the DPD on duty moved a little closer to the front of the room, and Rob started talking about solutions he had seen in his hometown of Buffalo Grove, Ill. Among those: limiting turns on some streets during traffic crunches, lowering the speed limit to 25 mph, adding speed bumps.
Which Steve Collins later said ruin property values.
“Speed bumps are an instant negative to property values,” he said. “It hints at a high traffic street.”
“What is wrong with one story?” asked Rob. “How will it hurt your life or property?”
James Parks took the podium briefly, looking lawyerly in a suit. He is a nice young man with a lovely wife, genuinely concerned for his neighborhood. He was very measured in what he said:
“The city IS changing, becoming more dense, but we need to approach zoning with a holistic process and examine traffic patterns.”
The Task Force. James praised Transwestern for their thoughtfulness, for including the neighborhood and their concessions. He touched the elephant in the room:
“We see this (case) as a domino with repercussions throughout the community.
In other words, the Transwestern deal could open the gate to future development Behind the Pink Wall or further down/across Northwest Highway. If the city gives in on one story, maybe they’ll give in on five?
How does a city grow? Where does it grow? How do neighborhoods adapt? It’s easy downtown, but when you start making changing in Dallas residential neighborhoods, which are so unique, the walls of resistance are fierce! Sure gives us plenty to write about.
The Plan Commission hearing is next week, and you can expect a large turn-out from Preston Hollow single family homeowners. Also a large turn-out for folks living Behind the Pink Wall, who believe a one-story addition is insignificant and will enhance their community. As we have previously written, the majority Behind the Pink Wall think the concessions they have received from Transwestern in terms of underground parking, green space, quality of construction and others are well worth one extra story. As Lee Kleinman and Margot Murphy said last night, a developer could walk in and build on that property according to the current PD zoning without even talking to City Hall: 3 stories, cram the land, smaller units, no underground parking, no park. That could result in higher density than what Transwestern is currently seeking with the extra story.
This is what we pay them for: the Dallas City Council will vote on the zoning change, basing their decision on the highest and best use of the land not for me, or Ashley and James Parks, or Steve Collins or Steve Rudner, but for the City of Dallas.