As predicted, we are all two-weeks older since the Planning Commission fobbed-off the vote on the proposed Transwestern development at the northeast corner of Preston Road and Northwest Highway. What, if any, votes changed in those two weeks is unknown, but I suspect few. Certainly attendees were not treated to German band Texas Lightening popping out of a cake as I’d hoped.
In those two weeks Transwestern held a meeting largely for angry single-family homeowners upset that the proposal had moved on without them paying attention and seemingly their neighborhood association not informing them. Thankfully I was busy elsewhere that evening. However, I invited Candy over after the fireworks to spill the beans while I plied her with wine.
Also in those two weeks the opposition became a bit more organized and vocal, certainly putting up more of a show at today’s Planning Commission meeting.
And a show it was… hours of tedium and speechifying. It was like church without the wine and crackers.
The same tired rubrics about density, traffic and parking ultimately found no purchase with the Commission. Especially after both the Transwestern-hired traffic engineering representative and the City traffic planning representative spoke. Those arguments were shot, gutted, stuffed and mounted on the rumpus room wall.
Traffic? What Traffic?
This wailing and teeth gnashing about traffic was proven wholly false. According to the City traffic engineer, current traffic traversing Bandera and Averill Way at rush hour is a single car every 40 seconds. When I guestimated two weeks ago that the new development would add another 10-20 cars per half hour, I was pretty effing close. The city traffic engineer said the expectation at the peak of rush would be 15-23 per half hour (30-45 per hour). He continued that instead of a car every 40 seconds, maybe it was a car every 30-35 seconds … or in other words, no impact.
Personally, if I’m trying to get to Preston Road from Averill Way and there’s a single car waiting I’m surprised. If there are two, I assume there’s a rave going on in the ‘hood.
The other argument that grandchildren playing in the street would now be mowed down by bat-outta-hell commuters cutting through the single-family streets was similarly proven false. The traffic engineer visited Del Norte Lane during a typical rush hour, he counted virtually zero traffic on the street now and estimated that the impact from the proposed development would again have no impact.
And what about Candy’s roundabouts? (j/k)
Preston Road and Northwest Highway Traffic DECREASING?
The imagined current state of traffic on side streets wasn’t the only figment. Turns out much to everyone’s surprise (certainly mine), actual traffic on Preston Road and Northwest Highway has been decreasing … since 2001! There was a big dip during the recession, but it’s pretty much returned to pre-recession levels which are lower than 2001. In fact, according to Patrick Kennedy, a partner at the urban design and planning firm Space.Between.Design.Studio, when comparing traffic on Northwest Highway just west of the Tollway from 2004 to 2013 traffic decreased by 17 percent! Using another metric, Northwest Highway traffic at Preston Center has vacillated between 52-57,000 cars per day for eighteen years … in spite of the fact that the City of Dallas’ population has grown by hundreds of thousands of residents during this time (over 151,000, or 6.4 percent growth in Dallas County since 2010 alone).
Who’d a thunk?
Turns out that this mythology that traffic must be getting worse over time, is just that, mythology. That ought to blow a crater in Jennifer Gate’s Preston Center Task Force’s mandate and the results of the master plan.
One final coffin nail was delivered by reminding the committee that projects expected to generate fewer than 1,000 trips per day are not required to provide traffic data because it’s assumed that such a low number would have no impact. The Transwestern proposal is expected to generate between 800-1,000 trips per day.
For those keeping score. Traffic and Density zero, Transwestern two.
Next up was a Pink Wall resident positing about how no one knew what Transwestern would do if approval was given. She seemed to think the Planned Development designation was carte blanche. Later in the proceedings, Commissioner Neil Emmons shot that down by informing the speaker that a PD was above the developer and that whomever owned the property in the future was still bound by the building plans canonized in the PD.
Then came the ForwardDallas argument that the Transwestern proposal didn’t fit into the City’s overall plan to preserve neighborhoods while encouraging walkability and such. The speaker bemoaned the threat to Pink Wallers out walking and frolicking in the street (an image of 70-year-olds cavorting in the spray of an open fire hydrant leaps to mind) and that the increased traffic would make that hazardous, so it would be against the ForwardDallas goals.
First of all, just because the original developers of Preston Hollow couldn’t be bothered to put in sidewalks, doesn’t mean the area should be held hostage because of it. In fact, it’s Transwestern that will be putting in sidewalks on Preston Road that will encourage all residents to walk (or walker) more easily over to Preston Center. If the property owners want sidewalks inside the Pink Wall or any other part of Preston Hollow, they should put them in. Being able to gambol about in the street is hardly a cogent argument against development in the area.
In fact, every single McMansion without a sidewalk should have been forced to install one.
Secondly, the argument continued, the building was out of place in the area. Well, true. It’s not 50 years old and it’s not using exposed metal-roofed carports in alleyways for parking. Yes, it’s taller than most (not all) of the neighboring buildings but it’s also kitty-corner from a taller, five-story building.
It was pointed out by staff that ForwardDallas also promotes a bunch of other ideals like trees (Transwestern putting in double the suggested number), sidewalks (Transwestern putting in 6-footers versus standard 4-foot width), and greenspaces (Transwestern includes a nearly ½ acre park).
To judge the whole development by one single criteria wasn’t a valid argument to the commission.
Third, the speaker continued (she had a LOT to say), the Pink Wall was all condo and that having rentals would somehow downgrade the area. Left out was the fact that it’s NOT all condos, in fact Steve Dawson owns an apartment building near the new development. And let’s not forget that Preston Tower alone probably has more rentals than the Transwestern plan.
Next up was Steve Dawson who’d retooled his easement argument from the last meeting. This time he dropped the “saw it on TV” pitch in favor of quoting city statutes. Condensing his theory, there is an internal roadway that connects the townhouses in Townhouse Row to Averill Way that is owned by the City. In order for Transwestern to proceed, they have to buy the land from the City at market rates.
In my opinion, this smacked of attempting to make the cost of the project prohibitive to Transwestern by larding on extra unforeseen costs. Well, it’s not Transwestern’s first rodeo and when asked about the roadway, they said they knew and that they were prepared to purchase it at the appropriate time (which isn’t before the City approves the project). Done and dusted.
Overlaying the opposition was their insistence that the majority didn’t want the development and that an official vote wasn’t conducted. This was handily disproven by producing the city balloting of the neighboring owners where a majority cast a vote and a majority wanted the development.
As I said after the last meeting, this was my first time watching the process unfold and … wow. So by this time, it’s already been hours of talking, questioning, answering, pleading and prodding, right? You’d think by then we’d be done and hold the actual vote? Nnnnnn-ope!
Commissioner Margot Murphy reads off the proposal one last time and I can almost taste the vote … then votus interruptus. Other Commissioners have to jump into the record books … “Why I do declare the Honorable Ms Murphy has done our city proud with her service in handling this matter. Many a time, I say, many a time, I’ve seen proposals like this falter but Ms Murphy steered the course of this mighty decision for the people of the great city of Dallas in these here United States. And to these fine upstanding neighbors I must say ‘thank you’ for all your time spent on this matter. Finally, I must thank my dog Mr. Squiggles for enduring our later than usual evening constitutionals.” And then another. And another. It’s like they were being paid by the word.
Commissioner Neil Emmons pops in with an eye-rolling left-field amendment. Seems he’d seen in the past two days a case in Grand Prairie where the development was dependent on the creation of a condo HOA before a certificate of occupancy would be issued. And he wanted to explore whether they could/should explore this with this proposal. Whaaaaat???
This seemed to play a bit onto the opposition’s oft-cited prejudice against rentals in favor of condos. Emmons was sternly admonished by vice-chair Robert Abtahi and others as placing a greater value on owner-occupied residential versus rentals (in contrast to other recent decisions). He also questioned entertaining a legally ambiguous condition that would take possibly years to settle in the courts. Hot potato quickly became mashed potato.
Finally the actual vote. All in favor except Paul Ridley.
Facts Won the Day
At the end, what I’ve said all along won the day. There are no actual facts to support not building the proposed development. There are only neighbors, clutching at straws, who want to freeze the area in amber.
There is no rational argument to be made that there’s a better deal out there. It’s been nearly two-years and no competing proposal has been made.
There’s no rational argument to support the opposition’s claim that they’re not anti-development if only it would be built completely within current zoning. Such a project would likely have few-to-none of the beyond-zoning amenities and concessions being given by Transwestern. In short, irrational to believe they’d support a worse project. So the only logical unspoken goal isn’t to get a building that meets zoning, it’s to scare anyone from developing anything.
There’s no rational argument that the proposed development would increase traffic within the Pink Wall, the adjacent single-family home roadways or the Preston Road and Northwest Highway intersection. The traffic engineers proved that.
And in the end, while it took waaaaay longer than it needed to, the Planning Commission understood the rational, factual case and approved the proposed development which will now be sent to the City Council for a final vote.
Living up to my official motto, “Thank god that’s over with, I need a drink,” after the meeting, I headed over to Stampede 66 for an event featuring tasty small-batch bourbons …
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 (they’re legal)!