Surprisingly Youthful Ideas from Preston Center Task Force Zone 4 Meeting

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Last night, the Preston Center Task Force consultants Kimley-Horn and Associates met with residents of several “zones” including my own Zone 4 (Pink Wall). Now I’m not going to point fingers, but some of the earlier groups must’ve been Chatty Cathys as we were a half hour late getting started and had a hard stop because the facility was closing.

Because of that pinch coupled with the size of our group (four times the others, apparently) and the early time-suck spent rehashing the Transwestern tête-à-tête (that alters no one’s opinion), attendees were only able to scrawl their thoughts on flip charts to eight open-ended questions and leave. Zero discussion.

It’s my hope the consultants will schedule another meeting with Zone 4 and include a “swear jar” where anyone talking about Transwestern puts in $100 for charity.

Note to both sides of the Transwestern topic: Zip it. An opportunity was squandered to discuss the future of the entire Preston Center area because you couldn’t stop blabbering about a penny in a room filled with diamonds. There is a time and a place.

In addition to the Transwestern rat hole, there’s a theme that’s continually brought up that I frankly just don’t understand. Several felt the need to discuss the area’s history and more precisely their longevity in the area. Are we to give more weight to opinions from residents who’ve lived in the area the longest? There are just as many illogical long-timers as there are smart newbies (and vice-versa). Staying put doesn’t increase intelligence nor should it increase the weight of an opinion. Isn’t the point to involve all current residents in making the best decisions for the future?

Some went further to say things like, “Remember when ‘Frank’ used to own those tacky apartments that were replaced by X?” If the point of these digressions is to learn from mistakes made in the past, state the perceived mistakes and leave the front-stoop story-telling out of it (it clouds, not colors the issue).

I’m not being purposely obtuse here … I genuinely don’t understand how any of these unrelated personal details are germane to a rational conversation about the future of the area. Is the point that nothing should change simply because “I” like it this way and “I’ve” been in the area a long time? Feel free to explain it to me in the comments.

After all, we’re talking about buildings that are pretty much the same age as I am, not architecturally significant or centuries-old historical structures.

Anyway, here are the eight questions that were asked and answered and none of the answers are mine as I’ve already posted my thoughts here and here and emailed the links to the consultants (some of whom are CandysDirt.com readers). I’ve tried to clean up spelling and abbreviations as best I can:

Note: It’s obvious some had not “put away their toys” on Transwestern before answering.

  1. Problems / Concerns / Issues that must be addressed
  • Increased traffic and cut-thru traffic in neighborhoods
  • Protecting existing stakeholder’s neighborhoods
  • Spillover parking on side-streets due to inadequate parking (aimed at Edgemere assisted living)
  • Crime Management
  • Walking and bike areas
  • Aging condos / aging owners don’t want to reinvest
  • Resistance to change
  • Where are people going to move to?
  • In 20-30 years, how many homeowners will still be alive?

Traffic concerns are paramount in many residents’ minds and they’re the only real problem on the list. I think that the city traffic planning office could be called upon to educate residents that current traffic has (counter-intuitively) decreased in many areas with the worst areas remaining stable for over a decade. I suspect we believe traffic is worse than it actually is. I’ll admit believing myself that traffic must be worse as time went on and more people moved in, but I was wrong. Some data might help more residents in understanding. The Edgemere issue is isolated and something that future development must learn from.

Resistance to change, old owners and dilapidated properties sort themselves out in time. Problems only begin when those desiring the status quo for themselves demand it for everyone else. After all, where would it end? My home? My complex? My block? My neighborhood? My city?

On the upside, people view the lack of walking and biking as problems.

  1. What preliminary ideas / solutions do you have related to future vision?
  • Zone for Pink Wall; If MF-1R is not relaxed to permit more height and more density, quality projects will not be built.
    • Zoning can be changed by each HOA to meet requirements
  • Consistent look of developed areas
  • Tunnel Northwest Hwy from Edgemere to Douglas
    • …or North Park to Tollway or Midway
  • Walkable density actually helps solve traffic issues (less driving)
  • Pink Wall condos will crumble by 2030 – need to redevelop
  • Mix use of land
  • Senior Citizen Community Areas (meeting places). AFFORDABLE
  • Create no-turn hours for cross-through traffic (i.e. no right turn from 7-9am and 5-7pm
  • Consider building a crossover bridge to eliminate east-west and north-south traffic

I agree with bullet one about balancing increased zoning against quality, but surely no one believes an HOA has the power to unzone their lot without the City Council’s approval?

…and ding-ding-ding, we have our first wacky idea. Submerging Northwest Highway from the tollway to North Park is staggeringly expensive and would only add to traffic. Remember, if you build it, they will come. So increasing capacity will only encourage drivers to fill it up, ultimately making the problem worse.

  1. How would you define a successful plan for the area?
  • Maintaining mixed economic level of area (not expensive like Highland Park Village)
  • Build walkable “commo”(?) with Preston Center from Pink Wall. Keep all trees and greenspace.
  • Just look at Legacy and Tollroad – greenspace, water featured, hidden garages, bikes
  • If residents could walk to most services / shopping and walk to a Dart station.
  • Bold and effective traffic plan and public transit improvements
  • Walkable throughout the neighborhood
  • Plan for expansion
  • Responsible development

Interesting that traffic and parking were hot-button problems, but were not mentioned as a definition of a successful plan.

  1. What word or phrase would you use to describe the most desirable future for Preston Center by 2030?
  • Safer crosswalks across from Preston Center and Northwest Highway
  • Underground Dart station
  • Walkable from neighborhoods
  • Trees / green space
  • Grocery / services
  • Keep restaurants and retail
  • Reconstruction of the parking facility to include a multilevel garage (underground and stores above ground)
  • Redevelop garage with mixed-use over underground parking to cause other retail to upgrade
  • It feels like West Village / Highland Park Village (lots of pedestrians)
  • Easily accessible with neighborhood amenities
  • North Park west
  • Mixed use development
  • All four corners tied together as an integrated neighborhood
  • Sidewalks
  • Bike lanes

Note: Because of the convoluted ownership of the Preston Center west parking garage, the city can’t place any retail/commercial on the property. They could build a new garage (above or below ground – I favor below) and create a town square greenspace without skirmishing with the current commercial stakeholders.

  1. What are the biggest barriers that might prevent the community from reaching that future?
  • Lack of vibrant and effective public transit with direct connections to major interest and commerce centers
  • Major intersections impossible; big diversions through neighborhoods
  • Thought process that congestion is an “evil” by itself
  • Dallas single member council districts (no one thinking what’s in the best interest of the city as a whole)
  • Traffic and too many owners
  • Fractured ownership
  • Resistance to change. Change happens
  • Lack of creative thinking
  • Fear of Change
  • Too much traffic and too many older residents that do not participate in planning.
  • Need for mixed use
  • City is not listening to community stakeholders and selling out managed planning and zoning for tax dollars

Note: I believe most of the comments here are referring to Preston Center west (fractured ownership, traffic, and major intersections).

  1. What assets does Preston Center have now that are “Hidden Treasures” – things that people and businesses outside the area are unaware of or don’t fully appreciate?
  • Location is special (Northwest Highway, Tollway, close to Central)
  • One of the most dense dental practices in the North Texas area
  • Flying Fish and so many other restaurants
  • Walkable neighborhood to retail – very European feel
  • Eating places
  • Potential for developing a walkable neighborhood

Remind me to steer clear of anywhere in Europe that feels like Preston Center west!

  1. If you could invest in just one or two capital investments in the next few years, which ones would provide the greatest catalytic benefit for the area?
  • More efficient and better landscaped roads and “row’s”(?)
  • Great improvement in public transit
  • Dump the garage and add greenspace, water features, sidewalk activities, people
    • Underground garage
  • Dart station
  • Neighborhood-style retail north of Northwest Highway (smaller shops and professional services)
  • New parking lot in Preston Center – city should lease it to developers in Preston Center
  • Sidewalks / bike lanes / greenspace
  1. In your view, what two or three features differentiate the Preston Center area from other nearby centers today?
  • Different ownership
  • Potential for access from neighborhoods – walking and bikes
  • It’s a hodgepodge!
  • Belongs in Akron
  • Very diverse restaurants, other retail and dental and medical offices
  • Variety of vendors, including some one person – one shop ownership
  • Feels like a little town – except at rush hour
  • Potential
  • Mix use
  • No plan, dangerous parking lot
    • Dirty – outdated

Again, much of this criticism seems to be focused on Preston Center west.

Consultants also wanted to know where residents thought traffic was a problem so they could focus there. I’m sorry, but for $350,000, shouldn’t the consultants be measuring actual traffic patterns in the area instead of asking for anecdotal information from residents? Correlation doesn’t equal causality.

Word Map of Resident Answers (bigger equals more mentions)

Word Map of Resident Answers (bigger equals more mentions)

Questionnaire Summary
For an area largely defined by blue hair paired with a Pink Wall, I was very pleasantly surprised by the youthful bent of many of the suggestions.

To condense, residents want walkability/bike-ability and especially safe connectivity to Preston Center – a few trees and grass would be great too. Public transit is important not only as transportation to bring workers in/out of the area but enable residents to get to other parts of the city. Some think it may also be a means to reduce traffic (which I’m not sure is completely realistic).

I’d say everyone hates the Preston Center west parking garage. Ditto the visual results of its fractured ownership of the retail shops that keeps the center from looking as good as other shopping areas like Preston Center east and Highland Park Village.

Another theme that popped out in different ways is a desire for the area to remain financially diverse. I’m betting the other (solidly wealthy) zones didn’t express this wish. But with the Pink Wall being solidly middle-class, they don’t want to be priced out – something I understand and agree with. I’m all for socio-economic diversity – I think they’re subconscious teaching moments.

Of course some suggestions were loo-loos, but surprisingly few. No, we’re not submerging Northwest Highway. No Dart will not be coming to Preston Center via subway anytime soon.

But as I said, the best thing for Zone 4 is another meeting where we can flesh out these thoughts. Here are my thoughts (beyond the Transwestern “swear jar”)

How to get Better Quality Input from Residents
In my career, I’ve done some questionnaire design and worked with focus groups on various issues. I know how important it is to ensure the participants are as knowledgeable and unbiased as possible. It’s a little like jury selection.

Any local resident wanting to offer an opinion should agree to spend the time to understand and listen to some facts before offering opinions. Asking questions of better-informed participants will net much better results.

The results of this kind of polling would be extremely valuable, more likely to be helpful and hugely more likely to weed out echo-chamber residents who refuse to open themselves to learning anything they don’t already agree with.

The future of the Preston Center area is an important issue and deserves the proper time to be taken for informed opinions to be heard.

Is the Study a Waste of Time and Money?

Call me a hopeful pessimist. I hope some good will come from the time spent by so many, but I’m also realistic about the lump of coal we’re likely to get from the City Council. I’d be far more hopeful if the City Council had said, “We have $X-millions set aside for the area, tell us how to spend it most effectively.”

Instead, the study will be delivered in a year to the Task Force who will mull it over before presenting it to the City Council. It will then sit around for however long getting pushed and shoved by politics before anything (if anything) is done. I still peg any decisions and resulting plans to late-2017 at best and 2018 for the first shovel of dirt to fly.

One Comment

  • By 2030?? You won’t go shopping at a grocery store (commodity) in 2030. You’ll tap-tap-tap, and a driverless car will show up in your driveway. Big box commodity grocery stores will begin to disappear about 2023-2028.