Last night I spent time at Preston Tower listening to Steve Dawson, the Pink Wall representative on the Preston Center Task Force explain the area’s poison pills for redevelopment.
There are two ways land usage can be shaped. Either through city/municipal zoning or through civil covenants and deed restrictions. According to the Task Force, aside from the Preston Tower and Athena PD 15 area and the new PD for the Laurel project on Preston and Northwest Highway, the Pink Wall is zoned MF-1 (A). Roughly, this designation equates to three-stories with the (A) designation adding some setback requirements. However according to Article IV on Zoning, the MF-1(A) setback requirements are only required of “nonresidential districts” and the Pink Wall is clearly residential.
In addition, when the Pink Wall was developed in the 1950s as part of the town of Preston Hollow, the builders placed deed restrictions on the lands from Northwest Highway to the alley between Bandera and Del Norte and from one lot inside Preston Road to Edgemere. Covering several tracts, the restrictions are the same. The restrictions essentially limit the building to the existing height, setbacks and unit counts per parcel. In other words: A dead end for redevelopment without intervention. Transwestern’s Laurel project is outside the restriction zone.
The deed restrictions, dating from 1956, had an initial enforceability period of 20 years and automatically renew every 10 years. The latest renewal was on Jan. 1, 2016.
This is not to say that the restrictions can’t be broken for another 10 years. A simple 51 percent majority of the landowners within a tract can vote to extinguish any or all of the restrictions. If a developer built on a lot within city zoning but without removing the restrictions, the city wouldn’t care but the remaining landowners could sue for violating the restrictions … and all it takes is one. An adventurous developer could purchase 51 percent of the voting rights in a tract and extinguish the restrictions.
The rest of the meeting was the kind of hootenanny we’ve come to expect. First, the reason for the meeting in the first place (and a similar one conducted earlier in the day for Zone 1 – Preston Center) was that the consultants hired by the task force to conduct this $350,000 study didn’t have an accurate count the number of units in each existing building (because apparently DCAD doesn’t know). Nor had they dug into the restrictions and existing PDs, something uncovered only at the last meeting. I realize the records date back some 60 years, but for that kind of loot, I expect more.
In addition, their Pink Wall growth numbers don’t take into account already approved (and in one case currently under construction) projects. Close to 300 units would throw off calculations in such a relatively small area, don’t ya think?
They also talk about how unfeasible development would be under current zoning because of land costs and structural limitations but don’t factor in underground parking, which is a game-changer. One mumbled, “I suppose they could do that” as though the idea was half-baked. Yet the Laurel project on the corner is doing just that.
And then finally there was the de rigueur ‘tude and fear-mongering sprinkled throughout.
The specter of (ick) rentals in the area was resurrected. Some wondered if the area could somehow ban rentals because the Pink Wall is an owner-occupied kinda place (actually, more than kinda illegal). I find this particularly interesting on several fronts. First, Zone 4 is represented by Steve Dawson and Patti Niles. He owns a rental building on Pink Wall turf (and so is mostly against competition) and Niles is an area renter. Pot, meet kettle. Dawson certainly didn’t volunteer to convert his building to condo, so it’s just new rentals that are the problem.
Secondly, as I’ve pointed out before, a significant percentage of Preston Tower’s 382 units are rentals with other condo buildings holding rental units too. So the area already has a bevy of rentals. Third, every single condo building behind the Pink Wall was built as a rental building.
Personally I have nothing against renters. I do have something against slapped-up buildings that begin to crumble before the paint is dry, but that wasn’t the concern voiced by others.
And then, the freak-out began when Dawson hoisted the bogeyman of low-income housing. SECTION 8 was spoken like a medium channeling a ghost at a séance! Seems the city is trying to address housing affordability throughout the entire city. As part of that, they’ve invited various parties to pitch some ideas. Nothing concrete, just paper, just opinion, just chitchat. You know, like someone pitching Girl Scout cookies hoping for a bite — no obligation.
Seems the Texas Real Estate Commissioners’ (TREC) presentation identified the Pink Wall as one of MANY, MANY possible locations. It’s doubtful they even drove through the area, only seeing an area of low density-to-zoning ratios. Dawson ZOOMED in on that section to the horror of the room. If it were 100 years ago, someone would’ve gotten the vapors.
One sure-fire way to get this overly homogeneous group in a tizzy is to talk about low-to-mid-income neighbors and their implied multi-racial makeup. But were the slides not zipped through so fast, the audience would’ve seen that the “low-income” they were talking about was 80 to 140 percent of the average salary. So basically your teachers, firemen and the like. Not the local addict looking to score a bump.
This was all quickly debunked by cooler heads. But you know how this goes, especially in an election year. Once the lie is in the air, for some it becomes gospel.
Of course the unspoken truth in the room is that the Pink Wall, being the poor area of Preston Hollow, is already a mixed-income neighborhood. With scads of retirees living off pensions and Social Security, their incomes are not only a fraction of those of the rest of Preston Hollow and Park Cities, they’re also a fraction of those whom development would attract.
In the end, I remain incredulous of a Task Force that utilizes members with blatant conflicts of interest and allows them to publicly express biased, rabble-rousing opinions while supposedly acting under a banner of impartiality. But hey, that’s just me.
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