Is the Preston Center Task Force Building Consensus on Faulty Foundation?

Plan 1 SM

Last night’s Preston Center Task Force meeting laid bare their purpose — development.  It’s funny how way back when, this body was begun to study traffic and parking in the Preston Center area and yet, as we’ll see, these critical concerns from neighbors have been kinda pushed into the back seat by development.

Back in February 2015, I outlined the need for a Zone Zero that would concentrate on developing the overarching calculations for what’s possible given the current infrastructure.  How could existing roads best be optimized?  What traffic patterns need to emerge? Once you’d optimized raw traffic flows, then you could measure impacts of development and resulting capacity increases against that baseline.  Roadway optimization is something that must be done before development impacts are assessed.

Last night, near the end of the meeting we saw one slide outlining the three-stage project TXDoT and NCTCOG will be embarking on IN THE FUTURE to address the optimization of traffic flow (here’s my plan from July 2015) and the central parking garage.  Their work will be barely begun as the Preston Center Task Force draws its last breath in June.  The Task Force was invited to be a part of that new project but several members responded that this “was beyond their scope of work.”

All eyes on Garage; roadway optimization, not so much

All eyes on Garage; roadway optimization, not so much

The consultants’ current work has centered on finding the right mix of development and its impact on “journeys” within the area.  But how can an accurate journey assessment be completed without understanding the impact of roadway optimization?  It can’t.

How can the city of Dallas take seriously the recommendations of a task force that is flawed at its foundation?  Easily. Trinity, anyone?

Modeling Transparency

The consultants have to an extent been unclear in their modeling.  In my opinion, the first data point required is the raw amount of square footage that can be added based under current zoning and parking requirements. This must be the starting point because nearly all zoning in Preston Center talks about square footage, not usage.  For example parts of the Preston Center PD set height limits, plot density and setbacks. Outside dancehalls and liquor, owners can build pretty much what they want … residential, commercial or retail.

Let’s say there is an untapped pool of “X” square feet in Preston Center that could expand to “2X” if parking fixed.  The next question for planning is how the “X” extra space should be apportioned.  If development wants to reach the “2X” square feet mark, what needs to be done to fix the parking and other stopgaps.

From that baseline, types of development (mixed-use neighborhood, traffic control, parking, etc.) can be apportioned based on desire and mapped against parcel expandability and traffic consequences.

Instead, all we see is the last piece, the “roof,” without an explanation of the foundation. The result was last night’s second meeting with a very high level of task force member confusion.

After the meeting there were a few folks seen pointing to the map on the St. Michael’s parcel and making their case for upzoning for the church’s much prayed-for, 20-plus-story office tower that’s currently zoned for three-story residential. (Get up to speed here and here.)

Parking

Their answer for parking is a bit more mature.  The consultants’ modeling software will add the parking that’s required based on development.  While the task force has been asked to think of the footprint of a central parking structure, whether it’s two, five, or a million levels is easy to adjust in the final recommendations.

However Preston Center parking issues are about more than just nuking the central garage.  A central parking garage has a usefulness ripple effect much like a stone dropped in water.  The further away a business is, the less people will use it.  Are current customers of Sherry Lane businesses using the central garage or are they parking as close to a business as possible?  Were the central garage to be gold-plated, would this behavior change?  Unlikely. We prefer our walking theoretical.

There are (differing) parking requirements for commercial and residential development.  It may be the biggest reason why Sherry Lane and the area surrounding the central garage are largely single-story.  There was talk last night about tinkering with the parking ratios required by new development.

Parking availability is one of two neighborhood hot buttons … and the task force consultants are exploring whether they can make development-adjacent parking worse?  That seems not quite right.

First pass at potential Preston Center scenario

First pass at potential Preston Center scenario

Residential in Preston Center

Loosening of parking requirements for new development is not intended for high-rises, who will supply their own parking, but rather for the expected influx of mixed-use, mid-rise development — ground-floor commercial with several levels of residential on top.

One location the consultants thought was cherry was Sherry for this type of development. Demolish the single-story structures, grow to a reasonable height, and add residential on top.  I’m going to hazard a few guesses here. This kind of development has likely not happened in the past …

  • because of parking requirements (and the cost to go underground to meet them on small lots).
  • because individual lot owners don’t want to sell – either to a developer or to condo owners.
  • because they don’t have the money to redevelop.
  • because “if it ain’t broke …”

In a perfect world Sherry could create an attractive development, but only if the owners banded together (either voluntarily or by selling to a single developer).  The goal would be a well-crafted and cohesive development that doesn’t wander through centuries of architectural styles in the space of a block.

Affordability

One only has to look at the string of half-empty, built and “fingers-crossed” luxury high-rises in Uptown and Victory Park to understand that encouraging only luxury properties will fail.

In addition, if the goal is to create a walkable Preston Center village that reduces car traffic by encouraging local walking, development covering a spectrum of income levels is required.  Before you break out in a cold sweat, I’m not talking about Section 8 housing. I’m talking about housing that addresses the sub-$600,000 market … and not for a studio!  You know, the kind of buyers/tenants who’d want to walk to work within Preston Center.

I’m not saying the task force is targeting multi-million dollar condos.  I’m only pointing out that no calculations for economic mix are being discussed or modeled.

Appropriately pink is where by zoning there is excess capacity to build (not counting deed restrictions)

Appropriately pink is where there is excess capacity to build (city zoning, not deed restrictions)

Zone 4

Outside Preston Center, Zone 4 (Pink Wall) is the other location for redevelopment.  Quite a bit of development is possible at the eastern, Edgemere-to-Hillcrest end of the Zone.  Any development here would have little impact on existing neighborhoods or side-street traffic increases.

Development west of Edgemere to Preston presents a tangle of Christmas lights for development. As I wrote earlier in March, this area of the Pink Wall is saddled with deed restrictions that effectively quash any density increases.  Their removal is required for any redevelopment.

Note: DCAD land valuations likely have a component for site potential based on city zoning (but not civil deed restrictions).  Were I living in one of those two-story buildings, I’d be flying over to DCAD, deed restrictions in hand, to lower the assessed land value under my property.  The deed restrictions stifle any property improvements not based on the interior of my unit.

According to the consultants, PD-15 (Preston Tower to Athena, two lots deep to alley) has some excess capacity.  Not a bunch, maybe 70-ish units.

PD-15 v3 Small Colored Labels

My thought?  Combine Preston Place, Royal Orleans, and Diplomat into a single development with a tower on the Northwest Highway side of the lot in line with the two existing towers.  The back end of the property would be a low-midrise of townhomes or flats topped by an amenity deck. Maybe space for a park?

A development like this would have less view impact on the towers than a perpendicular building while maintaining the human-scale feel of the backside of the property.  It would also eat all the excess capacity in one swoop, exhausting the possibility of future development.  One and done.

Summary

The task force has deviated from its original intention and embraced development without doing the homework required for an accurate assessment and plan. The fact that road optimization is divorced from the task force planning and will only occur after the recommendations are presented to the city council instills inaccuracy in the plan.

I’m clearly not anti-development, but how can the best decisions be made for the area without the best, most complete data set available?

 

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)!  sharewithjon@candysdirt.com