My top-line takeaways from last night’s public flogging unveiling of the latest from the Preston Center Task Force were that its results were better than previous airings, but still not fully baked, and as expected, the Pink Wall Negative Nancys were out in force only at the end of the process. But as I told Dallas City Council member Jennifer Gates, I didn’t feel like I immediately needed a stiff drink afterward … and that was progress.
However this plan is still a far cry from being a document I’d stand in front of the Plan Commission and City Council and present with pride. And the audience felt the same way. Many asked Gates to hold another public meeting to present the actual final, final proposal before it goes to the Plan Commission and City Council, a suggestion she appeared open to. (Fingers crossed)
I find the Kimley-Horn methodology and output flawed, relying on what can be done versus what should be done. The disconnect between development’s specific impact on underlying infrastructure (roads, parking, etc.) and how they must be connected. The missing baseline research on how optimized infrastructure impacts development scenarios. The results appear to be a shoehorning of development into a defined area with little intelligence and common sense applied to how it would function best. It’s about promoting “could” rather than “should” … and being a study that recommends, it should be all about the “should.
There should be:
- Data tables detailing the specific infrastructure impacts of every increase of “X” number of residential units, or “X” increase in office square footage, or “X” increase in retail square footage on traffic patterns.
- Armed with that information, buckets containing the suggested mix of increased residential, office and retail and a system to subtract from those buckets as new development is considered. If a bucket runs dry, that type of development is at capacity.
- A system of triggers where “X” amount/type of development requires “X” in infrastructure improvements from the city. Given the increase to tax base, it’s quid pro quo from the city investing in increasing their revenues.
- Overlaying all this should be intelligence in placing realistic development in realistic locations.
I’ve seen none of this, however I detailed it a year ago.
On the upside, one audience member specifically made the point of including defined infrastructure and development triggers into the plan. After the meeting when I stalked Gates to her car, I reiterated this point and she seemed receptive. After all, city investment in infrastructure would be offset by increases in revenue from taxes (both property and potentially sales taxes).
Another audience member, Jack Welch (not of GE fame) nailed the Pink Wall development scenarios and brought sanity to their suppositions (and won my “Smartest Guy in the Room” prize). When you look at the plans east of Edgemere, you see development “opportunities” on buildings about 10 years old. The probability of these being torn down for a small increase in density is infinitesimal. And yet they are part of the housing increases expressed in the plan. (See what I mean about common sense?)
Welsh also pointed out that the density increases being asked for, while sounding like large numbers, are actually fairly small when you think of them as numbers of units per acre. When you lop off the eastern portion of the zone and apply the formula to the area west of Edgemere, the biggest increase he came up with is 600 units, 80 of which are already included in the PD-15 strip from Preston Tower to the Athena. Now 600 added units isn’t tiny, but it’s hardly the 1,800-unit bedlam that’s expressed in the plan. And remember, the maximum assumes every Pink Wall complex is bulldozed and rebuilt with maximum density … and again, that’s just not realistic.
Side Note: Many Pink Wallers view the deed restrictions as being their shield against developers, but are they? If we assume a majority don’t want any redevelopment, this forces developers to buy 51 percent of the complexes in a sub-tract, all but guaranteeing 51 percent-plus of complexes would be immediately redeveloped. BUT if the deed restrictions were lifted voluntarily, a developer would only need to acquire complex-by-complex, a potentially more patchwork and less dense outcome. I’m not saying I’m right, just that strategy is important.
Of course the room was stacked with “don’t touch a hair on our chinny-chin-chins” Pink Wallers. Although another resident implored them to think about how development would increase resale value. What he forgot is that in this area, most real estate holdings change hands after probate. I was told that one resident changed her tune when she realized significant new development was likely far beyond the end of her life. I riff on this a lot, but mental stagnation is alien to my thinking.
More, not less parking
One of the more baffling things I heard is the thought to relax parking requirements to kick-start residential in Preston Center. I say that parking is like electric outlets, you always need more than you think you do. Whatever’s going on with Millennials and Uber, we don’t have enough data to understand if the declining automobile love affair is temporary or long–term. So to reduce residential parking requirements is short-sighted. Even if car ownership permanently cools, it’s not like parking spaces would go to waste. One only has to look at the storage unit industry (a glorified garage to store junk) to see that’s wrong.
Outside the bubble
Receiving input from the public after so many months in the task force bubble reopened the original intention of this exercise. Namely, how to deal with traffic and parking in Preston Center. The problem is that Kimley-Horn aren’t seemingly traffic engineers and the City of Dallas and TXDoT have not been integral in this process. Sure they’ve attended meetings, but nothing the task force has done so far is related to any action or inaction by either party (who control the infrastructure). I’ve called TXDoT’s rejiggering of Northwest Highway a happy accident and not done in response to the task force’s recommendations.
I spoke to a city planner and asked if the roadways within Preston Center were considered optimized for traffic flow. He said “no.” I said it was long past time for them to get off their butts and figure that out to increase this study’s accuracy. And it’s not like this is a big budget item. It’s running software simulations to optimize traffic flow and then mostly restriping existing roadways.
Attendees with traffic and parking questions were pointed to a table in the back where they could review placards, talk to someone (not from TXDoT nor the city) and scrawl suggestions on a flip chart. Ya know when a waiter says, “I’ll be right back,” and you never see them again? It kinda smelled like that.
There were all manner of 3-D images festooning the walls for attendees to inspect. I suspect much of this was produced in the two weeks since the meeting was postponed. It wasn’t the physical model Laura Miller and I suggested, but it was better than previous iterations.
It would also have been helpful to have placed retail, residential and office in the most likely locations. But no, like the Pink Wall diagrams showing development in unlikely places, Preston Center showed new residential towers fronting the tollway. Perhaps they could call them the “My Way.” That way residents could be asked the age-old question, “My Way or the highway?”
It’s also nice to see St. Michael’s proposed development is not part of the recommendations. See the lower stepped building? That’s 8100 Lomo Alto, owned by the church. The bare parcel to the right is where the “cat’s out of the bag” high-rise is being prayed for.
Another part of the plans of late has been the idea of a tunnel bike/walkway under Northwest Highway. One of the locations was to place it alongside Douglas (where there’s already a traffic signal). Bemused, I quipped that it was more likely to be used by sedan chairs and rickshaws carrying the area’s wealthy older residents than bike or foot traffic.
In reality there’s no good place or space for a tunnel. There’s more density east of Preston, so getting to a tunnel west of Preston means crossing Preston. If I have to cross Preston, why don’t I just cross Northwest Highway at the same intersection? Yes, yes, the Pink Wall isn’t chockablock with bike riders and walkers, strollers, people who walk. But increased density will likely bring with it a more car-less crowd.
Now if you want to talk tunnels, build one beneath Northwest Highway so when it rains the water has somewhere to go. That’s the tunnel for me.
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