Smoke on the Water: Turtle Creek Haus Fails to Bring Goods to The Table

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Teixeira Duarte, founded in 1921, is a Portugal-based conglomerate with significant operations in real estate and construction. Revenues in 2015 were €1.49 billion, down 13 percent from 2014’s €1.71 billion.

The company operates in 17 countries, but their main real estate spheres are in Portugal and Brazil, with a smattering in Africa.  The company intends to construct a residential tower at Dickason and Hood Streets. Award winning, Dallas-based architect Javier Espinoza will design the building currently named Turtle Creek Haus. “Residential tower” could mean rental or condominium, depending on which plan moves forward.

Last night at the Reverchon Park Recreation Center, about 30 local residents met with representatives of Teixeira Duarte and Masterplan, as well as architect Javier Espinoza.  It was the second meeting with the community.

I was unimpressed.

Survey Plat 1

First, let’s catch you up.  The proposed building will comprise five lots at the south-ish, west-ish corner of Dickason and Hood, across from Silverado assisted living facility and a block east of the Plaza high-rise condos. The lots are under contract but the sales have not closed.

Javier Espinoza's Wycliff Duplexes

Javier Espinoza’s Wycliff Duplexes

Oaklawn-ites will recognize one of Espinoza’s projects at the corner of Wycliff and Harry Hines.  The pair of duplexes behind the Shell gas station are his design.  The project, called “Consenting Boundaries” was recognized by the Dallas AIA design awards in the “Unbuilt Design” category.  I suspect the project was categorized as “unbuilt” because while two were constructed, the original plan was for a series of 11 encompassing the remainder of the block.

Teixeria Duarte has engaged Dallas-based Masterplan to schmooze the neighborhood and help with permitting and their desired rezoning (there always is, isn’t there?).  Masterplan has experience finagling Oaklawn’s PD-193, as well as having a bench full of former Dallas City Council, Zoning, and Planning officials (unofficial retirement plan?).   Heck, one of them even has the first name Dallas!

The Meeting Runners

Masterplan’s representative on site last night didn’t do anyone any favors. Karl Crawley was formerly the Senior Zoning Planner for the City of Dallas.  But he’s also a bit of a “bubba” whose jovial attitude during serious discussions radiates condescension more than consensus-building. For example, he repeatedly told residents his clients could build X without any approval at all … the subtext of which sounds like we’re all gosh-darn lucky to even be in the room. Not the most productive tack to take when you’re Jones-ing for local support for a zoning change. Sources tell me this is a page from Masterplan’s playbook

Teixeria Duarte’s representative wasn’t much better.  Overly chatty and deflective would be how I’d describe this Brazilian (whose name I didn’t catch).  When asked “yes or no” questions, he would give a long-winded answer to downplay a negative answer.  Part of this was language, but part was obvious calculation.  Like asking a doctor if some ailment will kill you and hearing a pause followed by, “Weeeeeellllll, it’s not that simple….”  Oh yeah, you’re a dead man walking.

Architect Javier Espinoza was less informed that I’d have expected.  He regularly asked audience members about how neighboring buildings did something clearly visible from the street. He also asked how neighbors saw traffic patterns.  And all seemed surprised about minimum street widths and basically punted their answers.  I’m sorry, but if you’re this far along, shouldn’t you know that?

Instead of telling the assembled his data on traffic patterns and how that was translated into their designs, Espinoza was drawing on a flip chart capturing audience feedback.  Because subjective observational information is better than real data?

The Strategy

At this meeting two proposals were presented that appeared to be textbook examples of “bait and switch.”

Plan A had a smaller lot footprint, six units per floor, 25 residential stories plus parking (360 feet total height), and was stuffed with 159 one-bedroom apartments averaging 550 square feet. How small is 550 square feet?  It’s the same size as the smallest room at the Market Center Marriott Residence Inn and 77 square feet smaller than the smallest studio at the Homewood Suites downtown on Elm Street.  In other words, a rack-and-stack dormitory for single Millennials.

Plan A?  Pretty much every neighbor’s nightmare development. But perfectly within current zoning as residents were endlessly threatened reminded.

BUT WAIT …

Plan B (which would require an ever so tiny zoning change) would be 54 feet or five stories shorter on a larger footprint with eight units per floor averaging about 900-ish square feet (163 units total). AND they’re holding out the carrot that this configuration miiiiight be a condo. Seems a no-brainer, right?

The desired zoning change would increase the project’s footprint on the lot from the zoned 60 percent to 69 percent.

BUT WAIT, WAIT …

The only reason lot coverage ratios matter is because the developers say it’s not economically feasible to submerge the parking garage. Plan A’s tower only occupies 15 percent of the lot while Plan B covers just 26 percent. In architectural parlance, this raised parking structure is known as the “podium” and it’s this monolithic parking garage podium that will occupy either 60 or 69 percent of the lot.

Rendering of "The Barracks"

Rendering of “The Barracks”

It’s all a strategy of distraction and lazy intimidation

What do I think the chances are for Plan A?  Almost zero.  Regardless of whether it’s within current zoning, the Oaklawn committee isn’t going to support a dorm.  It was also hinted that Teixeria Duarte isn’t really in the landlord business. But the biggest evidence comes from the existence of Plan B.  They want it more.

So it’s all a bit of a shakedown. And you know what?  It didn’t have to be.

Design a killer building with a compelling streetscape that doesn’t hog up the whole lot and residents will be more apt to work with you to make it happen. The Dallas of decades past hired starchitects to construct architecturally significant structures.  Today we have slapped-up REIT stucco apartment blocks or Harwood luxe-deluxe and nothing in the middle.

While Plan A and B’s illustrations were only exemplars to show each building’s potential footprint and density, the developers fell into the same trap as the Preston Center Task Force. Poor visuals stick in people’s minds.  More attractive sample designs may have been better received. Plan B was nicknamed “The Barracks” during the meeting … ‘nuff said?

What’s more galling is being told by Crawley that they’re not going to have endless debates because they want to be at the Plan Commission in three months. I’m sorry, but in addition to being a highly suspect timeline, you don’t crank out a quality design in three months.  It’s also highly improbable that Teixeria Duarte has entered into the land purchase agreements without some pretty detailed design and costing work having already been completed and agreed upon by Teixeria Duarte management … especially as it’s their first project north of the Rio Grande.

Why aren’t residents seeing that?  Why are residents being subjected to this dance of the seven veils?  Why not just drop trou and show neighbors what they really want?

Strategy.

Diminish opposition by offering small concessions that were likely already in the plan or cheap to add.  Tossing the “loser” a few beads makes them feel like they “won” something.  And who knows, Teixeria Duarte may be able to get away with giving less than they were prepared to.

Note to Neighbors

Every increased-density development has the same community elements. Adjoining neighbors who are worried about the noise, traffic and looming impacts of a dense/tall neighbor. The nearby neighbors who care about neighborhood integrity.  The not-so-nearby neighbors who want something pretty to look at. Overlay this with an individual’s longevity in the neighborhood because resistance to change often grows with time.

The blank-walled Barracks "podium"

The blank, stucco-walled Barracks “podium”

Home truths

Crawley’s attitude aside, this project is kind of a fait accompli. There is a 100 percent chance there will be a high-rise on that lot very soon.  So the fight is not there … let it go. The fight is on aesthetics. Stop worrying about height.  Is 25 stories so much worse than 20?  Is 30?  No.  It’s tall.  Full stop. Move on.

The three areas of influence you can exert the most pressure to shape the outcome are:

Design: This isn’t the last high-rise in an area already containing enough bad architecture from the bland 16-year-old Plaza I and II to the latest Gallery at Turtle Creek.  Demand to see the design studies Javier Espinoza has already completed (that Teixeria Duarte has approved of) and then decide if it’s something remarkable the neighborhood can be proud of. Take the long view; force beauty.

Lot Coverage: Horse-trade building height for an underground garage. It’s the right thing to do, and again, no one is going to notice a few more floors on top, especially as the area fills with other high-rises. BUT think of how much more attractive this development will be with ground-level green space.  It may raise the bar on future projects. (Sorry guys, the half-level of underground garage offered in Plan B doesn’t count.  It’s probably required to level the sloping property.)

Streetscape: Burying the garage is the first step to negotiating an attractive streetscape.  After all, walking down the street you’re only aware of the first three-to-four floors. Ditto the adjacent neighbors who I’m sure would rather look out the window at a landscaped and architected human-scale streetscape than a four-story “podium” of car bumpers or artsy-fartsy camouflage pointed at their living room windows.

Remember, whatever covering they use to wrap an above-ground garage will most likely deteriorate, better it’s not there in the first place.  If it absolutely can’t be buried, demand something long-lasting and classic like a garage façade movie set of brick townhouses. Otherwise it’ll most likely be a stucco wall of some sort.

The developers will be meeting with residents several more times over the summer. I urge interested neighbors to meet independently and draw up lists of prioritized desires.  That way neighbors will be presenting a united front at future meetings versus everyone throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. After all, the developers are meeting behind neighbors’ backs.

Winner Slug v1

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

 

4 Comment

  • I love that part of Oak Lawn because it reminds me of West Hollywood; the mix of old and swanky new structures give it so much character. The above ground garage just sounds like an awful change to that area.

  • Wondering if this is TDRE Hood Llc and TDRE Lee Park. Initials fit for purchaser of Poston Building, just speculating

    • mm

      Oh my! EXCELLENT catch. I bet you’re right! The reason there’s no DCAD entry is because the Hood/Dickason sales haven’t closed. If correct, their attitude at the last meeting would have me concerned about Poston lot plans. Definitely something to ask at the next meeting.

      • It’s likely they are as initials match. I hope not because I don’t want any of those pranks at poston. Seems like foreign based developers think zoning is just for fun and think they can claim hardship for trying too put too big of building on a small lot. Perot or Harwood prob would not pull a stunt like this. The plans to the new 3001 Hillwood turtle Creek tower include a one acre park.