“Train Wreck.” “Waste of Time.” “Squandered Money.” “Are you eff-ing kidding me?”
These were the thoughts screeching across my brain as I sat in last night’s Preston Center Task Farce Force meeting. Sixteen months and $350,000 later and we’re officially at the exact same place we were sixteen months ago, less $350,000. After the last meeting I thought there was progress, but nope … we’ve regressed to Square One. Even the underground parking lot with a park on top that’s become a centerpiece was on the table a year ago.
For their part, consultants Kimley-Horn have counted a few cars and slapped some scenarios together for the task force and general public to throw up on. Last week, they dropped a 150-ish page report detailing their findings to task force members. “Findings” is a strong word. Apparently it’s a ton of data and scenarios that never actually got to the point. It also didn’t include enough of the task force’s personal recommendations … because … you know … they didn’t spend 16 months on this project to go away empty-handed.
Those task force recommendations were hammered out in a private meeting, sans Councilwoman Jennifer Gates. They basically erased the past year’s “work” to put personal agenda forth as policy.
Councilwoman Gates sealed the fate of this sham report by telling task force members she wouldn’t put forth any recommendations that didn’t have the support of the task force members. So basically, “Write your own ticket and I’ll lob it over the fence.” The $350,000 spend on Kimley-Horn becomes so many footnotes.
Let’s break it down …
- Preston Center’s business-owning representatives, supported by now de facto leader Laura Miller, don’t want to be tied down by any pesky numbers or ratios attached to the mix of residential/office/retail. The market sorts itself out, they say. If the wreck of today’s Preston Center is the result of free market dynamics, I guess their plan is for more of the same? Yippee!
Note: I think there is a speck of reality in what the Preston Center representatives say. We share a belief that the development Kimley-Horn shows is unrealistic in location and form as proposed. However I believe ratios of retail/residential/office must be spelled out and incented or nothing will change. Perhaps not exact ratios, but without question “the residential target is between X and X percent.”
They’re also still pushing the lie that parking at Preston Center is a huge issue. It’s been proven time and again that outside workweek lunch hour, there is no shortage of parking in the central garage. I suppose in an election year, they’re using the tried and true strategy of repeating a lie until it’s the truth.
Speaking of parking. The rotting concrete corpse of a garage is still at the center of it all. One Preston Center representative claimed that even were there instant cash to double the size, rebuild it underground and put a park on top, the neighboring businesses are unlikely to give the unanimous agreement required. But apparently they’re on board to spend $8 million to add a third level. Couple that with the $10 million apparently on the table from a neighboring billionaire (with strings attached, natch) and you’re nearly halfway to the estimated $40 million needed. If they weren’t so hell-bent on giving Cuban the bird, he’d probably toss a few mil their way. Of course like everything in this project, $40 million is just a guess because no one has bothered to seek a quote … after 16 months.
- Pink Wall representative Steve Dawson has never wanted a hair touched that would compete with his business interests behind the wall. There are decrepit complexes that can’t afford repairs whose only economically viable option is to be torn down. But within current zoning, redevelopment isn’t financially viable, essentially maintaining the crumbling status quo. The solution? Impair the land value until it’s financially viable to rebuild the exact same thing? We all know that’s not going to happen. Those complexes are effectively trapped.
Dawson went out of his way to quote the exact numbers of Pink Wallers returning surveys and how many share his anti-development views. What went unchallenged was the fact that those returned surveys represented less than eight percent of residents, and that the “no development” voters perhaps accounted for a measly six percent of all Pink Wall owners. I’ve had more people at a dinner party.
Last November I wrote about the results of the City’s broader and larger survey on the Laurel apartments on Northwest Highway and Preston, “242 surveys sent, 165 were returned and of those 96-percent were in favor of the development with just seven dissents.” Not falling into the preferred narrative, that data fell victim to collective amnesia.
The task force’s recommendation for the Pink Wall? Zero redevelopment beyond what’s currently zoned and deed restricted. Or as I like to call it, handcuffs.
- TXDoT nor the City of Dallas have done an iota of research in 16 months on how to improve traffic and parking within Preston Center and surrounding intersections. I found the time a year ago to outline a plan.
For example, TXDoT has no clue IF the Texas U-turn in they suggest can physically be built on the south side of the Tollway and Northwest Highway intersection. They have no clue how many cars exiting Preston Center office buildings would be siphoned off Northwest Highway at rush hour. They have no clue how those cars would cross multiple lanes of gridlock traffic on Lomo Alto to even get to the Texas-U-turn. But hey, let’s throw it in the plan.
They talked about development triggers (build X; do Y) that would add “stuff” to roadways. I say “stuff” because they have no clue how or if their triggers would impact traffic. For example, were the Pink Wall to add 500 residential units and 60,000-80,000 square feet of retail, the “prize” they’d win would be a traffic signal at Northwest Highway and Edgemere and some “perimeter sidewalks.” Not a jot about what exactly this would accomplish or that the perimeter includes the Pink Wall itself, part of which is bound by deed restrictions.
A signal at Edgemere would add a 10th signal/bottleneck between the Tollway and Central (yippee!) and like the signal at Pickwick, wouldn’t cross into University Park. Even if they’d allow it (doubtful) there’s no opposing street on their side. And the signal would run 24/7. At best it would be needed a couple of hours each weekday.
There was also plenty of talk of “low-hanging fruit,” but absolutely no detail about the “fruit” nor what “picking it” would accomplish to reduce traffic.
Oh, and of course there’s currently no budget so … good luck with that … maybe the developer will pay?
Seriously? They do this for a living and that’s the best they’ve got? After 16 months!
In addition to quotas or ratios, task force business owners don’t want any “triggers” attached to development anyway (shock). They say they don’t want one ultimately unworkable trigger to gum up development. The answer is painfully simple. Traffic planners need to do some work assigning values to each option that equates to some kind of traffic reduction/easing. A development simply has to implement enough options to equal the increase their project would generate (e.g. two from column A and three from column C). Using a grab-bag approach, it doesn’t matter what options a developer chooses as long as they add up. When the bag is empty, so is development until more options are researched and assigned values, realizing at some point, done is done. (Again, something I said a year ago.)
- Everybody still hates Mark Cuban. What I think is funny is that Cuban is totally unconcerned with whatever this sewing bee is up to. He knows that whenever he wants to move on his Northwest Highway lots, he’ll move. Besides, the more built up Preston Center becomes, the better his case for changing the zoning on his side.
Based on all this fantastical last-minute hijacking, the task force is going to take Kimley-Horn’s PowerPoints and rejigger them and write their own ticket. Kimley-Horn gets the job of re-gussying them up before the public gets to again weigh-in during another fandango in September. The result will be a plan that 13 task force members agree will further feather their own financial/personal/political nests. The 16 months and $350,000 wasted on Kimley-Horn just puts a varnish of respectability on unvarnished self-interest.
Everyone sing … My bologna has a first name, it’s F-U-B-A-R …
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. If you’re interested in hosting a Candysdirt.com Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016, my writing was recognized with Bronze and Silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.