Squandered Money, Part 1: The Preston Center Area Plan

Aerial-Preston-Center

Last week, I wrote about the hijacking of the Preston Center Area Plan by the task force members.  But what did the Kimley-Horn recommendations say?  Those attending the meeting only got the barest taste before the meeting was turned over to the task force mob. While it’s important to understand the consultants’ conclusions, most won’t find them any more palatable than the task force’s self-serving response.

From a resident perspective, the founding hot topics of this task force surrounding parking and traffic are more easily quantifiable.

Perspectives on density, particularly residential density, while important, are less a function of reality than personal reaction.  Not that I believe Kimley-Horn has done this well, but having an open-minded discussion on how and where to put reasonable housing increases has always been an uphill battle.  Because of this prevailing residential NIMBY-ism, what’s seemingly being delivered are zero residential increases in all zones except Preston Center itself.

However, note that while Preston Center’s Zone 1 isn’t battling residential, by rejecting any kind of quota, incentives or development triggers, they’re not making it a priority either.  Being business/landowners, they want the complete freedom to build what makes the most money. Peeling a page from the Doris Day songbook, “Que sera, sera … whatever will be, will be. Whatever makes the most money for me, que sera, sera.” Expectedly, this freedom to increase density to monetize assets ends at Northwest Highway, well away from the neighborhoods task force members live in.

Proposed shift to residential would deliver a more vibrant Preston Center

Proposed shift to residential would deliver a more vibrant Preston Center  – if it ever happens

Kimley-Horn: Zone 1 (Preston Center) Development

Within Zone 1, the recommended ratios would be:

  • 43 percent Multi-family Residential
  • 43 percent Office
  • 14 percent Commercial / Retail

Based on Kimley-Horn’s assumptions of density increases from existing (untapped) and increased zoning, to achieve the goal ratios, resulting new construction would add:

  • New Apartments/Condos: 2,600-3,000 Net New Multi-family Units (Apartments / Condos)
  • New Office: 300,000 – 400,000 square feet (Mid-rise buildings Along Northwest Highway)
  • New Retail: 375,000 –475,000 square feet (Mostly surrounding the central parking lot)

With a meager 129 housing units within Preston Center today, the residential increase would be the most dramatic.  Residential is the fuel needed to create a more vibrant Preston Center that’s busy for more hours of the day.  Weekend foot traffic would skyrocket.  Service-related businesses like restaurants and dry cleaners would see dramatic rises in business. However it’s also questionable whether any of the nearby office workers could afford to live in the new residential, negating any traffic easement benefits.

From an office perspective, growth is relatively small to reach the proposed ratios because there’s so much office space in Preston Center today.  About the only change I can see is it becoming more difficult to get a table in the area for lunch.

Increases in retail would come almost naturally were the residential component realized. More people equals more retail to service them.  Surrounding communities would similarly benefit from the added retail choice.  Unlike office, retail and residential would feed off each other.

My Analysis

Preston Center is a like the downtown Dallas of 10-plus years ago when it was almost completely dominated by offices, leaving it a ghost town after dark. Vibrancy is dependent on residential and the resident free time that comes with it.  Office workers arrive, eat lunch, and maybe enjoy a Happy Hour quaff while traffic dies before leaving. Office towers might as well be coal mines for all the life they add.

Downtown is changing with increased residential. The Galleria is changing with increased residential and the future Midtown development. Preston Center needs a residential nudge to move it along.

Zone 1 members criticized the consultants’ recommendations for second-floor retail space, thinking it unrealistic and un-leaseable.  It’s an antiquated thought.  Off the top of my head, strips along Lovers Lane and Mockingbird coupled with new Shops at Park Lane all support leased multi-story retail.  Were that retail to be surrounding a park-covered parking garage, restaurants would clamor for the views.

Research-wise, I see nothing wrong with the ratios nor the goals they represent.  In any final analysis, I’d offer a range rather than a hard percentage.  Ranges allow the elasticity to augment and fine-tune as plans are manifested.  That said, including square footages and unit totals is frightening for most people (most assuredly including the task force itself).  Few can grasp that plans like this unfold over the span of years, and more likely, decades. Most people see everything as “tomorrow.”

Were I conducting the research, I’d have tried to quantify the amount and type of pent-up demand for development by interviewing landowners individually.  In understanding what’s waiting in the wings, a feel can be given on time scales for new development.  While not hard and fast, it would be a near-term indication of change. We know of St. Michael’s desires.  We know Leland Burk wants to build where Crosland Group’s high-rise plans failed (now seemingly with Laura Miller’s approval versus 2014’s scorn).  What else is waiting?

In this way they could have added overlays with the expectations for 2020, 2025, 2030, etc. until final build-out is complete.  That kind of staged plan would have helped their cause.

Overall I see nothing glaringly wrong with the goals being set forth for Preston Center by Kimley-Horn. As I’ve said, their implementation and assumptions of growth quantities as what I find suspect.

Kimley-Horn: Zone 1 (Preston Center) Traffic and Parking

Lie: Traffic surrounding Preston Center is the worst it’s ever been and it gets worse every year.

Truth 1:  Multiple studies have shown that traffic has been declining for about 15 years on both Preston Road and Northwest Highway. Traffic declined during the recession and has increased during recovery, but has not returned to pre-recession levels.

 Truth 2: Any increased development increases existing traffic.

The preferred scenario estimates a 44 percent increase in the number of trips generated (today’s 33,251 + 18,541 = 51,792 total trips).  While this number includes all modes of transportation (car, bus, walk) the ratios of the assumed increases are largely unchanged.

Trips Generated Existing 1

Ratios of transportation modes for trips generated today

No surprise here.  Everyone drives.  With light rail extremely unlikely, transit is unlikely to grow.  Similarly, with the surrounding area too expensive for workers to afford, walking is also stymied. Besides workers, local residents won’t be walking much more either.  So much for all the “walkability” chanting.

Trips Generated Preferred 1

The “best” scenario doesn’t significantly change how people move

In the preferred scenario, the ratio of trips by automobile drops from 91.7 percent to 89.4 percent … a 2.3 percent shift.  So while overall trips increase 44 percent, just 2.3 percent less will be by car.   Whoo-hoo, break out the bubbly.

Parking-wise, in the short-term, pretty much no new parking beyond that required by new construction.  Any new structure being built includes its own parking. Tentatively, a new central garage is a “long-term” goal (which most of the Task Force rightly protested).

My Analysis

The bottom line is that a more vibrant Preston Center guarantees more traffic. It’s simply, mathematically unavoidable. But I repeat again, this is a years/decades-long process of growth.  Residents are not going to wake up tomorrow to 18,000 additional SUVs trying to feed their kids at California Pizza Kitchen. This is another glaring reason why a staged implementation plan would have been less of a shock.

I can also foresee that the ultimate growth in traffic is potentially less than imagined here.  If area traffic has been declining for 15 years, it’s safe to say it’s likely a longer-term trend.  Therefore, growth of Preston Center may have a gentler rise in traffic growth over time if the overall systemic declines remain.

Also, it’s worth noting that while one of the guiding principles of the Task Force was traffic management, growth makes reduction impossible in raw numbers (which should be obvious).  But what it hasn’t done is to weave in any quantifiable data from TXDoT and the City of Dallas on methods that would make traffic flow more efficient.  For 16 months, that work has still not been done … and residents should be mad as hell about that.

Another important criteria for success was to increase the walkability of the area.  An almost rounding-error increase of 1.2 percent in walking trips says it all.  Outside of residents in newly-built Preston Center apartments and condos, a revitalized Preston Center is still just as difficult to access by foot from every neighboring area except from the south where there are no 6-lane roadways to cross. Again, because after 16 months the research on that topic is so much spaghetti thrown against a wall.

In Part 2 will discuss Zone 4 and Kimley-Horn’s wish list.

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 sharewithjon@candysdirt.com.

2 Comment

  • My wife found this write-up. I had attended a couple of “neighbor” meetings and am pleased to receive a summary of current planning with interpretations. I certainly agree that two major hurdles need addressing: the inefficient parking lot between Berkshire and Luther Lanes, and walkability. Why not an office building, of 8-10 floors above 3-4 floors of parking space for shoppers and building tenants, or 3-4 floors of parking spaces with a park on the roof. Perhaps encourage restaurants about that square with limited street parking on two sides that have actual retail shops – barber, beauty salon, office supply, drug store, clothier, etc.
    If the walking distance from apts. to eatery or small retail is only 3-4 blocks, I think many will walk.

    • mm

      Welcome new reader! The main parking garage is owned by the city but its fate is sealed by a group of business owners surrounding it. There’s no way they would approve construction of a competing project. For further reading, if you click on my name at the top of the story, you’ll see all I’ve written on Preston Center (and everything else), a piece from Friday and another one due later today might be helpful.