Proposed University Park Development Has Some Up In Arms

Readers may have no clue what you're talking about.

Readers may have no clue what you’re talking about.

As I’ve walked through University Park in recent weeks, I’ve seen the above sign crop up.  I’d already planned a column about these amateur protest signs.  After all, if you don’t know what they’re talking about, there’s no way to find out.  Kinda Marketing 101.

And what are they talking about?  Demolition of Snider Plaza? Violent gang activity around Snider Plaza?  Hearing aids for the UP City Council?

It’s the signage equivalent of the relationship trope, “What’s Wrong?”  “If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you.” University Park is hardly alone in planting cryptic echo chamber signage about neighborhood goings on, you see them all over, especially wherever development is proposed.

CandysDirt.com got a note today asking us to look into it.  So I did. And sure enough, it’s a redevelopment proposal tentatively named Park Plaza.

Chase Map 1

The above photo shows the sign’s target, the shuttered Chase branch bank on Hillcrest just south of Snider Plaza and the adjacent parking lot.  There’s a proposal before the UP City Council to create a Planned Development District (PD-26) on these lots with the goal of increasing the density.

Let’s be honest, no one’s going to cry about the demolition of that awful Chase building.  It’s an eyesore. Getting rid of it is hardly “wrecking Snider Plaza.”  What began life as the single-story Hillcrest State Bank designed by George Dahl is loooooong gone.

Don't you with Dahl’s Hillcrest State Bank (and that Chevy) was still around?

Don’t you wish Dahl’s Hillcrest State Bank (and that Chevy) was still around?

In its current incarnation, DCAD says the building contains 52,344 square feet of leasable space (interestingly, the developer says it only contains 27,000 square feet). The proposed development would add two stories and extend the building across the back alley and slightly into the parking lot area (seemingly pretty close to the shadow seen in the picture).  The final project would contain 127,880 square feet of office, retail and restaurant space.  In other words 2.4 times the existing floor space (per DCAD). But the added mass would not just be in the mid-rise portion and seven stories is hardly a monolith.

View from Snider Plaza to the South

View from Snider Plaza to the South

As you can see above, the development will also include step-downs.  The office block will be 95’ high (plus elevator housing) but the remainder of the project is essentially treetop height. In other words, no one’s really going to feel loomed over by the new structure. It’s a little higher and mildly closer.  It’s a far cry from a hulking zero-lot line development.

In a letter to the UP mayor and city council one of the questions asked was why the city is so hot on this seven story proposal when they turned down a proposal for 135,000 square feet and five stories.  The math tells me that the five-story mass of the other proposal occupied more of the lot. After all, 7,000 more square feet and two less stories means a larger footprint. This proposal trades fat for tall.

Same Rendering as above for better viewing of main structure

Same Rendering as above for better viewing of main structure

As with development, the two rallying cries are “traffic and parking.”  Let’s see.

The new University Park development will include (as of the October 18th agenda) 644 largely underground parking spaces – in excess of UP city requirements. The parking is expected to satisfy 100 percent of the parking requirements of the development’s tenants and visitors.  This blunts criticism that Snider Plaza will be overrun with spillover parking problems.

Lots of parking and nearly all underground

Lots of parking and nearly all underground

Traffic

Ahhh traffic.  As required by UP, the developer provided an extensive traffic study comparing the current traffic quantity, routing, congestion and infrastructure burdens to those same criteria post-development.  What they found was that throughout the day the development would generate an additional 4,757 daily weekday trips.  This sounds like a lot …

Traffic study authors Kimley-Horn provided easy to understand projected increases from development, but they didn’t provide a side-by-side comparison to current traffic. Instead they provided a data dump at the end whose totals aren’t immediately obvious.  Do those 4,757 added trips equate to 50 percent more traffic … 5 percent? … 500 percent?  In my experience, obvious data isn’t obscured for a good reason.

What they did provide was data on the turning patterns in and out of the area.  One of the big traffic totems is guarding against an increase in cut-through traffic through residential neighborhoods.  The Kimley Horn study concluded added cut-throughs would be negligible and mostly due to locals buzzing in and out of the new development’s restaurants.  And this is easy to believe.  Office workers accessing the new building will be local, tollway or Central Expressway users.  In which case they’d head one-half block west to Dickens to cut up to westbound Lovers to hit the tollway or Preston Road.  Central users would turn north on Hillcrest to again hit Lovers east.  Sure, a few will try to cut through smaller streets but the west side is full of dead ends and east of Hillcrest has SMU traffic to contend with, and is unlikely to save much, if any time.

Finally on traffic, they did note that the existing building is empty and generating zero traffic currently.  However again, what they didn’t provide was a comparison of today’s traffic, today’s traffic assuming Chase was full and the increases based on the development’s impact.  Simply, if today’s traffic was 10,000 area trips, 13,000 including Chase and then 14,757 with the full development, the difference between an occupied Chase building and the new development (1,757 in this example) would be less than a demonized 4,757 number.  But again, I assume this comparison doesn’t look that wonderful either as it too was not highlighted in the traffic study.

This has to be better than the abandoned dump that's there now

This has to be better than the abandoned dump that’s there now

Transparency

One of the criticisms being levied at the UP City Council is that they’re not being transparent in keeping neighbors informed.  I find little or no evidence for this.  Here’s why …

Included as part of the UP council meeting notice for their October 18, 2016 (today) meeting

A public notice of the Planning and Zoning public hearing was published in the Park Cities News on June 2, 2016, and notices were mailed to owners of real property within 200 feet of the subject tract. Those Public Notices, totaling 45, were issued by mail to all property owners within 200 feet of the subject property. Fifteen of those notices were returned with a response in protest of the zoning change. The property associated with those protesting responses represent 19.05% of the area adjacent to and within 200 feet of the subject property, just below the 20% threshold requirement for a three-fourths (3/4) vote of the City Council to change the zoning. A public notice of the City Council public hearing was published in the Park Cities News on July 28, 2016. The Public Hearing was held open for three consecutive City Council meetings.

The Planning and Zoning Commission conducted a Public Hearing to receive comments about this project on June 14, 2016. Upon conclusion of that hearing and deliberations, the Commission recommended approval of the Planned Development District with some modifications. Those modifications were incorporated into the revised submittal documents attached in this agenda as EXHIBIT A of the proposed adopting Ordinance.

The Zoning Ordinance, Section 17 lists the typical submittals required for review in the process for approval of a Planned Development District. The submittals to date have been in general”

Other than using the antiquated method of publishing notice in a newspaper — hello, it really is 2016 — it seems like UP tried. If a homeowner is unaware, that doesn’t equate to a lack of transparency. It’s similar to what we saw during the (Transwestern) Laurel apartments taffy pull.  Late-to-the-gamers freaked out because news wasn’t delivered on a silver platter.  And CandysDirt.com, among others, ran so many stories and reports on the Laurel development my head spins just thinking of them.

If protesters want to change something, change the rules for how and which neighbors need to be alerted to development proposals.  If today’s 200 feet isn’t enough, fight to expand it (understanding that every change isn’t a citywide referendum). With newspaper readership dwindling, is there a better way to notify residents en masse?  These are the questions to ask and the rules to change.

My Opinion

As someone who walks by this area regularly, I think the proposal is a reasonably attractive replacement of an ugly building and barren surface parking lot.  Office workers, lost by Chase’s departure, will return to Snider Plaza’s shops and eateries. Neighbors, even protestors, will frequent the new shops and restaurants.

Do I think this is the be-all, end-all, best use possible for this lot?  Unlikely.  There’s always something better. Personally a totally underground parking structure covered by green space would be nicer. But it’s hardly alone with a three-story above ground garage kitty-corner on the northeast corner of Hillcrest and Daniel.

That said, I would want to better understand the traffic implications and increases compared to today’s current and potential capacities. Certainly if it was presented in a meeting, it should also be part of the published traffic study.

I’d also want protestors to cut back on the “think of the children” and “impeach the mayor” histrionics. That’s what presidential elections are for.

 

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.

 

 

7 Comment

  • A lot of this “don’t wreck Snider Plaza” rhetoric is coming from people whose real issue is the existing cut-through traffic in and out of Snider Plaza and not the proposed development. Am tired of people federalizing issues related to single-lot developments and using it to gin up old resentments. Results in effective secondary boycotts of what may well be solid projects.

    • I tend to agree. On the one hand protesters are asking why UP nixed a larger/shorter structure and then complain about traffic. This seems to hint that the protesters preferred the shorter/larger design but wouldn’t it have generated slightly more traffic … negating their too-much-traffic argument?

  • Under the Transparency sub-topic, the City points out that 19.05% of the property owners within the 200 foot radius protested the zoning change. The City has a new Community Development Officer. The new employee made a new interpretation of the requirements and counted the city owned streets and sidewalks as part of the area in the Notice radius. This action diminished the percentage impact of the “no” vote below the 20% threshold.

    The City is playing fast and loose with the facts like the HPISD did for the $361 mm school bond election last year. And the Beat Goes On.

    • Typical procedural response in opposition to what could be a real-world high multi-million dollar value add to an area that needs office space. Far too often, the leaders of the opposition to development are at root ideologues so far on the extreme that they seek to embody government in themselves and enjoy its prerogatives on a personal level.

  • This is a needed development by a very well-regarded developer. Anybody who frequents Snider Plaza – and has to drive there to do so – knows that the parking situation there is untenable. I frequently choose to go elsewhere for shopping/restaurants because too many times I’ve had to waste 15-20 minutes finding a parking spot.

    The vacant Chase building is an eyesore. While local residents should have some input to what goes there, it is ultimately the City Council’s job to make a decision for what’s best for the entirety of the city. They’ve done that very well in this scenario. The list of “demands” by opponents would only result in the site sitting vacant for eternity. The Strode team has done an excellent job threading the needle to propose an economically viable development which will (in my opinion) make Snider Plaza and the neighborhood better.

    • mm

      You bring up an interesting point. I wonder if the existing parking situation you describe will improve with the spaces provided by the proposed development’s garage?

  • I don’t live in that area anymore, but I think part of the concern is future precedent. If developers had their way, they’d buy up every single low rise building near SMU, including Snider Plaza, demolish it, and then build massive apartment complexes and shopping centers. Not blaming them, that’s what they do to make money. UP residents don’t want this type of development.