Over 100 residents were displaced Friday night, and the skeleton of Preston Place still smoldered on Sunday. And yet, as the flames ignited their neighbors’ belongings, ultimately claiming the life of one, several commenters immediately leapt to the prospect of redevelopment on the lot. “Too soon,” leapt to my mind as I read those comments. Let’s set some things straight …
- Preston Place will not become parkland.
- It’s unlikely that the parcel will be rebuilt exactly as it was.
I’ve written several times about this area. It is part of the Planned Development District 15 (PD-15). As part of that district, traditional city zoning rules do not apply. Instead, it’s governed by the PD-15 documents. Since being created in 1947, the documents have been changed and added to … most recently in 1980. Each time, those changes (ordinances) had to be approved by the city. This means public input.
Currently the way I read the documents, PD-15 has 80 “spare” housing units that could be added within PD-15. Those units were allocated in the 1970s when Preston Place was slated to be a high-rise. While that building was never built (neighborhood opposition crushed it), the allocated units remained.
SEC. 51P-15.105. DENSITY.
The density of PD 15 is limited to the present density plus the density of the proposed tower on Tract 3, up to a maximum of 52.4 dwelling units per acre. (Ord. Nos. 14241; 24637)
Preston Place occupies 1.86 acres. Using the density equation in the PD-15 documents, 97.5 units could be built on the lot. That would be a 37.5 unit increase (likely rounded down to 37) from today’s 60 units.
We’ve also seen soil testing being performed on the neighboring Diplomat building in recent months that strongly hint at redevelopment there. Diplomat sits on 0.95 acres and so could potentially grow from today’s 15 units to 50 units … a 35 unit increase.
Were both parcels combined, the 2.81 acre lot would support an additional 72 units … or 8 units below the threshold where community and city support would be required. Were the small road separating the two parcels included, the 80-unit maximum may be reached.
Were a reluctant Royal Orleans to enter the picture, another one-acre and 32 additional housing units could be added (up to the 80 maximum currently allowed) above the current 20 units. Again, closing off unneeded streets would add a few more but would exceed the available 80 unit surplus capacity (meaning they’d need to go to the city for approval which would open up public scrutiny).
NOTE: Word comes to us that Diplomat may have been doing soil testing because there may be a buried remnant of either Turtle Creek or Strait Branch running between Preston Tower and Athena. Certainly the area is pockmarked with waterways appearing and disappearing below ground. If so, while it wouldn’t preclude high-rise building, it would be more costly with deeper pilings likely required.
Theoretically there is no height restriction within PD-15, as it’s not specifically mentioned in the documents. The PD is anchored by two high-rises already. The relatively low numbers of additional units easily available (city approval to exceed would not be easy or guaranteed) suppose some obvious scenarios.
Assuming the Diplomat and Preston Place lots were combined:
- A luxurious high-rise with large units would make for a taller building
- A building with smaller units would be shorter to not exceed the 52.4 units per acre.
- A luxurious townhome development that may or may not hit neither total units permissible nor density maximums.
Assuming the Diplomat, Royal Orleans and Preston Place lots were combined:
- Thus far, Royal Orleans has been seemingly reluctant to deal with developers. Being overwhelmingly investor-owned points to price as the likely driving factor. Preston Place and Diplomat redevelopment may change their stance. After all, the new development(s) will eat up the available surplus of units. They’ll also become effectively boxed in physically as well as vertically. It’s unlikely Royal Orleans would generate interest for a high-rise developer as its proximity to other tall structures would impair views and so value.
Assuming Preston Place is developed separately
- Rebuilding with ~1/3 more units is unlikely to produce an overly tall structure.
For example, the four-story Laurel apartments on the corner of Northwest Highway and Preston Road have over 160 units. By comparison, Preston Place had 60 units on three floors.
Sure, in theory they could build a 97-story building with one unit per floor, but that would be ludicrous. But even a more realistic scenario of units averaging 2,000 square feet would only generate a building perhaps 13 stories tall … and that assumes nearly half the lot is given over to amenities, parking and other non-living areas. Were the living space footprint to increase on the lot, the building gets shorter.
But I have said before, if a third high-rise is destined for PD-15, the Preston Place lot is the most logical spot. Being perpendicular to Northwest Highway, it would cast the smallest shadow, while a large L-shaped high-rise encompassing both Preston Place and Diplomat would cast a huge shadow in all directions.
Finally, what I’ve written supposes that a developer (or developers) would not seek to increase the current density or 80-unit capacity surplus in PD-15. I feel the uplift required to fight that through the neighborhood and City Hall would be intense and likely not result in enough variance to make such a fight worthwhile. Remember, the Preston Center Plan just adopted by the city doesn’t give a lot of wiggle room to development behind the Pink Wall.
But I might be wrong. However if such a fight were undertaken, Preston Place would be parkland for many years. Heck, Transwestern took three years to move the first shovel of dirt on the Laurel project.
I will also say that after Friday’s fire, it’s unlikely the Diplomat and Royal Orleans lots would be allowed to combine on their own. The amount of fire department access required to battle the Preston Place blaze demonstrated that as long as a building stands on Preston Place, Diamond Head Circle (separating Diplomat and Royal Orleans) must remain open to emergency traffic.
If there is any sliver of upside to this tragedy, it’s that to a developer, the value was always in the land. The fire doesn’t diminish the land as an asset. That said, I doubt any owner wouldn’t trade that “windfall” to be back in their home.
Now can we return to showing some empathy and respect for the victims of the Preston Place fire who were rushed out of their beds into a chilly evening only to watch their homes and possessions alight into the wind?
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.