Shortly after the deadly March 4 Preston Place fire, I wrote about several options for redevelopment within current restrictions. To recap, Preston Place is within the Planned Development District 15 (PD-15) that is subject to its own development limitations, outside city zoning.
The PD-15 documents were most recently updated to reflect the added units for an unbuilt high-rise on the Preston Place plot in the 1970’s era. Today, it’s those additional 80 units that are available to any lot within PD-15 to increase density, so long as they do not exceed 52.4 “dwelling units” per acre.
After that column ran, one commenter said they’d heard the Preston Place owners were already discussing rebuilding. My answer was that sure, they may rebuild, but it won’t be brick-for-brick the same building. Opening that can of worms with 60 separate owners will result in change. “As long as we’re starting from scratch…” will be the opening of many conversations.
Also, several readers questioned what could happen if a developer went to the neighborhood and city to change the PD-15 documents for expanded growth…and was successful.
There are two metrics. Number of units per acre (52.4) and total number of units allowed in PD-15 (currently 80 surplus). There is no specific height restriction.
Any single development (like Preston Place) would likely want the 52.4 number raised. As it is, Preston Place can only add 37 units to their existing 60 in any reconstruction, well below the 80 units available. Snapping up all 80 available units would require a density of 75 units per acre.
This isn’t to say the resulting building would be gigantic. A developer may build more but smaller units resulting in a mid-rise building (assuming underground parking and exactly the same floor plans, Preston Place would grow from three stories to seven). But equally likely in Preston Hollow would be a luxurious, more Athena-sized project with large units. The result would be a taller building (note: Athena’s lot is 0.4 acres larger than Preston Place).
By comparison, Preston Tower, built first, has 85 residential units per acre while the later Athena has 64 compared with today’s 52.4 units per acre. (Preston Tower adds another ~10 units per acre when the commercial spaces are added.)
The problem arises not from what Preston Place does, but rather from what the remaining PD-15 low-rises intend. We already know Diplomat is sniffing around for a developer buyout (measuring, core sampling, and now apparently studying traffic). How many units and at what density make sense for the relatively small PD-15 area? Does redevelopment on one parcel negate it on another? Four lots and four high-rises is not the goal, so who wins and who loses?
The table above details what could happen with unlimited unit growth but adhering to the current 52.4 units per acre. As you can see, there is quite a bit of untapped density. In fact, were those four complexes to build to the 52.4 unit/acre standard, they’d more than double their combined number of units by adding 174 units to today’s 136 units. PD-15 would grow from 639 to 813 units total.
Let’s say there’s one do-able high-rise. Where does it go? In my opinion, Preston Place is the answer, just as it was in the 1970s. It’s equidistant from the other towers, so minimizes view blockage. It’s also perpendicular to Northwest Highway, so it will cast the least shadow over the neighborhood. However, maximizing tower views would be a challenge (Preston Tower and Athena front Northwest Highway for a reason).
It can’t be placed on a combined Diplomat and Royal Orleans lot. That would require the closure of Diamond Head Circle which would block emergency services access to the side of Preston Place (the fire taught us that). It could be placed on either of the two lots, but at about an acre, it would be a needle-like structure (not necessarily bad).
Building a high-rise on the Diamond Head condos would be a disaster for both that structure and the Athena. One side of each building would be across the street from the other, diminishing values for both (the market for aging peeping Toms is small).
Either way you slice it, four high-rises ain’t gonna happen. So the other complexes looking to redevelop will have to settle for lower-rise buildings with their resulting fewer units. That might not set well with investor-owners who want the most bang.
Either way, fingers-crossed for mid-rise flats. Given the area’s demographic, townhouses are not the answer. Besides, staircase-less flats offer the most usable square footage.
Outside the Northwest Highway frontage road and Diamond Head Circle, the north-south roads within PD-15 are not sized to accommodate traffic increases (hell, only one even has a name). It’s likely that any changes to density will require roadways to be expanded to meet existing codes. Any roadway increase eats into the overall size of the lot being redeveloped.
For example, Preston Place’s lot is approximately 163 feet wide. Let’s say roadway expansion on both sides eats 10 feet on each side of the plot. The resulting lot is reduced from 1.86 acres to 1.56 acres. In turn, the existing 52.4 units/acre arithmetic would drop the plot’s potential units from 97 to just 82 units, further fueling the desire to bust the 52.4 limitation.
In addition to losing land to roadways, would Preston Place’s replacement be required to incorporate setbacks into what was essentially a zero lot line structure on three sides? If so, between setbacks and roadway encroachment, Preston Place could change from a hollow rectangle with a center courtyard into a single-unit wide building.
Sewage and Storm Drainage
Poor drainage and aging sewers cause routine flooding. While the Pink Wall hasn’t seen new construction in decades, the surrounding area has. From the Edgemere Assisted Living facility and the Drexel Park Hollow townhouses to the McChateauing of Preston Hollow, strain has greatly increased on aging pipes. Any Pink Wall growth will have to take that into account. A prior bond tried to figure it out but wound up tossing the monies back without a fix. Today, it’s uncertain what the next bond will bring in money…and will…to fix the problem.
Both are issues the city must consider when evaluating any petitions to increase density.
Preston Place’s reconstruction may force a number of lingering issues, like drainage, to the forefront. It may force the ownership within PD-15 to come together with the rest of the Pink Wall to agree on a longer-range plan for the remaining buildings in the zone. Perhaps something more realistic than the Preston Center Area Plan’s do-nothing approach.
The potential for a developer to want to bust either the unit counts or density numbers opens negotiations to demand and get more.
Dallas is not known for building architectural marvels. We had a torrid affair with I.M. Pei and Philip Johnson in the 1980s that defined our skyline, followed by nearly 40 years of architectural celibacy. While the rest of the world has figured out that tenants/owners spend more to occupy architecturally significant buildings, Dallas usually slaps ’em up to fill ‘em up. Certainly nearby Preston Center couldn’t be any less architecturally intriguing were it designed in Lego.
Has Crescent’s McKinney and Olive building, designed by top-tier architect César Pelli, roused a few developers? After all, before it was finished, it was nearly 100 percent leased for reportedly the highest cost per square foot in the city. Heck, they’d leased 20 percent of the building before ground was broken. Good design pays back more than it costs.
So…should PD-15 and the rest of the Pink Wall support a project that increases density?
But it would have to fix a lot of problems and be magnificent, and Dallas doesn’t fix things or do magnificent very often.
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: email@example.com.