Developer A.G. Spanos’ Year-Long Courtship of Diplomat Condos Revealed

Diplomat is top, right-center and red … oh and labeled Diplomat

Since August 2016, we’ve been reporting on different events surrounding the Diplomat condo building, beginning with a contingent contract and continuing with surveyors in November, quickly followed by soil testing in December.   You’ve likely seen the map above a zillion times, but it’s a shortcut to avoid tediously describing where a certain building is located in an area of nearly 30 multi-family complexes.

Avid CandysDirt.com readers will remember Friday’s tease about A.G. Spanos who is also involved with residential components of Dallas Midtown.  For less ardent readers, The Spanos family owns the Los Angeles Chargers football team along with the A.G. Spanos Companies who purchase, develop, build and manage apartments all over the place.  Locally, A.G. Spanos is managed by Spanos family member and Preston Hollow resident Dimitri Economou.

I had a chance to meet with the development team last week to understand their plans for the Diplomat property.  I must stress that while negotiations and plans have been evolving for a year, all plans and certainly any renderings of the new building are extremely preliminary.

I say that for several reasons before I show you their thoughts.  First, what they want is significantly outside the current scope of what’s allowed within PD-15 (the location outlined on the map, that operates differently than straight city zoning). As such, they will need approval to change the PD-15 bylaws from the City Plan Commission and City Council.  Before that happens, the neighborhood will have multiple opportunities to weigh-in with their opinions.

Last Thursday, an introductory meeting took place with members of the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association (PHSNA) who had previously been involved in the Transwestern/Laurel development on the corner of Northwest Highway and Preston Road.

So very ground-floor in the process.  As you recall, The Laurel deal took two years to consummate. I have no way of knowing if this will take more or less time, but I can say that dirt won’t be flying in the near future. You have plenty of time for the ink to dry on any support or protest signs.

So here it is …

Front view on Diamond Head Circle (Preston Place would be to the left)

The proposed building was designed by WDG Architecture and contains 110-120 units across seven stories in an “H-shaped” configuration. The long portions are along Diamond Head Circle and the alley with the cross-piece spanning the two.  The amenity deck … the “H” knock-outs … house the pool and other amenities.

It’s the same height as the back “garden” building on the rear of Preston Tower.  For those concerned with how much of the building they will see, that’s a good reference. The PD-15 documents allow for 52.4 units per acre and the Diplomat is a pinch less than one acre.  There is no height limitation.  Yes, it’s a lot denser than today’s 15-unit Diplomat.

You may be thinking, “What about that Preston Center Plan? Didn’t that put this to bed?”  No, and no.

Zoomed out the side and more of the height can be seen with Preston tower in the distance.

Parking will be split between under and above ground. As you can see from the front elevation, units wrap the building on two sides (Diamond Head Circle and facing Diamond Head Condos) and a screened garage will be visible on the west and north/alley sides.  On the upside, PD-15 documents require a pitiful 1.22 parking spaces per unit. The proposed development contains more than enough parking for today’s needs along with ample visitor parking.

In addition to more parking, Spanos is also talking about LEED/green building techniques and some anti-flooding measures that may help the neighborhood (once the city does its part). It’s nicely unexpected to have a developer proactively try to address environmental and known neighborhood problems without being cajoled.

Pool deck on the western side of the open “H” side.

The architects’ presentation spoke a lot about the strong and recognizable 1960s architectural elements and how they tried to incorporate that into their design.  For example the screen-y elements seen on the front balconies were meant to evoke the window screens found on the Diamond Head Condos’ windows.

Moving up from the pool, the exterior is just another unimaginative apartment building

What do I think?

Being nice, I will say I feel the exterior design needs work. It’s too Plain-Jane and too similar to any number of boring apartment blocks we’ve all seen flung up around Dallas.  Small balconies, small windows and tacked on accents don’t evoke the strong architecture of the adjoining towers it would be neighbor to.

Personally, evoking the 1960s is the easy way out (and I don’t feel it even does that particularly well).  The Pink Wall was built with the modernity of the era that is clearly evident in the towers and certainly the existing Diplomat building. The Diplomat’s replacement should be just as modern to today’s cutting edge design ethos.  Given its height, it should must be a building we enjoy seeing out our windows.

But not all is lost. Oddly, once you get away from the front adornments, the balconies look much more modern and simple. The try-too-hard throwback slatted balcony railings give way to the modernity of glass. Also, while the renderings don’t portray the color accurately, the building is slated for a crisp, smooth surface in equally crisp, modern white. No thick, patterned, troweled-on beige stucco.

As for the central issue of density, I am sure the neighborhood will make their thoughts known.  After all, it was the central issue for the Laurel and certainly it’s central for the PHSNA representatives as well.

As for the team, I’ve had the chance to speak to Economou, the architects, and others on the team multiple times in the past week.  Each time one central message comes through … they want to work with the neighborhood on a project that’s a winner for everyone.  No arrogance. No take-it-or-leave-it.  I told them my personal thoughts on the exterior, and while slightly deflated that I’d called their baby ugly, vowed to find a way to make it better.  The right reaction.

For those who want to literally see what I think, check out this file I created to outline my personal thoughts on what I’d like to see.  I warn you, don’t get your hopes up thinking you have a hope in hell of getting everything on this wish list.  It’s just a dumping ground for my personal thoughts and ideas.  You may agree or disagree, but I hope it gets you thinking.

What more do I think?

Remember, this dance has been going on for a year.  It was not triggered by the Preston Place fire.  It’s easy to see that with two of the four non-high-rise buildings in PD-15 exploring significant changes, the remaining two are also evaluating their futures.  The redevelopment of PD-15 has likely only just begun.

Normally I’d say it was time to open a bottle of Jack, but the neighborhood needs to keep its wits about it to ensure its needs are met as these changes unfurl around us. Of course, if you’re not a regular CandysDirt.com reader, you might want to become one (shameless plug).

Tomorrow you’ll see my personal redevelopment plan for Preston Place. I guarantee a surprise.

 

 

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 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors has recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com.

 

5 Comment

  • I suggest that everyone read the Preston Center plan and compare it to the level of detail and honest, informed analysis offered by the author. From the pension fiasco to the current land use planning process and a lot in between, the city could have done and can do a lot better than the existing political apparatus seems capable of grasping.

  • If it were me I would be raising hell about replacing condos with a rental property.

    • mm

      Last week I wrote about a Harvard study that pegged multifamily construction at just 8% condos nationwide. For better or worse, apartments are what’s overwhelmingly being built everywhere.

      • I am aware of what it getting built everywhere but what the apartment developer is asking for is a huge departure from current zoning. They knew the zoning when they purchased the property and now they are asking for something that makes the property much, much, much more valuable in my view at the expense of the surrounding neighborhood.

        I wish the city would start asking for a lot more in exchange for these re-zonings that are incredibly valuable to developers like affordable housing or incentivizing owner occupied condo development. It doesn’t seem like a big ask, rezoning the property for higher density condo development would still result the land becoming much more valuable to the developer and contrary to claims of developers they are not owed a rezoning that makes their property more valuable.

        So yes, I know the trend it Dallas and nationwide is apartments but I am also constantly seeing rezoning and variance cases with significant asks, in my view it’s time for the city to start saying we will upzone the property but only in exchange for condos or affordable rental units.

  • The primary public policy issue raised by the preliminary Spanos proposal has little to do with nanny state givebacks and supposed community interest and everything to do about the need to recycle superannuated condo developments. Condominiums are a relatively recent innovation and entirely creatures of statute. The Diplomat case highlights the public policy challenge of addressing the first wave of condominium development obsolescence. Rather than a sop to developers, the granting of zoning variances to spur development in a case like this is more properly seen as an accomodation to unit owners and the removal of a problem property to the benefit of the neighborhood.
    Plus, while development initiatives by their nature adhere to economic fundamentals, community opposition naturally degenerates into incoherence. Just look at the fools the Oak Lawn agitators have made of themselves. They demanded townhouses on Welborn and apartments on Shelby and the market has given them the complete opposite.