Good News, Bad News: Latest Oak Lawn Committee Meeting a Mixed Bag

Were the architects colluding with the Russians on this design?

Are you a good news first kind of person, or do you want the needle before the lollipop?  Heck, I’m jetlagged and feeling woozy, so let’s go with the needle. (From the picture above, you guessed that, right?)  

At last night’s Oak Lawn Committee meeting, there were a trio of projects presented by Masterplan for various clients.  One client appeared to have not gotten the memo and showed up, shall we say, inappropriately attired.

You know what I mean.  You send invitations for an evening boat ride with big letters, “slacks, rubber-sole shoes, and bring a coat because it gets chilly when the sun goes down.” And invariably, someone shows up in 6-inch stilettos, a mini-skirt, and a tube top, who an hour and chattering teeth later, scams a coat from some chivalrous doofus.

The proposal for an apartment building at McKinney and Hester avenues (north of Knox Street) was full-on heels, skirt, and bare midriff, however the OLC didn’t offer Masterplan’s Dallas Cothrum a coat. And in truth, he knew it would be cold. This wasn’t his first cruise on the lake.

It smacked of a client who wanted to teeter out a bad plan just to see what happened … or maybe they just didn’t believe they needed pants and deck shoes for this boat ride. Oh, how wrong.

Given the design, let’s begin at the bottom.

Last December, I said the OLC should just hang a sign that says, “Do NOT Enter With an Above-Ground Parking Garage.” Apparently, this developer didn’t get the memo with floor after floor of above-ground parking. There’s an irony here. While developers yack about walkability, who wants to walk past block after block of parking garages interspersed with the odd bush?

Lot coverage of 78 percent (zoned for 60 percent) guarantees that Soviet-era feel of cramped quarters pressed one next to the other.  Currently, the plots are zoned for 36 feet in height and this plan calls for 14 stories totaling 160 feet.  In fact, this plan blows zoned height before leaving the parking garage. Density-wise, the three assembled plots are zoned from 30-36 units per acre. The 1.84 acre site supersizes from 60 units within zoning to the proposed 350 units.

Net-net, that’s essentially six times the density and five times the height, punctuated by slimmer setbacks and ugly above-ground parking. The neighborhood must be getting some pretty rich givebacks for such a blight, right?

Well, they did come to the table with an affordable housing component … but please.  They’re giving 2.8 percent of their 350 units over to affordable … 10 units.  With 435,000 square feet of residential space generating at least $2.90 per square foot, that equates to $15,138,000 in annual rent.  The giveback for affordable housing is a parsimonious $73,200 per year … less than one half of 1 percent. Break out the Dom Perignon Champale, indeed.

And what are they building?  Units will average 900-ish square feet, which seems to be the magic developer number these days.  Remember “average” means there will be some larger and a lot smaller. I suspect there will be plenty of 500- to 600-square-foot shoeboxes.

And I will say that this current trend of smaller units is a long-term failure.  If we are to assume that once this apartment frenzy passes (and it will), some of these buildings will convert to condo, except with such a plethora of smaller units, they really can’t.  Imagine thousands upon thousands of small, 500- to 600-square-foot condos. It’s bad enough people rent them, but is there a market that supports buying them?  Yes, there are condos this size in Dallas, and they sell, but their proportion of the overall condo market is vastly different than in this current cycle’s apartment boom. Especially at the dizzying price levels these buildings would want to command.

Maybe these cheaply built stucco contraptions are meant to fall apart before condo conversion is even possible?  It’s a short-term, profit-rich, neighborhood-poor philosophy.

At any rate, this was their first toss against the OLC wall.  Hopefully next time they’ll dress appropriately.

Harvey’s Paint & Body (right) and Fancy Flea (left) today

Harvey’s Paint and Body

Moving on to the good news … just south of Wycliff (the poorer section of Wycliffe) on Maple there’s Harvey’s Paint and Body that’s been at this location since 1968 … well before PD-193 was formed in the 1980s.  It’s even still run by a third-generation Harvey.  Due to its pre-PD-193 arrival, it’s a grandfathered non-conforming business that wants to gussy themselves up, expand a little and become street legal.  It sits next to Dallas Tire & Lube and a block from Freeway Motor Service.

Next door is the Fancy Flea that they want to incorporate into Harvey’s to expand operations. The goal is to paint and repair the two buildings, shuffle the sidewalk, add a parkway and install landscaping to improve its streetscape.  In my opinion, it’s nice to see long-term businesses expanding along with their changing neighborhood.

Site Plan for Urban Lofts townhouses on Cedar Springs Road

Cedar Springs & Lucas Drive

Finally, the best for last.  On Cedar Springs Road between the Tollway and The Dylan Condos Apartments, sits the shuttered Bethany Presbyterian Church and adjacent apartments. Urban Lofts wants to build a community of 26 townhouses … FOR SALE townhouses … on the two lots. Units will run from three to four stories and 2,106 to 2,800 square feet with roof decks. Did I mention they’ll be FOR SALE?

While exterior renderings (above) were scant, the buildings will use brick, stucco (hopefully accents), and Hardie siding (where no one sees it). I can’t wait to see more on this project … it’s so nice to see something non-rental.

Two out of three ain’t bad I suppose.  There’s always one trying to slip something by the OLC.  What’s surprising are these developers that hire folks like Masterplan to inform then and smooth the process, but then clearly don’t listen to their advice.  But then again, tone deaf clients are probably more profitable.


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 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


9 Comment

  • You nailed it Jon.
    More preplanned Ghettos from the REIT world.
    I can imagine laundry hanging from the windows and patio railings in 20 years. Could this be Calcutta in Dallas?

    No real architectural vision occurring with a 160
    Feet tall future tenement in this neighborhood.

    Somehow I wish the American Institute of Architects had a voting process to approve or deny the multi family projects being built in Dallas.

  • I don’t understand why 190 du/acre is being represented as some kind of insane density for an urban core area. And ditto for the 78% lot coverage.. 60% sounds shockingly low for an urban location.

    Yes, the design on that rendering looks ugly (bland I’m okay with, but that legit looks ugly), but leave the density hand-wringing for the suburbs.

    • Also, if you allow higher lot coverage, you can get more attractive and more interesting design that feels less imposing. If youre trying to minimize lot coverage, the developer is going to have to put everything in one bulky block.

      • mm

        Actually, lot coverage makes little difference to design. Lower lot coverage usually equates to height asks. Poor design is just being cheap.

        • I was more thinking in terms of if all else held equal (height limit, square footage), but sure, if height is flexible, that’s another option.

          • mm

            Or if owners weren’t hell-bent to squeeze the most pennies out of their properties that force above-zoning requests and thuddingly bigger ugly boxes.

    • mm

      It all depends where you demark the urban core. Knox isn’t what most would traditionally call an urban core. And I’m not against density, but as you say, it’s ugly. Density goes down better when it’s not awful to look at.

  • Re: Affordable Housing
    You sound disgusted there is only a small percentage of the property designatd for “affordable housing.” Have you been to South Dallas? Would you want to live in a majority Section 8 complex?

    • mm

      By affordable housing, I do not mean Section 8. The government definition is people making less than 80% of the local median income not paying more than 30% of their income for housing. In these cases, my point is that completely removing what are today affordable units for local workers and replacing them with high-income housing is a mistake.