Frustrating and Necessary, PD-15 Meets Again to Discuss Increasing Density

What makes PD-15’s gyrations different from many other upzoning cases is that there is no blueprint to follow.  The Toll Brothers building in Oak Lawn largely fits within its MF-3 zoning. Sure, some complain whether MF-3 is appropriate for the area, but it’s there. Other projects have MF-2 and want to move beyond those controls. But PD-15 has none of that to act as starting point.  The PD documents essentially state a total number of units in the PD that is derived by the number of units per acre. There’s also a bit on parking and interior street right of ways. But that’s pretty much it.

If you’re talking about traditional city zoning, there are categories for setbacks, density (units per acre and size of units), height, lot coverage, primary uses and any special standards (like a minimum lot size or proximity slopes).  Proximity slopes protect neighboring buildings from being too close to radically taller structures by forcing them to literally step back from those neighbors (think of stair steps back).

So within PD-15, we’re having to figure out what we want using a largely clean sheet of paper.  I’m not saying this is good or bad. What it’s doing is forcing laypeople (myself included) to figure it all out.  Adding joy to the mix is that this isn’t an esoteric exercise. We have developers breathing heavily that divide the group into largely two camps. Those who will be enriched (or not) by our decisions (and ultimately leave the area), and those who will remain and live with the outcome of these decisions (good or bad).

The ultimate goal will be to give what’s needed to those leaving, without screwing those who remain. If we’re really good, we devise a plan that enriches both those selling out and those remaining.

Last night, Scott Polikov from Gateway Planning returned to show us a massing study (placing theoretical buildings on the site to see what their mass looks like).  This is an important step because prior to this it was all pie in the sky with everyone having a separate mental image of what we were discussing.  That picture launched a thousand words … and another thousand … and another …

It launched those words because it brought mental images to earth giving us all the exact same image. (An image I’m not showing you because in its current form, it’s polarizing [you’ll just shout, “NO”]. I think the task force needs to fine tune it before it hits the airwaves.)

The unfortunate part was that Polikov used the density proposed by the A.G. Spanos deal as his only example. I get why he did it; it’s the only contract on the table. But I don’t get why he didn’t show us their 120 units per acre and then 100 per acre and 80 per acre. You’ll notice that I suggest images of less, not more, density than Spanos’ plan.  That’s because my own personal opinion is that Spanos represents a high-water mark.

I usually write these summaries right after the meeting, but I needed the night to examine my own feelings.  While others were bogged down on density as it relates to unit sizes, population, and especially traffic, I realized that wasn’t what was bothering me. The visual impact of the structures is what ultimately bothers me.

The image showed a tower in the Preston Place lot. Check. I’m very OK with that depending on minor details.  It was seeing the seven- and eight-story buildings on the remaining lots that would encircle the area like a cheap skirt that were the visual problem.  The structures generated by that building type are at a high risk of being the same chintzy apartment blocks we’ve seen erupt all over the city in the past few years. That I have a problem with.

I also have a problem with a suggested eight-story structure a street’s width away from a major face of another high-rise.  Not only is it visually bad, it would also diminish property values for those existing units that could string a clothesline to the proposed building. Again, going back to what I said before. How do we provide the rights needed without screwing those that remain? I personally think part of the answer is here.

If you sense me grinding through my thoughts, good.  It’s all part of the process we find ourselves in. These are difficult questions made more difficult with so little guidance in our own documentation.  That said, I think if neighborhoods want to be in control of their own destiny (and density), it’s worth it.  Certainly seeing how the Oak Lawn Committee vets projects has helped me here, but in the end, I’m still a homeowner with my own personal agenda (that I try to be open about and not self-deluding).

But most neighborhoods in Dallas don’t have an Oak Lawn Committee or PD documents to force these conversations. Most neighborhoods in Dallas just get nibbled away with little thought. That’s the take-home for those reading this outside the area:

Take control before you’re in the position of chasing developers to City Hall.


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