Kingston’s Mansion Meeting More Moaning on Toll Brothers Project

Last night, city council member Philip Kingston spoke at The Mansion in an attempt to bring clarity to the Toll Brothers project.  Unfortunately, after a good start, he failed to seal the deal.  Kingston presented the big picture on the project – namely that Toll Brothers is completely within their rights to build a high-rise that’s uglier, boxier, more dense, with worse parking, and that looks terrible on the street.  In fact Toll Brothers delivered a letter to Kingston and the plot sellers stating that they have every intention of building the worse-in-every-way plan should this better-in-every-way plan be shot down at city council.

Kingston’s question to the audience was simple and rational.  Essentially, given the two alternatives, why should he support the worse “by right” plan? “By right” does what it says on the tin; no neighborhood or city involvement period. It’s a simple enough question. But for people for whom the only answer was “neither,” that question was rationally unanswerable.  “Neither” isn’t an option, something rich folks ain’t used to hearing.

Given that, it was a question that an hour later remained unanswered. Instead every sputtering twist of the knife and turn of the screw was used to avoid answering the central question posed.

The hour was filled with still “surprised” Plaza neighbors who took various pot shots at the Oak Lawn Committee (put a pin in that) for not representing them personally and “who the heck are they?” When they weren’t raking the OLC over the coals for irrationally thinking they were the culprits here, they continued the well-worn road of magical and nonsensical thinking.

Traffic — terrible, terrible traffic. OK, but given the “by right” plan and the “better” plan, traffic outcomes are pretty equal, with the “by right” option generating a touch more traffic. Pick.

The traffic study used flawed data. Maybe, but the city does not require a traffic study, so flawed or not, it’s not a factor in the outcome. Again, pick “by right” or “better.”

Traffic down narrow streets. They should have been widened 50 years ago when the area was rezoned to MF-3.  Of course, that would have required a re-platting of every lot as the city took the land and pushed existing structures that much closer to the curb (and probably getting sued in the process).  Heck, they may be completely, totally right. But that ship has sailed.  And again, back to the central question –“by right” or “better”? Pick.

One Plaza resident said she didn’t fear height (she lives on the 4th floor, so ain’t got no views to lose) claiming density was her issue. She said the neighboring Cantabria apartments are shitty neighbors with DJs on the pool deck and young’ins using it as a flophouse.

Not to rub anyone’s nose in Cantabria, but the Plaza sold the land it sits on. After developer one went belly-up in the recession (who BTW had negotiated a great plan with the OLC), the Plaza negotiated their own deal with the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am developer from Ohio.

So anyway, back to the young’ins. If Toll Brothers builds the better plan, the units will be larger and thus more expensive.  At $3 per square foot, that pretty well prices out anyone under 40 not on a trust fund. So no DJs, no moving van conga line. But the “by right” plan, with its smaller units makes those apartments more affordable to the brat pack. So again, why is the “by right” better for the neighborhood?

And again I heard the stink of “ewww, renters” bigotry.  At $3,000 per month for a 1,000-square-foot one-bedroom, no one’s going to be schlepping their food stamps to Eatzi’s. And once again, the city cannot advocate for one type of housing over another. It’s illegal.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Every “pick A or B” was met with “T.”

A Visit To The Woodshed

The Oak Lawn Committee became a surprise scapegoat for the participants’ anger, and that’s not fair.  The OLC was founded in response to Lincoln Property’s midnight demolition of the movie theater on Rawlins and Oak Lawn Avenue (Eatzi’s). That act kicked off the Oak Lawn Plan and got the OLC moving.  That was in 1983 .. 20 years after the current MF-3 zoning was in place.  Ever since, they have held open meetings nearly every month to vet developer and homeowner plans to change zoning within the vast PD-193 area (Oak Lawn, Uptown and Knox).

In the short time I’ve been attending their meetings, each time I’ve asked about how some ugly building got built, the answer has been “by right” every time.  Seriously … every time.  (Including one neighborhood attendee building his own “by right” apartments at the end of the street.)

So for those uninformed attendees to lay blame at the OLC’s door is unjust. The OLC didn’t create the zoning, they’re simply doing the best they can to help those needing help and to improve the neighborhood on the developers’ dime in exchange for support for a zoning variance. The Oak Lawn Plan, written by some of Dallas’ best architects and lawyers, and adopted by the city, is their guide.

And to all those who think the OLC are some sort of Welcome Wagon to new residents in the area, they’re not.  It’s a volunteer organization that doesn’t have the budget or manpower to welcome every new resident in this vast area.  And heck, I’m not sure of the circles you travel in, but when I went to my first OLC meeting, I already surprisingly knew three or four people at the table.

Philip Kingston knows all this, and yet he largely stood by and let OLC members take the heat from attendees projecting their anger at their lack of control onto the OLC.  As a city council member who understands the value of the OLC, he should not have ducked when the arrows flew.

Kingston should also have stopped the tantrum response by people threatening to start their own OLC-like group because they’d have killed Toll Brothers’ MF-3 zoning. They couldn’t and Kingston knows that too. He should have reiterated what was said by others, namely encouraging their support of the OLC by becoming involved.

Sealed With A Miss

After hearing this latest round (what round are we on?) of irrationality by the impenetrable bubble, Kingston should have said, “So far I’m hearing no reasons why a ‘by right’ building would be better than what’s on the table from Toll Brothers.”  Because he hadn’t.

Instead, he punted the ball down the field asking attendees to email him their comments or call his office (“Connie answers quickly”). He’ll then take it all into consideration when Toll Brothers next rolls into city council next week.

If this is the done deal I believe it has to be, all Kingston did was give false hope and miss the opportunity say better is better … and “neither” isn’t a constructive answer.

Of course with all the money in the room, they could always just pass the plate and buy all the MF-3 zoned land and turn it into their private park.  After all, the meeting was at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, not the Ramada.

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.

 

6 Comment

  • Another interesting read. We are in a battle of sorts with Kingston over renaming Lee Parkway. 85% of the addresses on Lee Parkway are The Mayfair. You would think our input would interest Kingston but he is obviously posturing for a run for mayor and our interests are not his priority.

  • ” namely that Toll Brothers is completely within their rights to build a high-rise that’s uglier, boxier, more dense, with worse parking, and that looks terrible on the street. In fact Toll Brothers delivered a letter to Kingston and the plot sellers stating that they have every intention of building the worse-in-every-way plan should this better-in-every-way plan be shot down at city council.”

    Please, they are building this better project out of the goodness of their own hearts? They want what is the best for the neighborhood?

    They are doing a financial calculous, upholding their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders. Let’s stop this narrative that they are doing some sort of favor to the neighborhood, the are negotiating a deal that maximizes their profit on some of the most expensive land in Dallas that is quickly increasing in value.

    Call their bluff, they believe that this design is going to be significantly more profitable for them which is why they are pushing so hard for it even though according to themselves it is a worse deal for them.

    As far as the trust fund comment, I would think you know the Dallas market well enough by now that there are more than enough in the under 30 crowd in this large and wealthy city that $3/sqft is no issue, at this point you can’t swing a Range Rover and not find a trust fund baby interested in renting. If you don’t believe it take a drive through SMU student parking.

    • Of course Toll is doing the neighborhood a favor, first, by taking on malignant cretins like you and Pestl, and, second, by being here and maintaining the surpassing business excellence that allows them to accept the risk associated with a first-class development. You confuse nominal rate of return with risk-adjusted return and then further undermine your argument by trying to apply Toll’s capabilities against itself instead of using the prevailing community standard of the rate of return that might be expected from the likes of Mill Creek or Associated Estates if a company like them were even willing to consider undertaking a near $350,000 per unit construction cost high rise. And ALL the added risk with their proposal relates to project improvements negotiated by the OLC for the benefit of the neighborhood. Note that $3000/month carries a $800000 mortgage at 3.8% and, based on the $100 million project cost claimed by Toll’s consultant and assuming 100% occupancy, 25% annual overhead, and the out there $3000 monthly rent number, the highest unlevered cap rate that Toll could achieve on the project would be 7.2%. Average realized rents per unit of $2000/month would translate to a 4.8% cap rate.