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 firstname.lastname@example.org.