Lincoln Katy Trail: Angela Hunt’s Latest Client Upzone Request

In today’s D Frontburner blog, I traced the trail of Angela Hunt’s transition from District 14’s city council advocate battling inappropriate development in Oak Lawn to being an emissary for developers.  Here, I want to explore the Lincoln Katy Trail project where Hunt is representing Lincoln Property. (Click here for Frontburner article)

It’s important to note that Hunt is now a private citizen and has the right to secure work however she pleases.  Unlike many technology firms, government doesn’t use non-compete agreements.  Hunt herself says, “I am no longer on the Dallas City Council. I am not an elected official, I don’t have a constituency, and I no longer decide zoning cases. I am a private citizen representing developers and neighborhoods in zoning cases.”

Taking a step back, the owners of The Vine townhomes have been battling developers seeking to radically upzone two lots neighboring their complex.  Gables’ plans for the Carlisle on The Katy complex were nixed by city hall in 2007, Exxir reignited in 2015. The Turtle Creek Terrace lot began with a similar campaign by Lennar, they gave up, and now Lincoln Property holds the option.

What interested me was Hunt speaking with the Dallas Morning News in 2007 about the Gables plan stating, “There’s a reason we have zoning: so residents have some certainty as to what the future of the community will look like. To me, there’s a high level of proof needed to get a zoning change, and this project doesn’t cut it.” (Emphasis mine)

I agree with this assessment.  Imagine living in a two-story, single-family home and having to battle a succession of owners wanting to put four large, boxy townhouses set back 15 feet from the curb, across the street? Imagine saying “no” for a decade.  When does it end?  When does the zoning simply stand?  Or is unending vigilance simply the price you pay for living in a hot area?

 

The Oak Lawn Plan envisioned the McKinney Avenue high-density corridor (Source: Oak Lawn Plan)

The Oak Lawn Plan

In the 1980s, a group of Oak Lawn residents developed the Oak Lawn Plan in conjunction with the Urban Planning Department for the City of Dallas. The neighborhood representatives had names like Bud Oglesby, Mark Thornton, James Huffines, and Alice Dykeman. The plan was carefully considered to map the eventual development of the Oak Lawn area to ensure it retained its feel in the face of a changing Dallas. At 86 pages, I guarantee you’ve never read anything like it and equally guarantee you’ll wish such a plan existed for your neighborhood. It was out of this work that the Oak Lawn Committee was born to shepherd the plan. In conjunction with the Oak Lawn Plan, Planned Development District 193 (PD-193) is also in place to safeguard and guide area development.

Lincoln Katy Trail

Lincoln Katy Trail

Even before presenting to the Oak Lawn Committee, the Lincoln Katy Trail is in violation of each of these mechanisms.  Even back in the 1980s, the plan’s authors explored upzoning areas like this from MF-2 zoning to an increased MF-2.5 designation. MF-2.5 would have allowed 2.5 times the density of the lot size.  They determined that, “the additional traffic generation was determined to be unacceptable to Oak Lawn streets, where projected traffic volumes already exceed existing capacity. Thus, these housing areas have been left in the lower density housing form (MF2) which has been built successfully throughout Oak Lawn. It was further determined by the Oak Lawn Forum that the need for higher density housing could be met within the existing MF3, GR, LC, O2 & HC zones.” And that was 35 years ago!

Note: One of those MF-3 areas is on the other side of Turtle Creek bounded by Oak Lawn Avenue, Cedar Springs Road, Maple and Turtle Creek Boulevard.  The same place Hunt represented neighbors against a zoned higher density project by Toll Brothers and where she was part of a group who met in August 2016 with City Plan Commission seeking to explore changing (down) the area’s zoning. Why not build density where it’s zoned?

You may be thinking that just south of The Vine there’s the 17-story Taylor apartments, so what’s the big deal.  The Taylor is located south of Bowen which already had higher-density zoning in place before the Oak Lawn Plan or PD-193 were developed.  To strip those rights would have instigated a lawsuit by those property owners whose rights (land value) would be diminished.

You may also be thinking that if the Oak Lawn Committee is so great, why is the Taylor’s parking garage one of the ugliest things on Carlisle Street.  The project was built by right and so didn’t have to seek approval from the OLC nor city hall. You can’t legislate against ugly.

Likewise, to the north of the Carlisle on the Katy Trail there are a pair of 5-story buildings – an office building and the Post Katy Trail. Both those properties sit on their own PD (153 and 174) which were also in place before the Oak Lawn Plan and PD-193 came to be.

 

 

Source: Oak Lawn Plan

MF-2 Housing: The Best Kind of Affordable

Why was MF-2 housing so important to the Oak Lawn Plan’s authors?  Because it is low density (60 percent lot coverage) and low height (< 36 feet) housing that adds to a neighborhood feel. Units also couldn’t be smaller than 1,000 square feet for a one-bedroom. The Lincoln Katy plan calls for five and six stories, 70 to 79 feet in height, with 65 percent lot coverage. And those 1,000-square-foot, one-bedroom requirements?  All they’re committing to is “no minimum.” From what I’ve seen, 500 square feet wouldn’t surprise me. To be fair, they have come down some. The original plan was for 90-foot heights and to replace the existing 115 units with 384 units. Now it’s just 329.

This is where workers live who support any number of local businesses that keep the neighborhood as vibrant as it is.  It’s said that one of the reasons the Turtle Creek Terrace’s parking lot isn’t full is because residents are able to walk or bike to their nearby jobs.  Precisely the kind of traffic reducing, walkability newer developments tout but almost never deliver.

In other words, this is market-rate affordable housing.  While the city contemplates its navel on affordable housing regulations, MF-2 has been offering this type of housing for decades.  It’s also the type of housing most under threat by development that prices residents out of the neighborhood.

Turtle Creek Terrace (in February)

Earlier this year, the city faced an affordability crisis — 300 tenants were facing eviction when landlord Khraish Khraish decided to exit the business as new city codes made operating them too expensive.

By contrast, Hunt’s representation on just three projects (Carlisle on the Katy Trail [paused], the Alliance project on Armstrong and Cole, and Turtle Creek Terraces) would see 365 market-rate affordable units replaced by 1,053 apartments … of which today 50 would be affordable. The other 1,003 would have rents around $2.70 to $3.00 per square foot with apartments likely half the size of existing units.

I also wonder how many of the residents in these MF-2 units are minorities whose incomes on average are a fraction of those of Caucasians?  Does the replacement of market-rate affordable housing by high-priced apartments whitewash neighborhoods?

Note: Market-rate affordable is better than regulated affordable.  Market-rate means you can just go in and rent. Regulated, in whatever program, requires registration and possible vouchers, which makes securing a lease more problematic.

Lincoln Katy Trail (Turtle Creek Terrace) “After”

Area Residents Frozen Out

On September 11, Lincoln Property Company and Angela Hunt met with local residents to present the project and seek support.  Vine property owners, including long-time Hunt friend and Vine HOA president Tony Page, were there.

The expected opposition and questions were raised.  Tripling the height and density across a two-lane street are causes for legitimate concern. Traffic comes to mind, but also the location of the entrances and exits of each building.  Hall Street is the main drag to get out of the immediate area, and The Vine’s driveway is just four car lengths from the Carlisle intersection. At rush hour, turning is already a problem.

The addition of hundreds more cars is made worse because few of the new residents will use the alternative forms of transportation of existing residents (walk, bike), who are more likely to work close by.

In addition, when larger and taller structures are placed close together, shadow and sightlines become important.

Lincoln had agreed to produce both a traffic and a shadow studies but has so far frozen out neighbors from input to either study.  In the month-plus since the initial meeting, no follow-up meetings have been proposed with residents. In an email forwarded to me by Page, he writes to Hunt on October 5, “As I have been unsuccessful making contact with you about arranging a scoping meeting for the subject studies …”  Hunt replies on October 9, “… both the traffic analysis and shade study are already underway.” Aside from Page sending a sample of a study to Hunt, there was no meeting to outline the studies’ parameters to ensure neighbors’ input is captured. Another week has passed and Hunt has yet to answer those concerns.

We all know that it’s human nature to show the best face to the opposition. Will area residents see a complete report or only the findings that make Lincoln look best?  A concern echoed by Page.

Next Steps

Lincoln Katy Trail is far from a done deal.  I suspect there are enough residents against the project to force a super-majority in city council (difficult, but not impossible). But even before that, the Lincoln team has to face-off against the Oak Lawn Committee.  Sources tell me that they can’t remember a project ever failing OLC that was ultimately approved.

If projects were able to sneak by the OLC, Oak Lawn, Uptown and Knox are about to get a whole lot denser, uglier, pricier and sterile.

And again, when can the owners of The Vine put away their war paint and be left alone by developers?  Hunt said, “It doesn’t matter how much I might advocate for a project – if it can’t get community support, it’s not going to happen.”

Page’s retort, “It’s more accurate to say that only with overwhelming opposition is there a chance it won’t happen. “

How many of you would be up for a 10 year battle with no end in sight?

 

Hunt Q&A by Joanna England on Scribd

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.

28 Comment

  • I went to the Exxir event at Arlington Hall two years ago and thought 2 of their 3 plans were just stunning, we could be so lucky to get one of those 2. I suggest making Hall and Bowen opposing one way streets to mitigate the traffic problems. They are going to have to do something with the Carlisle on Katy or are we just going to wait for another fire like the one a couple months ago to consume the whole place and maybe next time kill some residents.

    • mm

      I agree, Dallas and London options were breathtaking, Houston’s was a stinker.

    • The Carlisle on Katy appears to be purposefully leaving the fire-damaged units untouched. Piles of debris haven’t been cleared. The original caution tape is still up. That owner should be fined by Code Enforcement big time. And one-waying Bowen and Hall is an awful idea. Truly awful. You would create more traffic nightmares west of Turtle Creek than might ever be mitigated east of Turtle Creek.

    • I happen to really, really like the idea of making Hall and Bowen one way streets in opposing directions. One way traffic could be routed on Hall from McKinney Avenue to Turtle Creek Boulevard, and turn left/right. And one way traffic could be routed on Bowen from Turtle Creek Boulevard to McKinney Avenue, and double turn left lane. Truly a great idea.

    • Who will the residents’ and business owners (hear taxpayers) entrust with developing a master plan for the future of PD-193 that is Oak Lawn (including Uptown)? Cities like Barcelona and Washington, D.C., for example, are walkable cities. You can walk everywhere across the entirety of these cities! Obviously, they each have a master plan.

  • mm

    Jon, you hit on the very reason for our existence and why CD is killing it with hits and community interest. This IS a new Dallas, an urban Dallas, and we will always be in a ying and yang for growth that builds our city (scrape the old, monitor the new, collect the taxes) while protecting our residents, both the “I was here first” residents and those who need affordable housing. It’s why the city needs a better plan for affordable housing and cannot just change the rules mid-stream as they did with Khraish. It is impossible to be stagnant, unless you like Detroit. So yes, when you buy urban, you very well may have to watch out for what’s coming next door. That’s why we are here!

  • “Imagine living in a two-story, single-family home and having to battle a succession of owners wanting to put four large, boxy townhouses set back 15 feet from the curb, across the street?”

    Lol. The horror.. the horror.

    What if I (a **single family homeowner** I’ll have you know) had to experience other, taller single family homes on smaller lots in my vecinity? Can you imagine?!? What kind of life is that?!? Living near those buildings, and those people.. those people who live like that. I tell you, my quality of life would be RUINED, just ruined.

    • This was snarky, but Seattle allows townhouses in single-fam neighborhoods and the neighborhoods (and city!) is better for it. Houston obviously does too, and to an even greater extent, but I’ve never been there. If someone living in a large-lot single family home can’t bear to live in the same area as small-lot single family homes (which is what a townhouse is), I might suggest that a city is not the best place for them.

      • mm

        I’m not saying it shouldn’t happen. But Dallas doesn’t often see single family density increases, jumping zoning for massive increases has fallen almost exclusively on the backs everywhere else but single family.

        • Sounds like you are saying it shouldn’t happen. “Imagine living in a two-story, single-family home and having to battle a succession of owners wanting to put four large, boxy townhouses set back 15 feet from the curb, across the street?”
          Ironic thing is this could describe the Vine townhomes which are large and boxy set back 15 ft from the curb. Ten years ago apartments that looked a lot like Turtle Creek Terrace were bulldozed and The Vine was built. Did you conveniently forget to mention The Vine sits on Carlisle Street which is 3 lanes of one way traffic?

          • mm

            I think some single-family should increase density but that would require a difficult zoning change. But The Vine was built within its MF-2 designation. While more expensive than the 2-story building it replaced, there are actually fewer units at The Vine. It decreased density.
            .
            The Vine are townhouses of three stories. The proposed buildings are twice as tall and triple the density.
            .
            I’m not sure of your point about one-way traffic? The three lanes are only possible because of no parking, otherwise it would be a typical 2-lane road.

          • So, Jon… if The Vine that was built actually decreased density, as you said, then the area can absorb more density, right?

            Turtle Creek Terraces’ 115 units (some just a scant 522 square feet for a 1 bedroom per DCAD) are spread out across almost 4 acres of land.

            And what I’m saying is the 3 lanes that are Carlisle Street between The Vine and Turtle Creek Terrace is plenty of room to support additional residents’ cars from re-development in this area and then some. I say add a bike lane all the way down Carlisle Street.

  • I’m confused by your assessment that lower-density zoning promotes affordability. For a given desirability of a location, stricter zoning is going to require a higher per-unit return.

    I think you’re confusing correlation with causation. Yes, new high-rises have expensive units. But it’s a high rise because they can charge high prices, not high prices because it’s a high rise. As a thought experiment, take one of the lots of one of the new uptown towers. If you said you could only build one unit on that instead, that unit is going to be a $10m mansion instead of a bunch of less expensive apartments going for only $2k/mo (expensive, but much less so than the mansion).

    • mm

      Lower density doesn’t promote affordability in itself just as higher density doesn’t promote unaffordability. Both high and low-rises can be built with a multitude of price points. Now Dallas hasn’t built a moderately-priced high-rise in almost 20 years, but that’s not because it’s impossible. Ultimately, it’s all about what’s on the lot and its condition. New costs more than old (the construction costs are sunk and depreciated). Renovated costs more than unrenovated.
      .
      Your $10m vs $2k argument isn’t correct. Sure there might be a $10m mansion, but the construction costs of those $2k apartments at the density proposed could mean a $50-60m complex is built that generates over $10m a year in rent. Vastly different economics that equate to vastly different land costs.

      • Re: mansion vs tower..
        Yeah, I know that it’ll be a very different project for the developer. I just wanted to demonstrate that for a parcel with a given demand, stricter zoning will result in a higher price point for the consumer. Sure the land cost will be lower if all you can build is a mansion and the construction cost higher for the tower, but on a per-unit basis (which is how we define “affordability”), the mansion is still going to be more expensive for the consumer (not to mention impact on regional affordability, as those couple hundred people who would’ve been in the tower are now bidding on other, existing units).

  • You are crazy. The Taylor is one of the best-looking recent buildings.

  • Turtle Creek Terrace in a February photo? Couldn’t you have chosen a photo from the spring or summer when the grass is green and the trees are full? Come on Candi!

      • Take a picture from the corner of Carlisle and Bowen, Jon. Then turn around and look up.

        • mm

          So your argument is that since there are taller buildings in one direction (with different zoning) they should just barrel through? In that case, upzone the city to MF-4 and be done with it.

          • So your argument is that existing MF-2 Housing is the “best kind of affordable” because it is …small? You neglect to recognize that it might be affordable because it was built 53 years ago and its condition is near the end of its useful life. All awhile the rest of its neighbors (across the corner and their neighbors and theirs, too) build high-rises and mid-rises down the same street.

            And Turtle Creek Terrace, per DCAD, was built in 1964 before the Oak Lawn Committee’s “master plan” with 1 bedroom units as small as 522 square feet.

            Oh, and maybe the real reason that the “parking lot isn’t full” isn’t because “residents are able to walk or bike to their nearby jobs” but rather they got in their cars and drove away.