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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.