It’s A New Year For All Except Residents of Preston Place

Close to a year ago, Preston Place burned.

Last week at a CandysDirt.com event in Preston Hollow, in and amongst the wonderfully renovated kitchen, a temporary kitchen cabinet assembled.  You see, when I was introduced to several ladies, they all wanted to talk about PD-15.  Turns out they live and lived in neighboring buildings. By “lived” I mean that one was a former Preston Place owner who was displaced by fire in March 2017.

To recap, the area between the Athena and Preston Tower marks the boundaries of PD-15 and includes four low-rise buildings and the two high-rises. Being part of a PD, changes require some type of intervention.  Either the members of the PD can unanimously vote to change it or the city can do it for them. On July 13, four months after the fire, Council Member Jennifer Gates held a meeting to discuss the fire and the process needed to change the PD-15 documents to allow more construction.  That standing-room-only meeting showed overwhelming support for reopening the PD and discuss change. The task force held its first meeting on August 9.   Seven months after Gates’ meeting and approaching 11 months after the Preston Place fire, the task force continues to move further away from implementing its mandate from the July meeting.

The ladies and I discussed what we thought would happen.  First, we’re pretty sure the task force will collapse under the weight of its own pettiness and unwillingness to negotiate or compromise. November’s letter to Gates cemented the “us” versus “them” battle lines. In this case, it’s the high-rises against the low-rises or NIMBY and YIMBY (yes in my backyard).

None were a fan of Laura Miller’s newfound involvement. Of course, after watching Miller during the Preston Center task force, I’d agree and tag her as NIABY (not in anyone’s backyard). She was uncompromising in opposition to Crosland’s residential high-rise, the skybridge, and Transwestern’s Laurel.  During those task force meetings I heard her comment “I thought we killed them” when finding out Transwestern was back on.  Later, after Crosland sold the parcel to Leland Burke, I sat in back of her when she told Burke, “Don’t worry, you’ll get your high-rise” on the same parcel.

32-story Chang “Elephant” Tower in Bangkok completed in 1997

Most interesting was listening to the lady from Preston Place.  The owners want to do the right thing by the neighborhood. They’ve turned down proposals seeking to build a large bulky building across their entire lot. She said they want a project they, and the neighborhood, can be proud of. Campsite rules. Leave a place better than you found it. All the petty wrangling and time wasting is very frustrating.  They wish they could just show what they want and then discuss.  This “show and tell” is why the next meeting is taking so long. They were only given enough leeway at the October 25 meeting to develop a plan.

I always support seeing and understanding a project, and then figuring out if it can work.  Aside from all-out crazy, “We want to build a 32-story elephant,” I don’t want to pre-judge because I don’t assume I know everything.

Unlike some task force members, she also understands that any Preston Place rebuilding won’t be approved by the task force unless the other parcels are part of the solution.

How it Will Collapse

The task force will collapse because the high-rises will not negotiate in good faith with all parcels. They continue to believe they can just deal with Preston Place and exclude the others.  Their ill-received letter and poor choice of spokesperson all but guarantee it.  At some point, the low-rises and developers will simply file a zoning case with the city.  A year wasted.

The only reason the developers haven’t filed yet is because they want local support to make passage through Plan Commission and City Council easier. Once they realize that avenue is dead, they’ll file and take their chances with the neighborhood.

Then What?

Each developer will file a zoning case with the city to do what they want and ask the city to amend PD-15 to accommodate it. During the process, ballots are sent to residents within 500 feet of the development. If there is more than 20 percent opposition within 200 feet, the city council will require a supermajority (12 of 15 members) to approve the change.

But it kind of doesn’t end there.  Land use attorneys tell me that landowners can also petition to remove their parcel from PD-15 with their development rights intact.  Within PD-15, the underlying ground rights are MF-3 with unlimited height and a 4:1 FAR (meaning that for every square foot of land, four square feet can be built).

If granted, the end result would likely be PD-15 reduced to Athena and Preston Tower. It would also likely result in the 4:1 FAR being increased to accommodate larger structures at least on some parcels (like Preston Place). The city has shown considerable leniency in increasing FAR for the short time I’ve been watching.

Think this couldn’t happen?  PD-15 began 70 years ago in 1947 and hasn’t been changed at all since the 1970s.  Even though scantily detailed (three pages long), some of its rules have fallen into disuse – even two maintenance structures were converted to residential use without batting an eye. One could argue it died long before the Preston Place fire.

For developers, there is no upside to being in the PD and the task force will have proven itself too inept to wrangle consensus from just six parcels. What use or benefit does it provide for the city or neighborhood?

And that’s the worst possible outcome. Like the Oak Lawn Committee, the PD-15 task force is a gate. Extinguishing the PD and its potential effectiveness means the only control is the Plan Commission and City Council. And I believe they’re more generous with rights and less interested in neighborhood objectives.

Once a parcel or parcels leave the PD, they will forever be independent agents with MF-3 zoning.  During the next building cycle when any buildings are obsolete, they can petition directly to the city to change and increase density and height on their parcel.

In the end of our chat, the ladies and I wished the process were faster and less contentious but realized we were stuck with the opposite … while we wait for the inevitable. Before you ascribe my thoughts to sour grapes at my resignation from the task force, know that I sent the same sentiments to the task force members months ago telling them that if we refused to negotiate we might as well dissolve the PD.

 

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.

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