By a narrow margin, Lincoln Property won support from the Oak Lawn Committee in a 16-to-14 vote for their Lincoln Katy Trail project on Carlisle and Hall Streets Wednesday night. This pivotal vote essentially opens up MF-2 zoned properties (36 feet in height) in the area east of the Katy Trail, from Uptown to West Village (if not further afield), for redevelopment. I say “opens” because, should City Plan Commission and Council approve this project, developers will use it as exemplar for increased density in Oak Lawn and the OLC will have lost their credibility to stop them.
Already we know that the Carlisle on the Katy, located across from the Lincoln project, plans their own up-zone. The last plans called for a pair of high-rises with former Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt signed on to help. Additionally, on the next block, Sutton Place had been seeking a developer buyout for several years.
In Steve Brown’s write up on the project in The Dallas Morning News, it’s important to note that Brown appeared to only interview Hunt. He did not stay to hear the neighbors nor OLC discussion regarding the development. That would have provided his article a clearer picture to the neighborhood’s objections.
In my opinion, the Oak Lawn Committee has failed the community by allowing themselves to be infiltrated by pro-developer members (a problem noted at last month’s meeting). You see, the Oak Lawn Committee relies on the honor system. Anyone residing, running a business, or owning property within the vast PD-193 area can join. To become a voting member, all one needs to do is pay a $50 fee, and on their third meeting, they can vote. Credibility is the OLC’s biggest lever to shape development, and they have done a poor job protecting it in recent months.
November saw an influx of new members who, under OLC rules, were able to vote in January when Lincoln returned. That meeting failed to garner support and so these new members returned in February to again cast their votes with Lincoln. Many wonder if they will now be seen again. Curiously, in raw numbers more votes were cast on the Lincoln case than on the Alliance project that followed.
I am hopeful that the Oak Lawn Committee will be investigating these new members and any possible ties to developers that would result in a conflict of interest. In a few short months, OLC’s credibility has been seriously handicapped. It remains to be seen if they take the necessary steps to regain it.
But these new members weren’t the only problem. Newly elected OLC vice president and developer Leland Burk appeared to carry a lot of water for Lincoln. The only member of the OLC’s leadership board to support Lincoln, Burk’s blatant Lincoln stance was allowed to continue because equally new OLC president Hilda Rodriguez’s politness saw her run over.
So blatant was Burke that when OLC member Cassandra Blanchard questioned the credibility of Lincoln’s traffic study (a very common query on this project), Burk accused her of “impeaching” the reputation of the study’s preparer, shutting off the question. Ultimately Lincoln representative and former Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt didn’t need to defend the study, the OLC did it from within.
How controversial is the Lincoln Katy Trail development? OLC city liaison and Realtor Sue Krider said the project has nearly 100 percent disapproval from those neighbors not looking to sell or develop their property. She said that even when removing the neighboring Vine’s obvious objections, unbroken disapproval remained. Lest we forget, even Toll Brothers’ coming high-rise in the middle of Mansion Park had much higher neighbor support than this.
And it wasn’t just residential opposition, The Friends of the Katy Trail removed their support and Ross Perot Jr’s Hillwood, whose headquarters is across Turtle Creek, has come out against the project.
When reached by phone, past OLC president Brenda Marks said, “Unfortunately it pains me to say the OLC got this one wrong. Had I been in town, I would have voted ‘no’ to the Lincoln deal.”
Hunt made much hay about the 5 percent affordable housing the Lincoln project would provide, failing to point out that those 15 units will replace 115 units of market-rate affordable housing. In fact, if this project passes Dallas City Council and the two other known projects follow, over 500 affordable units will be lost to meager handfuls of affordable housing among the almost certainly 1,000-plus new luxury apartments.
There is also a high probability of even more complexes, emboldened by this vote, following suit and selling to developers. In that eventuality, thousands of units will be lost to wealthification, creating another luxurious slum pockmarked by those properties too expensive or on too small of a parcel to be bought out. The blight and blur I call the UpVillage.
This deep vein of neighbor disapproval was ultimately ignored. Highly unusual for the OLC, who are chartered to look after the neighborhood. The 16-14 vote was hardly a runaway, but it was enough to get them into City Hall.
Obviously, the neighbors hope the city will ignore the OLC’s support, understanding this is the tip of an iceberg. Their hope is that, once again, the city will help these same neighbors who mounted the successful beat-back against prior projects. Projects that then council member Angela Hunt helped kill, stating in The Dallas Morning News:
“I have not had a case come before me where such a large majority of residents are so vehemently opposed to a zoning change,” Ms. Hunt said. “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.”
At the meeting, a Vine townhome owner read the quote above, stating that in part he bought at the Vine because of it. He asked Hunt what had changed her mind.
Finally, one thing Hunt and these OLC newbies share is a backwards interpretation of the Oak Lawn Plan drafted in the 1980s. Each has called it outdated. The inference being that forcing these projects through is simply a needed backdoor to update the plan. But here’s the thing. In the 1980s, it was analyzed and decided that the increase in traffic and density on the Oak Lawn neighborhood resulting from increasing zoning in existing MF-2 areas (36-foot height) was intolerable. So it makes no sense that if 35 years ago, more was too much, how, when density has increased by millions across the city, these concerns are outdated rather than intensified? It’s a little like saying you were allergic to peanuts as a child, so now it’s time to break out the Reese’s.
There is a certain symmetry to a Lincoln project helping to weaken the Oak Lawn Committee. It was in part Lincoln’s demolition of the Esquire theater on Oak Lawn Avenue in the 1980s that catalyzed the neighborhood to form the OLC and write the Oak Lawn Plan.
Alliance’s Broadstone (Armstrong and Cole)
I’m on the fence with this one. It’s also within MF-2 zoning and wanting a large increase. But two of the neighboring parcels allow for 240-foot heights. So do you stick with MF-2 height limits or do you allow a step-down from 240 to 85 feet before hitting into a solid MF-2 36-foot height limit? Add to that a lot of neighborhood support. Part of their support may have come from their desire to work with neighbors (and the OLC) that resulted in changes and improvements to the project.
Speaking of support, it’s interesting to compare how support was measured differently by Lincoln and Alliance. The only supporters mentioned by Lincoln were financially motivated developers, sellers and wanna-be sellers. Whereas Alliance purposely removed support letters written by those with a financial gain (sellers), and they still had significant support from their neighbors. (Full disclosure: at least one Alliance support letter contained “promises” from Alliance that are extremely unlikely to win approval with the city. Alliance representative Tommy Mann from Winstead said those supporters knew Alliance would ask, but there were no guarantees. Quid pro quo isn’t unqualified support.)
Equally fishy is a comparison of traffic studies. Alliance used Kimley-Horn who identified an issue at Cole and Armstrong. Alliance is committing to help fund the solution. Compare that with Lincoln’s DeShazo Group traffic study for their similarly sized building in an area with less road capacity that found no problems, claiming a minuscule sub-1 second delay resulting from their development.
Alliance is committed to all underground parking. Lincoln keeps saying theirs is underground, but it’s not. Two levels are visible from the Katy Trail. In the front one end is wrapped with units while the other has a slab brick wall before the first units start, sometimes nearly 14 feet overhead – both the ground-floor units and the wall work to conceal above ground parking.
Alliance is also committing to 10 percent affordable units and that those units will accept vouchers. Alliance said they will eat the loss in rental income. Lincoln has only committed to half that with no voucher commitment. My question for any affordable units … will current rental tenants on a site be given priority? (I understand build-outs will take over a year, but if it’s possible, it would be great to enable people to return to their neighborhood.)
In the end, neither building will win a design award (what Dallas apartment building would?), but Alliance is giving back more for a similarly-sized building. The Oak Lawn Committee agreed to support this project as well in a 20-to-8 vote.
4711 Maple Avenue (at Kings Road)
I’d have thought this third project was a slam-dunk. In a meeting turned upside-down, this is the project that got kicked back. There’s an existing building housing a furniture store. It wants to become a food hall with a central bar like Truck Yard in Lowest Greenville. Think five differently operated restaurants with central seating under one roof and outdoor patio. All perfectly allowed.
The problem comes because changing the use to restaurant increases the need for parking. The applicant can provide the parking but it would have to sacrifice Dallas’ new wider sidewalk requirements and skimp on some landscaping. Since Dallas upped sidewalk widths to six feet, when an existing lot wants to change something, they have to increase the width … to the sidewalks the city installed back in the 1990s. Now I’m all for sidewalks, but it seems unfair to unilaterally require them without looking at the lot limitations.
You may be thinking that it’s just two feet, but in a tight lot, we were told this would kill enough parking to not meet the parking requirements and likely take part of the patio with it. Some complained about a new proposed entrance, suggesting that by not doing that, somehow the issue would be solved. I don’t see it.
Anyway, this guy, who just wants to better his modest property, while keeping the existing sidewalks and parkway sizes, is the one told to fiddle with his plan and return.
The Oak Lawn Committee is at a critical juncture. Will they get their house in order and regain their credibility or will they fade away, enabling developers to skip the neighborhood entirely and only work with City Hall? We’ll see.
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.