Jon Anderson: In Close Vote, Oak Lawn Committee Approves Contentious Lincoln Katy Trail Apartments

Capacity crowd on hand to watch the OLC fritter away its credibility

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.

Lincoln’s “underground” parking with a nearly 13′ 8” blank wall facing the street

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.

Esquire Theater on Oak Lawn Avenue

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.

Zoning surrounding Alliance’s Broadstone 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.

Illustration of proposed indoor/outdoor food court

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 sharewithjon@candysdirt.com.

31 Comment

  • Jon, please don’t give up on OLC. We got this one wrong. Dead wrong. And had I been in town and not 5,000 miles away, I would have gone down fighting Tuesday night. But as an organization, I know we are committed to maintaining our integrity and mission. We will right the ship.

    • Brenda, I think you were a great OLC president, but I think I agree with Jon here.

      • Thanks and I completely understand. Truth is, I agree with Jon. For years our honor system has worked. So sad that times have changed so much that it doesn’t anymore.

        • It was very depressing. People are out right lying. They are making a mockery of the OLC! As for Angela Hunt, she is not immoral, she is amoral. This woman has no morals.

  • mm

    This is kind of depressing as many neighborhoods in urban settings east of Central Expressway had looked to the Oak Lawn Committee as an example of an engaged group of people protecting the character and fabric of the area. Fingers crossed that the City Council has more sense.

  • As far I am concerned if TDRE can build a 16 story on the 2by4 Poston Building Lot on Hall Street there really isn’t any valid reason why this little project cannot proceed. Yes I know, established zoning.. times change though. I see no reason why they should be affordable, it’s prime Real Estate., move to fair Park if you want cheap.

    • mm

      Yes, the Poston lot will be a tall building (not as tall as the Renaissance), but very low-density. The small lot size makes underground parking too expensive, so there will be fewer (<40) but larger units. Honestly, the best you could hope for on an O-2 lot (that Renaissance was too short-sighted to have purchased). Speaking of affordable, have you forgotten there were people fighting the Renaissance because it was too big and cheap for the neighborhood? Times change.

      • A gorgeous highrise would fit perfectly on that Carlisle lot and probably increase the Vines property values. I think change is good and the council needs adapt to what us left to build on. My views are protected at the Renaissance so no skin off my teeth if TDRE builds. Just analyze the lot sizes etc and stuff doesn’t make sense anymore

      • Things need to be blown up now and then.

        • mm

          You raise a point. I’m not afraid of height. It would be interesting to see a graceful tower with 25% lot coverage that donated the remainder of its land to the Katy Trail. Unfortunately, what we’d get would be a huge bland high-rise with no green space.
          .
          And there are plenty of places for a project like that, where there is zoning in place. Cities across the globe are preserving their low-rise housing stock, not bulldozing it. Except for lakefront high-rises, Chicago’s high-rises stop at 1600 North (Avenue). Throughout Manhattan, there are high-rise no-mans lands. London’s high-rises stick to established areas, ditto Paris. The urban planning realization being that not everything can/should be super-sized/dense.

        • And certain things need to be left alone. That’s how neighborhoods thrive. When there is housing stock to fit a diverse range of people and incomes, we all do better. That’s the basis of the Oak Lawn Plan. And it’s still relevant today.

    • They can build there because the ground is zoned O-2. Zoning does matter. That’s what the Oak Lawn Plan is all about. We can find ways to handle what we can’t change, but we shouldn’t be changing zoning when the entire neighborhood says no thanks.

  • The Oak Lawn Committee will never have any integrity as long as someone so closely associated with the so-called Lee Park Conservancy sits as its president. The votes would have been there to stop this if Ms. Rodriguez had not been elected.

    • That’s a ridiculous statement. And it’s Oak Lawn Park Conservancy. The votes to stop this would have been there if I and two other no votes had not been out of town.

      • Typical nonsensical far-left gibberish. And what further proof do we need that people like this have no business imposing themselves on their neighbors. The Lee Park Conservancy participated in raising millions of dollars for Lee Park using the Lee name and then completely sold out the neighborhood
        so that it could keep renting out the Arlington House replica under another organizational form. The
        OLC should stay as far away from the situation as it possibly can if it wants to maintain both membership and any claim to being an inclusive entity. I stand by my statements.

        • The vote was about the numbers. Ms. Rodriquez-Mercado voted against it. So did everyone in leadership except the vice president. It had nothing to do with Oak Lawn Park Conservancy. Absolutely nothing.

  • I own a condo off of Cole Ave near the development, attended a meeting at the condos at Carlisle and Hall St, and spoke with the board of directors of the condos about selling their condos to Lincoln.
    This project seems very reasonable and a needed development for the location of this land. The current condos are an eye sore and constantly have issues, for the owners have high Hoa dues and have near annual special assessments to cover additional costs. This project has been modified 3 times to better fit the neighborhood and there are high rises and large apartment complexes within blocks of the proposed development, The group mainly against this development is the owners at the Vine who do not want to have to look at the construction and have increased traffic which are valid concerns. My rebuttal to that is that they live in uptown which continually builds and will continue to build large apartment complexes to meet the demand. The condo owners at Carlisle and Hall had to look at year or two of construction of the Vine but now the Vine owners are against seeing a year or two of similar construction? This is the type of neighborhood where they live and there is going to be development. For the traffic study, I myself can see why people do not 100% believe the traffic study, I do know from living in that area that traffic is bad for about 45 minutes every weekday (515-6pm) if you are headed towards Mckinney Ave. All other times it is fine. This will make traffic slightly worse during that time, but should not be enough to stop the project.
    Overall I see this as a benefit to the neighborhood and will be glad to see the finished project.

    • Mike

      Get your facts straight. It has zero to do with annoyance during construction. We at the Vine understand (and fully understood when we bought) that the townhomes opposite would eventually be replaced. The fact that zoning is in place and therefore our views would be protected was another important aspect of buying at the Vine. Lincoln wants to have the area re-zoned. IF they are successful we at the Vine will be faced with staring at a hideous red brick structure that will do nothing but hurt our property values and deprive us of light and the views of the city we currently enjoy. Go and look at Trader Joes in the Knox area because that is what you are asking for here. Moreover, Hunt and Lincoln have been secretive about the true aspect of the building because post OLC meeting we now see the full extent of how this monstrosity will look with car parks ABOVE ground which is contrary to what they have told us all. So, it has nothing to do with a year or two of construction. Nor will it enhance our neighborhood. Nor will it help our already stressed Hall and Bowen traffic problem but exasperate it still further.

  • The Committee Meeting concerning the Lincoln Property Development was a disgrace. The article is well written. Oak Lawn Committee has failed in its duty to protect the interests of residents. Despite the clear knowledge that those neighbouring the property were vehemently opposed in addition to other home owners in the surrounding areas also strongly against the project, there were members of the committee who still voted to allow this building to be erected. They should be ashamed of themselves. There is little point in having an Oak Lawn Committee if residents who oppose something in the vast majority are simply over run and ignored.
    This project MUST be stopped at all costs !

  • The circumstances surrounding the approval of the Lincoln Katy Trail seem highly irregular. Extremely disappointed to see Angela Hunt playing such a central role in this scandal.

    • Angela Hypocritical Hunt is not the only one with something to gain here it seems. The only other person in the room who was even more passionate and aggressive in their argument than The Vine owners was Leland Burke, to the point of being outright rude. He was very obviously angered by my completely reasonable suggestion to a second opinion on the bogus traffic study. It simply doesn’t add up. His diplomacy (if he has any) went right out the window and in came his bad temper demanding that we have “had our chance” to seek a second opinion even though I reminded him we had only had the latest study for 1 week. He defended De Shazo and said they were very well respected in Dallas and accused me of trying to impeach them as this article states. As far as I see it, business is business. De Shazo have been paid for their work so why should it be a problem to them if we (The Vine owners) want to pay for a second opinion. Aside from that, The OLC is supposedly here to help protect current investors, not help greedy developers do favors for each other. Why should 63 Vine owners lose money so that a big developer who has plenty of other sites to choose from can make money? The Vine owners are the people who will be most affected by this with loss of property values and loss of light and view. We paid a premium for a private roof terrace. The 2 year construction site is something we knew would come at some point but, for a building that was within the 36ft height restriction that Angela Hypocritical Hunt fought for when it was built. A law that we relied upon when we invested. People are also ignoring the fact that this is in fact a pretty area of Dallas so why not build something tasteful like Perot did? Lincoln have also failed to illustrate the 13ft parking lot wall that will be directly facing The Vine. The OLC only have half the story. The meeting was a sham. The people who were undecided about which way to vote ended up voting ”yes” after Mr. Burke so aggressively tried to push this through. My guess is they were intimidated by his fury and I pose the notion – does Mr. Burke have a conflict of interest that we don’t know about!?

      • Burke’s irresponsible defense of the paid traffic consultant is all too reminiscent of the manner in which the Dallas Police and Fireman’s pension fund was destroyed to the tune of billions of dollars in investment shortfalls. And, the even more scary part is that the matter before the Oak Lawn Committee now goes to serial stooges like Kingston and Kleinman who somehow still reside on the city council despite their complete failure in their pension oversight role and continuing inability to even begin to understand the investment method that the pension fund consultants were supposedly following.

  • The OLC has allowed developers and their interests to influence its position for years, it’s nothing new.

    The OLC has continually ignored the will of the affected neighborhoods to avoid challenging local politicians.

    The lack of credibility comes from within and is simply more apparent when a project is large and controversial.

    If the OLC and its leadership continue to pick and choose who it supports based on politics (personal relationships) and ignoring precedent its relevance will continue to wane.

  • Jon seems to be analytical, have clarity and is articulate on many of the OLC presentations. . Too bad he is not allowed to join OLC so he can express observations at the meeting, rather than after the fact.