Last night, the two towers bookending PD-15 held a “Town Hall” meeting to talk about “proposed rezoning” of their low-rise neighbors. It was ironic to hear the word “neighbors” spoken so frequently by a group who, at the end, raised their hands in favor of continued “towers only” meetings. In this case, “neighbors” really means “us.”
The meeting was run by
- John Pritchett, Preston Tower resident, PD-15 working group and, secretary and recent president of the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association
- Carla Young, Athena HOA president and PD-15 working group member
- Susan Conard, Preston Tower
- Roger Albright, attorney hired to advise the Athena and Preston Tower in PD-15 matters
In my opinion, the meeting’s goal was to preemptively poison the well on redevelopment of Preston Place, Diplomat, Royal Orleans, and Diamond Head Condos. I say that because first, there wasn’t a whiff of “wait and see” what the developers bring. Secondly, the meeting was rife with half-truths and contradictions continuing to stick to development options from the Preston Center plan. The plan I have debunked twice as being economically unviable (here, here).
Here are some examples, judge for yourself.
The graphic used for their invitation (above) was taken from a presentation made to the PD-15 working group. It was created by urban planner Scott Polikov as a “what if” massing study. It has absolutely no basis in fact other than he based some of his projections on the A.G. Spanos proposal for Diplomat. He did this because at the time, it was the only deal on the table, not because he believed this was a realistic or certain outcome. It was a visual aid to give the group something to talk about. The meeting organizers knew this and used the graphic during their presentation to inflame opposition. In truth, no one has seen Spanos’ latest proposal nor has anyone seen Provident’s proposal for Preston Place. In fact, Spanos has asked to present their plans to the towers but has been denied. A representative from Provident (under contract with Preston Place) seeking to understand the neighborhood’s sentiment, was turned away from this meeting.
That invitation states its purpose as “Proposed Rezoning” which is false. The area within PD-15 is currently zoned MF-3 (Multi-Family 3) which allows for unlimited height. Its limits are lot coverage and FAR (Floor Area Ratio). FAR in MF-3 is 4:1. This means that for every square foot in land, you can build four. Developers will likely want a larger FAR, but that’s not rezoning. The other lever in PD-15 is the total number of units allowed in the area. With ~65 units in surplus, every developer will need this limit lifted. That’s a change to the PD, not a zoning change.
During the questions, one resident said they’d heard Preston Place might want some commercial space in addition to residential. That change from MF-3 to an O-2 designation would be an actual zoning change and would be very, very difficult to get approved. It would also be extremely difficult to provide the parking requirements for that type of structure, making it even more unlikely.
Instead of being completely forthcoming, Roger Albright planted a seed by saying that while he hadn’t heard of anyone wanting commercial space … you never know, anything could happen.
John Pritchett mentioned “downzoning.” Downzoning is when the city takes all or part a landowner’s existing rights (essentially theft). Ain’t. Gonna. Happen. Pritchett also talked about quality for the neighborhood and then held up the Laurel as his example of how lower density could work. Only a blind person could pass the Laurel (or the Bandera) and think, “Hooo-wee, that’s some mighty fine architecture.” There is an almost linear progression of a more profitable building equaling higher quality construction. Would the Laurel have been more attractive had the neighborhood not beaten them down to its current size?
It was said that to approve a plan to change the PD requirements, unanimous agreement from the six buildings would be required. Each building essentially gets one vote that’s the expression of a majority of their building’s desires. Later, the topic of representation on the PD-15 working group was brought up. The organizers didn’t think it was fair that since the towers contain 76 percent of the units in PD-15 that they should have the same two representatives as a building like Diplomat with just 15 units. If agreement must be unanimous and there are essentially six votes, how does increasing representation on the committee make any difference? Shifting representation doesn’t change “unanimous”. All a larger working group does is promote dissent.
Further throwing mud, the contract holder on Preston Place was preemptively attacked. Provident’s mid-rise buildings at Preston Hollow Village were shown as an example of their work. Gasps of “is that stucco” were heard. First of all, developers don’t have to be cookie cutter on all their projects (see below). And I’ll repeat, the less profit in the deal, the cheaper the construction materials (see Prescott’s project presented to the Oak Lawn Committee last night). If residents don’t want a stucco neighbor, they have to give the developer enough to upgrade the exterior. Also, if residents aren’t talking to the developer, they have no input. Developers aren’t mind readers.
An Athena resident asked how an (eww) apartment building would impact condo values. The problem isn’t apartments, it’s cheap, ugly apartments. (Note: There is no way to require condo-only construction. It’s illegal. Move on.)
An authorized hearing is where the city decides the appropriate zoning or other changes that should be made to an area based on public input and city calculations. Susan Conard said PD-15 can’t be removed from the authorized hearing list it was placed on by Council Member Jennifer Gates and Plan Commissioner Margot Murphy. Later, presenters spoke about the letter to Gates demanding the PD-15 be removed. Either PD-15 can be removed or it can’t.
The authorized hearing was also painted as being government overreach. Actually, the authorized hearing brings together neighbors for public meetings to discuss their desires. It’s not like this meeting where two properties met in semi-secret to push an agenda without all parties present. Along the same vein, it was pointed out that the PD-15 meetings have been largely without substance. I completely agree. But a large part of the blame rests on the towers who refuse to negotiate better projects for the neighborhood. I think the towers are afraid the city will see through them during the authorized hearing.
Hundreds of apartments were brought up and the resulting traffic. Even if the total number of units were to double, what would that mean? Instead of zero-to-three cars waiting at Pickwick and Northwest Highway it would be zero-to-four or five? It wouldn’t be double as that intersection doesn’t just serve PD-15. One audience member lamented about how terrible traffic is on Northwest Highway and Preston Road. Yet it was proven during the Preston Center task force meetings that traffic is actually considerably lower than it’s been in nearly two decades on both those roads.
Architect Carla Young spoke about the temporary effects of construction on the inner roads. She showed pictures of the under construction Laurel on Preston and Northwest Highway including porta-potties, workers parking on side streets and the general mess of a construction site. The reaction from the audience seemed to be that they believed there was a way to avoid construction altogether. There’s not, construction zones are messy and redevelopment of some type will occur. Young even said, “I’m probably scaring you.” And, if The Laurel is violating the promises made to the neighborhood about street parking and the like, isn’t it the Preston Hollow South liaison’s job to police that situation (formerly John Pritchett)?
She then informed the audience that within PD-15, the roads are privately owned by the buildings bordering them. Each building is responsible for their upkeep. She queried what effect construction traffic will have on those roads, as if they were in great shape now. She was met by many asking if the roads could be blocked to not allow construction traffic to pass (very neighborly, and no). The picture above shows a pothole so jarring there’s a cone covering it. It’s in the middle of a road bordering the Athena that Young is president of. It’s been there for over a year. The surrounding buildings can only negotiate road repairs from construction damage if they’re talking to the developer.
Flooding was brought up with presenters saying that new construction will make it worse. Unless a new building covers more of the lot with concrete, how is this possible? Rain falling on the roof of a two-story building is the same amount that falls on the roof of a 10-story building. Therefore, runoff is the same. New construction may tax the sanitary sewage lines, but it’s not going to generate more flood water. It’s also worth noting that Spanos’ plan for the Diplomat includes some storm water mitigation … and no one told attendees that.
Finally, I must report on the ugliness and character assassinations brought out by the audience. While it’s no secret I’m no fan of city government, I don’t make baseless accusations. Many wondered if Gates had a personal stake in the redevelopment or if she was being paid by developers. There was talk of impeachment, term limits, and more. There was talk of suing the city just because they could (knowing they’d lose but it would shine a publicity beacon on PD-15). Attorney Albright said they’d surely lose and it would be expensive.
In the end, the goal of ginning up opposition to plans no one has seen was a great success. But here’s the thing. The longer PD-15 spends with their fingers in their ears the less influence they have on the process and its outcome. Mark my words: Development is coming. “No” won’t be a successful strategy.
P.S. Two board members of the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association are part of these “towers only” actions. How can they claim to then represent the whole neighborhood?
P.P.S. My resignation from this group gets sweeter by the day.
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 email@example.com.