Last night’s Oak Lawn Committee meeting was a little more precise with their Robert’s Rules than prior meetings. Given the past few tense months (here, here), I’m not surprised that precision is being used to combat disruption. However, while not disruptive, one member seemed hell-bent on chucking the evening’s projects through the chute by calling for a vote on both projects presented with his first breath. Presenting projects and gaining support from the OLC isn’t a race nor a duty to be dispatched.
The first project is so far known as 2929 Oak Lawn Avenue, but Dallas folks will know it as the awful Office Depot next to the historic Melrose Hotel. The hotel, originally known as the Melrose Court Apartment and Hotel was built in 1924 and granted Dallas Landmark status in 1983. Prior to the hotel, the corner was the homestead of the Mellersh farm.
The Melrose Hotel is one of those neighborhood landmarks everyone knows. It’s 185 rooms have seen a lot of action over the years. When I was visiting Dallas for work and pleasure many moons ago, room 801 was always my favorite.
As you can see from the rendering above, the proposed 2929 Oak Lawn building mimics the Melrose’s Chicago style of architecture with its stone base, main building and top floor cornice flourish. The proposed building also copies the Melrose’s height and U-shaped footprint (at least on Oak Lawn Avenue). (Speaking of which, when is The Melrose going to get their long-planned, long-delayed expansion underway?)
Looking more face-on, you can see the new building’s updated resemblance to the original. Surprisingly, the building isn’t asking for more height as they want to match The Melrose, but they are asking for support for a reduced setback. On the Dickason Avenue side that faces The Melrose, they want to use the same no-setback above the third floor that Melrose uses. They (and I, for what it’s worth) believe a bookend effect will be more pleasing and uniform next to the historic structure. The other three sides conform.
Seen from above, the Oak Lawn Avenue face will have a leasing office at street level on the left while the right will have a restaurant (or two depending on tenant). The units along the side are live-work spaces for single-operator businesses. The plan calls for retention and preservation of as many mature trees as possible. In the rear, Shelby-facing side, there will be loading and garbage behind a wall (more on that later). There are currently three elevators with a fourth being considered nearer the freight area to ease move-ins and outs. While there is an entrance on Oak Lawn, it’s assumed that most residents will exit on Dickason or Shelby given Oak Lawn Avenue’s often treacherous navigation.
While I like the exterior of this project, this isn’t to say it’s without annoyances. At least 80 percent of the 330 units, averaging 825 square feet, will be one-bedroom, meaning this building will always be more transient. The ground-floor, two-bedroom units are envisioned as live-work spaces (shrinks, accountants, etc.). If accomplished, this further bumps the single-occupancy quotient of the project (although a paucity of live-work spaces may make these tenants stick longer).
I wonder if architects GFF will be looking into how the individual floor plans could be drawn to maximize the ability of unit combinations (to form larger units) should the building ever go condo? Simple things like plumbing stack placements could provide an easier transition to a second act at some future date. I hear an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.
Parking treatment is another issue to me. The garage will be two under and two above ground. The above ground floors will be wrapped in those live-work units on Dickason, but the Gillespie side is an open garage. Sure, they’ve given the side a cohesive look, but as you can just make out in the center of picture above, the ramp between floors will be visible from the street. All that window-y looking cast stone will be open. If your goal it to create a walkable environment, why not at the minimum install louvered panels to vent exhaust while giving a better pedestrian experience? Perhaps a vine-covered lattice for added greenery? Project representatives said that the neighboring Post Office would likely also “turn its back” to this building if it ever redevelops. Continuing their analogy, what’s so great about walking the crack between two butt cheeks?
Another issue mentioned by OLC members was the (actual) rear of the building on Shelby. Behind the three trees center-right will be a masonry wall blocking a view of the loading and garbage areas. Certainly a screen is warranted here, but as several questioned, it should be softened by some type of greenery to make it less alley looking.
Might I suggest something like this? Certainly the neighbors would appreciate a seasonal array of color to brighten their days. You could even be a bit camp and spell out the building’s name in flowers as part of the design. Perhaps this concept could be worked into that bare garage wall on Gillespie?
Overall, the plan’s biggest ask is for an increase of 2.5:1 FAR to 4:1 FAR. In other words the ability to build an extra 1.5 square feet of building per square foot of land. I think the setback easement to match The Melrose makes sense. The number of units will be 330 and average 825 square feet (pointing to its heavy reliance on one-bedroom units). There’s also a requirement for minimum courtyard widths to equal the height of the building. Meaning that instead of 100 feet, they want a 66-by-78-foot courtyard at the center of the building that will house a second pool (the first one is on the front facing Oak Lawn Avenue). As you can see above, that second pool will be for those who abhor a lot of direct sunlight as the building will cast a lot of shade into that well.
The project contains no affordable component but I suspect there’s some wiggle room here. The argument being that since this parcel is zoned GR (General Retail) and is replacing a commercial space versus displacing existing housing, the plan didn’t warrant it. But just the way they chose their words on the topic makes me think this is a chip City Plan Commission and council could bargain for (that’s outside the scope of the OLC to ask for). Not that I’d telegraph my personal desires to city hall … ha!
2727 Turtle Creek – Prescott Project
When 2727 Turtle Creek first presented last month to the OLC, it was met pretty positively. They’ve since chatted with a few of their neighbors and offered an update. If you’re having a hard time discerning the difference from the original renderings, you’re not alone. The right tower will be apartments and originally their entrance was on the right side of the building. The Mansion Residences asked for it to be moved to the left (away from them). Done.
The other change involved the antiquated liquor overlay that blankets the parcel (and area). Why this is even an issue in the 21st century, beyond a rubber-stamp repeal, is beyond me. But The Mansion sent a note making their desire to keep the liquor ban on the apartment building site and Prescott agreed. But criminy, for the liquored-up Mansion, who had their own overlay removed decades ago, to get piddly here is a little like a distillery supporting temperance to limit competition. Piling piddle on piddle, a few OLC members wanted to further limit the liquor to just the hotel portion. The reason? One guy knew one building where a second floor restaurant in a residential building went broke and the landlord opened a disco to recoup their costs. If that’s a credible worry in a five-star project like this, limit usage, don’t perpetuate the antiquated liquor overlay.
In a demonstration of why many different opinions inform a better decision, OLC member Sharon Quist drilled Prescott on the parking for the hotel portion of the project. Top real estate agent Quist has intimate knowledge of how hotel operations work when significant residential components are present (Ritz-Carlton, W Hotel, etc.). She began asking about how much meeting space there would be (14,000 square feet spread between ballrooms and meeting spaces). Her point being that different types of events generate significantly different traffic patterns. Her example of the highest density would be a cocktail party in their main ballroom. How many cars would that generate in start and end spurts? How would valet parking handle the sudden influx and egress of cars without annoying residents and backing traffic up onto Turtle Creek? Anyone near the Ritz-Carlton Hotel when there’s an event knows McKinney Avenue is a mess.
The Prescott guys were surprised by the depth of question. But once their brains started clicking (remember this is live and questions can come from any aspect of a proposed project) they spoke about how it would all work. We learned that the three distinct buildings would have connectors between their underground parking garages to handle overflows (large events like Quist’s would typically happen in the evening or weekend when the office tower would largely be empty). There is a side area that they’re thinking of covering in foliage-permeable brick to allow staging and overflow. There would be three entrance/exit lanes so traffic could be moving in both directions and changed for two in the direction of the most need.
As I wrote last month, I like the Prescott project overall. It’s the kind of smart architecture Dallas needs more of. You may note that details and exterior elevations of the office building have been sketchy so far. I got a smartphone look at the concepts they’re playing with. Suffice it to say it will be as cool as the two buildings we have seen, as you would expect.
Oak Lawn is a changin’.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors 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. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.