Preston Hollow East Swaps Donuts and Dialogue with Council Member Jennifer Gates

Council Member Gates enjoying a cuppa with constituents

Top Pot, a name that might evoke the hopes of an herb-aceous electorate, is alas just a coffee and “hand-forged” donut shop at the edge of Preston Hollow. Begun in Seattle, the city of coffee’s rebirth, there are three locations in Dallas. I wonder if Dallas leadership called out Top Pot for a “just like home” vibe in their Amazon HQ2 bid?

I was there at the crack of 9 a.m. on Saturday to attend a drop-in chat session hosted by the Preston Hollow East Homeowners Association (PHEHA). Council member Jennifer Gates was their special guest. Unlike more formal settings, this meeting was literally coffee and donuts, no set speech or presentation. It was an avenue for local residents to have a low-key interaction with their council person to discuss whatever was on their minds.  Think of it as a cocktail party with caffeine and crullers instead of champagne and caviar. I’m sure other council members do this too, I’ve just never been invited.

Gates handled queries ranging from the city’s homeless problem to more local issues including neighborhood walkability, and, of course the PD-15 circus.

As for homelessness, I recommended that city leaders study programs that work, especially the great press coming from Finland’s efforts to eliminate the problem (here, here, here, here). I’ve written before about Housing First programs and their success elsewhere (here, here).  Finland began back in 2008 and today, while the rest of Europe struggles with a growing problem, Finland provided 16,300 homes to their homeless and saved money in the process. Certainly during my visit to Helsinki, I was hard-pressed to find homeless people.

The stuff of nightmares for some Preston Hollow residents

Apparently I’m an area legend in walking. PHEHA representatives wanted to talk about the routes I take on my various outings and the existence of sidewalks and why I chose certain routes over others (sidewalks, traffic, shortcuts, etc.). PHEHA wants to begin to enable walkability to area businesses like grocery stores (and perhaps a certain hand-forged donut shop). I learned that for some “sidewalk” is a hot button word (who’d a thunk?) with those folks being less vapor-y when “walkability” is used instead.  While I view a sidewalk as an amenity, apparently some prefer street walkers.

There were multiple chat pods discussing PD-15. Crickets continue to chirp for Provident to muster up a plan for the Preston Place parcel they contracted for back in February. However, Gates is done waiting, deciding to get the show back on the road.  She’s called a meeting for 6 p.m. April 26 at the Park Cities Baptist Church’s Fellowship Hall (located across Northwest Highway from the Pink Wall’s existing towers).  City staff will be on hand to present the facts concerning existing zoning and the authorized hearing process that’s been scheduled (and has the towers’ knickers in such a twist). It will end with a Q&A session.

It’s odd Provident hasn’t gotten its act together in the two months since Preston Place selected their offer to proceed with. I mean, who signs a contract for millions in land options for what has to be at least a $100 million project, without a skeleton of a plan ready to go?  But maybe I live in a different world.  I’m glad Gates has decided to restart the engine, leaving Provident to chase the train.

Also attending was Dimitri Economou from Diplomat suitor A.G. Spanos. No eyebrow raise needed, he lives in PHEHA territory and his young children don’t pass up donuts easily (or maybe that was just me?).  We had our usual sparring match about good architecture and green technologies but also area flooding. As a developer he wants to help deal with flooding where he can (the area has been stiffed by the city for years … decades?). After all, it’s smart business. Spanos keeps what it builds, so the last thing they want are pricey tenants complaining about cars floating away in the rain.

This was my second encounter with PHEHA’s leadership who share my wait-and-see-before-judging stance on PD-15. Good projects help the area. Bad projects result in more Laurel clones. I overheard one conversation where a resident was lamenting the Laurel’s uninterrupted wall of apartments running so close to Preston Road.

The answer was that to mitigate that solid wall of apartments, the building needed to have been allowed to go taller. It’s like baking a cookie. While a cookie flattens in the oven, it’s still the same mass as a cold dough ball. The Laurel project was shoved into the oven by a cantankerous neighborhood, forcing a flatter and more spread-out building than might have been better negotiated.  To those who wish they could turn back time on the Laurel, the opportunities within PD-15 are that time machine.

Despite the chilly Saturday, the only unfortunate aspect was the relatively low turnout. To speak to your representative in such an informal setting was an opportunity missed.  Ultimately there were between 20 to 30 attendees from an area encompassing hundreds of homes.  Hey, even I rolled out of bed on a Saturday morning to attend. If such gatherings are available in your neighborhood, go.

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 sharewithjon@candysdirt.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.

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