Gates Kicks Off PD-15 Authorized Hearing to Tackle Pink Wall Development Issues

Packed House at Park Cities Baptist Church

If you’ve been following along in your prayer books, you know that over a year ago the Preston Place condos burned. You may also know about the failed attempt at negotiating an area redevelopment plan. I’ll even toss in bonus points if you’re aware of the Athena and Preston Tower working with former mayor Laura Miller to stymie everything.

All caught up?  Good …

Last night, Dallas City Council member Jennifer Gates assembled the neighborhood to discuss the history and next steps in the process. What was a surprise to most was that the authorized hearing, first mentioned last summer as having a two or three year waiting list, had been bumped up in the schedule and was beginning immediately. Gates made available applications for representatives on the authorized hearing committee.

But I get ahead of myself.

PD-15 with Northwest Highway to the south

Full Disclosure: I live in PD-15, and the publisher of this blog, Candy Evans, owns a unit at The Seville on Averill Way.

According to the city planning representatives, the concept of what became Planned Development District number 15 (PD-15) began in 1947 but was only called a PD when PDs were begun in the 1960s.  Prior to its official PD designation, the area was zoned for commercial development, which also allows residential construction. It was during the official PD designation in the 1960s that the zoning was changed to its current MF-3 (multi-family 3) under section 51 (not today’s 51-A) zoning parameters.

Unbuilt 1970s high-rise proposed on Preston Place lot

MF-3 under section 51 allows for unlimited height, 60 percent lot coverage, various setbacks and other parameters.  Overlaying that are the PD-15 documents that limit the number of dwelling units possible in PD-15. There are currently between 60-65 unbuilt units available (the leftover from a failed high-rise project on the Preston Place lot in the early 1970s).

Those 60-65 surplus units are now a shared resource among all members of PD-15 and all would have to agree to allow another parcel to utilize them. The only way a property can be redeveloped without a zoning hearing would be to rebuild the same number of units as currently exist or get the members of PD-15 to unanimously agree to change the PD’s parameters.

Last summer the PD-15 working group assembled by Gates tried to come up with just such an accommodation that the buildings would all agree to. The process bogged down into two sides equally unwilling to compromise.

Because of all this, a developer can’t just file a zoning case with the city for a specific project (as they usually do), seeking more than the existing dwelling units listed in the PD documents. In Preston Place’s case that would be 60 units on a two-acre plot and 15 units on Diplomat’s one-acre — numbers that are completely unrealistic given land values and the quality of building expected by the neighborhood.

Enter the Authorized Hearing

An authorized hearing is when the city instigates a look into the appropriate zoning for a given area. The city assembles a contingent of area residents to meet and hammer out an agreement, with the city acting as information resource and mediator. The outcome can be to leave the area untouched or to make specific accommodations in return for givebacks from developers.

And that’s where I reside. Camp Negotiate.

Once questions and comments were heard, the expected dire predictions of overcrowding and its resulting traffic were heard. Somehow, redevelopment of these few parcels was thought to have a huge impact on Northwest Highway and Preston Road traffic.  That intersection sees tens of thousands of cars each rush hour. The increased traffic from those few hundreds of new apartments amount to a rounding error.

Now internal roads?  Absolutely there will be impacts. But it’s up to the neighborhood representatives in the authorized hearing to negotiate solutions for new projects (if this, then that). Ditto parking, flooding, and all the other Pink Wall woes. Ultimately, not everything can or will be fixed (there’s simply not enough money in these few deals), but the area will be better off than it would be without a successful negotiation.

The most galling sentiment was that somehow the authorized hearing took away residents’ rights. Poppycock. Yes, the authorized hearing removes the requirement of unanimous PD-15 approval for changes, but given the contentious, non-negotiable attitudes of those working group members, “unanimous” was never really in the cards.

The Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan Noose

Many spoke in a reverence for the Area Plan, perfectly at home in the Baptist church’s fellowship hall. Cheers were shouted anytime a speaker mentioned support for the plan and its recommendations. Area Plan task force members Steve Dawson and former mayor Laura Miller seemed to place the plan in the same pantheon as Mom’s apple pie and baseball. Neither are Pink Wall residents. Neither are towers residents (Miller’s husband inherited his mother’s Athena unit that they rent but have never lived in, see here). Neither stumped for towers’ representation on the Preston Center task force they sat on while deciding the area’s fate. 

Side note: It was funny to hear Dawson wax about the preciousness of the neighborhood and then have to grudgingly answer an audience chant of “Where do you live?”

Answer: University Park.  

I finally had to get up and have a say (something I rarely do). I pointed out the truth Gates was unwilling or unable to admit. Namely that there are no financial underpinnings in the Preston Center plan to support any of its conclusions (here, here). There is more math in the following few paragraphs than exists in the 95-page Preston Center Plan.

Because of this, I told those cheering for four-story construction while booing the ugliness of The Laurel apartments on the corner, that quality matters. If they want Laurel clones, by all means beat the area down to four stories, but zip-it later when you don’t like the results. After all, assuming a 20 percent profit margin, every dollar the neighborhood beats out of a project removes 80 cents in quality from the construction. Construction margins don’t decrease, construction quality does.

Miller Greed Shames Preston Place Owners

During Miller’s comment, she said that a supposed contingent-free offer to purchase Preston Place for $12 million was turned down in lieu of the current $18 million contingent offer from Provident. (It’s been known that Leland Burk, a friend of Miller and also in the audience, put in an offer to purchase Preston Place.) Miller’s point seemed to be to greed-shame Preston Place residents for not taking the lower offer.

Assuming both numbers are correct, who among us would take $12 million when $18 million is on the table?  Zero. That’s the difference between $200,000 and $300,000  — a whopping one third less — per Preston Place homeowner. So why should Preston Place owners, who lost every possession to fire, some without insurance, be greed-shamed? And why should they be shamed by a woman living over a mile away (with a big dining room) in her 9,168-square-foot mansion sitting on two manicured acres in Old Preston Hollow?

Ultimately, the meeting went as expected. The towers have been ginned up against rational development and the authorized hearing process. Those sentiments were well-heard. The remainder of the participants coming from around the Pink Wall (some even from the towers) and Preston Hollow were more open to the process.

Gates did say one thing that would disqualify someone from being part of the authorized hearing. Anyone stating their opposition to the authorized hearing was out. At the very least, that leaves out non-resident landlords Laura Miller and Steve Dawson, Preston Tower residents John Pritchett and Susan Conard, and Athena residents Carla Young and Brett Fincher, along with anyone else who signed the letter last November to Gates.

But I think Gates needs go a step further. I believe anyone who served on the original PD-15 working group should also automatically be excluded. They’ve proven they don’t have what it takes to reach a compromise and are too entrenched in their positions to be of value. And, even though I resigned because of the shenanigans, this also includes me.

Don’t restart the car if there’s still sugar in the gas tank, you won’t get far.

 

 

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.

 

5 Comment

  • They need to get something done.They need a leader that represents them. Why do you need Miller?

    • mm

      City Planner Andrew Ruegg will be the city liaison for the authorized hearing. Miller has already disqualified herself from being an area representative on the committee.

  • Jon, thank you for this article. Not being politically-minded, I was very disheartened after hearing Laura Miller’s repeated bullying. I think it will be difficult to deal with a professional politician when the rest of us are just normal citizens living out our lives.

    I lived at PPC and am sorry that our catastrophic event brought this contentious situation into our neighborhood. I cannot adequately express the gratitude that I have for how kindly our neighbors responded to us that night. There were people in their pajamas without shoes, without glasses, without phones (and numbers), without ID. Can you imagine? Some had already experienced carbon monoxide poisoning, which affected their alertness and lack of judgement as they attempted to leave the building. There were children in our building experiencing the whole thing. One woman died. There are repeated stories of the kindnesses offered. It is very humbling.

    I was one of the lucky ones that smelled the fire before I saw smoke and was able to walk out with my purse, which had my car keys in it. I decided to get my car out of the garage before the electricity went off. My condo was on the east side and so I parked my car near the Athena’s rear grassy west lawn to wait to see if my unit would be burned, praying anxiously. I even asked a stranger if she lived near and if I could use her bathroom and she not-for-a-second hesitated, but just led me into her condo! When I returned to my car, the first section of PPC began to collapse. I heard a female voice on the Athena lawn tell someone to “look – the tinder box is going up in flames!” Okay, I got it…we were built with wood, and wood burns.

    But now – after sitting in on the working group meetings and learning more about commercial multi-family buildings, I now appreciate the woman’s point. There are arguments for safety in better built buildings. There is a bigger picture! Safety is not just for the inhabitants, but also to prevent whole building fires from negatively affecting or “blighting” a neighborhood – such as ours.

    This is a wonderful neighborhood. I know that I am fortunate to have lived there since 1993! I am confident that the same responsiveness exhibited the night of the fire, can bring responsible consensus to these Authorized Hearings. I am also thankful to Jennifer Gates for having the forethought to get PD-15 on the waiting list. With the age of our PD – all the buildings are at higher risk for fire. We need a plan to protect the neighborhood!

  • The Charoistas remind me of the Carter Administration’s opposition to the Steiger amendment to lower capital gains taxes in the late 1970’s: lots of righteous blather without any numbers to back it up. Why not just take the limited step of working toward an agreement on the $18 million Provident deal while at the same time amending the PD-15 documents both to exclude the new Preston Place site owner/owners from the review of any development of the other properties and to maintain the effective 60-65 additional unit variance and apply it to those remaining properties. The result would be a grand slam effect on area property values from (1) Setting the value of the Preston Place site 50% above the recent $12 million bid, (2) Carry on effects from the construction of a modern fully-vetted building on the Preston Place site vastly superior to the structure that burned, (3) The effective creation of an additional limited number of allowed units overall under PD-15, and (4) The removal of one entity with veto power over development of any of the other lots. The tower owners are fools if they think that they can in some way protect the value of their depreciating structures by depressing area land values.