UPDATE: In the immortal words of the Miss America pageant, “If for any reason Miss America is unable to fulfill her duties…” Astute readers will see that Preston Tower representative Mary Schulte has bowed out and been replaced by Robert Bowling.
Yesterday afternoon, the people selected to be part of the PD-15 authorized hearing committee were posted. Kudos to council member Jennifer Gates for keeping her promise to exclude those opposed to the authorized hearing process, who would likely seek to sabotage the proceedings from within.
You will note that the towers have two representatives on the committee. This was done in recognition of the land mass of PD-15. Roughly the towers and the four low-rises each sit on six acres and and so there are four representatives for each camp. This makes for an interesting group. Within the PD, neither side can outvote the other, so collaboration will be required. Also, the three “wild card” members from Preston Hollow East Homeowners Association and two neighboring buildings are just that, wild cards. How will they feel about the various development plans and options? I think the pulse of the group will be taken in the first few meetings.
City Planning and Zoning
City staff has also been busy updating and adding a couple of documents to their collection (posted here). To quell questions about the authorized hearing process, a flow chart was posted outlining the steps the authorized hearing will take. Please don’t assume that the numbers somehow equate to a timeline.
There’s nothing new in this document, it’s just a cheat sheet for those wanting to better understand the process. It goes into detail of what each step entails as the committee navigates the process. Feel free to download your personal copy suitable for purse or billfold.
City Staff Drops a (Minor) Zoning Bombshell
The image above is a close-up of the current PD-15 development plan. In the past we’d been told that because of the limitation on dwelling units per acre that buildings could only replace what they had (unless they got unanimous permission to utilize the 60-ish surplus units OR updated PD-15).
But what city staff are now saying in their FAQ document is that building height is also capped because the development plan lists the heights of the buildings in PD-15 … except one. While Preston Place lists three stories and both Royal Orleans and Diamond Head Condos list two stories, the Diplomat, sitting on tract 3 doesn’t list a height. City staff interprets this as meaning that only Diplomat has the ability to go above its existing two-story construction.
I called this a minor bombshell because ultimately it’s meaningless as even with unlimited height, Diplomat is still limited by the dwelling unit cap and floor-area-ratio (4:1).
Getting Your Say
Regardless of whatever is decided by the (open to the public) committee, it still requires any changes to go through the typical zoning process. Property owners within 200 feet of PD-15 will be notified of the changes and receive a form to mail back to the city to “support” or “oppose.” Should there be more than 20 percent opposition, any action by city council would require a super-majority of 75 percent of council members to vote “yes” (12 votes). That’s a pretty high bar.
For Pink Wall, and especially PD-15 residents, it’s imperative that your HOA insert language into your HOA documents that enables individual units to vote. Otherwise, it’s your HOA board that makes the decision for everyone — they don’t even have to ask their owners. Not very democratic, but there you are. An attorney could draw up the appropriate language in an hour I’d guess. If your HOA balks at doing this, you know their decision has been made and you’re likely in trouble.
Doom And Gloom
If the committee’s proposal goes down in flames, everything stays as-is. This means that the four low-rises would have to come to an accommodation to divvy the 60-ish surplus units. Before you get giddy at the prospect, understand that if Preston Place’s current offer is for $18 million based on the ability to build 220 units (the prevailing rumor), at 80 units (current 60 + their land-based allotment of the surplus), the cost of their land drops to $6.5 million. Instead of their homes being valued at roughly $300,000 each, they’d be worth $109,000.
Diplomat’s one-acre parcel that A.G. Spanos wants to build 120 units on would essentially drop 80 percent in value on an allotment of 25 units (existing 15 + 10 allotment of surplus units).
This would have a negative impact on PD-15 and the rest of the Pink Wall. No developer is going to buy the impaired land and construct million-dollar townhomes. One only has to look at the failure of the Park Hollow development to see no one is making that mistake anytime soon.
The quality of the resulting projects would not add to the value of remaining complexes. Developers wouldn’t give a penny to neighborhood enhancements. The resulting minimal construction wouldn’t attract city attention to existing problems. Sure, there’d be less density, but at what overall cost?
Ray of Light
On the upside, this doomsday doesn’t have to happen. What’s great about the timing here is that the PD-15 committee are very unlikely to be feeling their way in the dark. It behooves developers to have their plans nailed down and present their best to the committee for specific approvals. Otherwise, a future developer is stuck with whatever the committee decides. It’s a cinch this process isn’t going to be reopened anytime soon after this process is complete.
I, for one, look forward to seeing what will be proposed and what solutions (and money) the developers and the city can come to the table with to help solve some of the area’s problems. If they’re awful, I’ll vote “no,” but if they’re great, wouldn’t that be great?
Note to developers: Bring your “A+” game.
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.