It’s difficult being (unpaid) on the City Plan Commission. It’s 9 p.m. and they broke for 10 minutes for a bite to eat before plowing through on another case. Following the lot replatting cases and a West Dallas mobile home park, two Oak Lawn Committee cases hit the horseshoe about the time most of you were solidly into Happy Hour.
The other difficulty must be the variety of cases you see in a given session – anything from a palace to a “solid waste disposal” project. It must be a roller coaster bouncing from the cool to the banal of city planning. In this case, the roller coaster included the well-liked 2727 Turtle Creek mixed use development and the contentious Lincoln Katy Trail project.
It’s also got to be frustrating when every protester seems to say, “I’m not opposed to development, but …”
2727 Turtle Creek – Approved
In this case, the best wasn’t saved for last. We originally featured this Turtle Creek mixed-use project next to the Mansion on Turtle Creek in March. For the link-shy, it’s a three-building project on 5.5 acres with the left side being a five-star hotel and condos, an apartment building aching to crack $4.00 per square foot in rent, and an (out of shot) office building at the rear.
They managed to squeak in support from The Mansion Hotel and Residences, The Plaza condos and the Cantabria apartments surrounding the property. Opposition came from the neighboring Turtle Creek Gardens’ condos to the left of the project and the Park Bridge community to the south (in front of the project).
In my first column on this project, I figured Park Bridge would be unhappy – and they were. But whereas I thought Turtle Creek Gardens would support the project, they were heavily opposed. My thought was that they’d be happy, if for no other reason than an upscale project might improve their own luck with developers (in recent years two sales were abandoned).
Turtle Creek Garden’s HOA president, Fried Elliott spoke out against the plan focusing on the hotel portion’s drive being next to their property line. His linear progression was that the complex didn’t want the hotel, but if they had to have the hotel, then they didn’t want the driveway and so on.
Both Elliott and Park Bridge residents attempted to use the liquor dry overlay to stall things out. They knew as well as anyone, no hotel would operate on “dry” land. Killing the liquor overlay removal killed the deal. One protester said they didn’t mind a restaurant, but wanted nothing to do with a café with outdoor seating.
And the specter of “millenniums” was brought up and their raucous booze-fueled parties. Somehow I don’t think frat house-type parties are very likely in multi-million dollar condos or 1,000-square-foot apartments charging $4,000 a month in rent. And certainly a hotel of the Mandarin Oriental or Four Seasons ilk wouldn’t put up with that kind of disturbance anyway.
Plan Commissioner Margot Murphy noted that Elliott seemed savvier than he claimed. Indeed, while Elliott repeatedly argued ignorance of procedure, he was also saying he knew the exact dollar amounts of land and had worked both failed deals with developers while also saying he didn’t know about the Oak Lawn Committee. After last year’s Toll Brothers brouhaha, I think everyone in a five-mile radius had heard of the Oak Lawn Committee.
Elliott also seemed to say that Turtle Creek Gardens is no longer for sale and will instead embark on a multi-million dollar revitalization plan to repair lapsed maintenance issues, and I assume generally gussy-up the place. Were I in their shoes, I’d be thrilled about a new high-class neighbor bringing value to all that (largely invisible) money spent.
In the end, Prescott offered concessions to screen and landscape the Turtle Creek Gardens border as best as they could. A possible bike-pedestrian path may also be in the offing.
Plan Commission approved the project with two “nay” votes, sending it onward to City Council.
Why did this project pass? Its plans were very complete for this stage of the game and their asks (relief from antiquated booze restrictions and 59’ in height – 240’ to 299’) were minor based on the givebacks. Surely the project’s attractiveness played a subliminal role as well. Remember, their parcel is zoned O-2 (Office) and already had 240’ height with hotels, multi-family residential and office all permitted uses.
Lincoln Katy Trail – Kicked back until August
Not quite at the other end of the beauty spectrum (but close), Lincoln’s Katy Trail project continued its bumble towards a finish line. The project documentation has been less than it should from the beginning. It was rammed through the Oak Lawn Committee by one vote after multiple appearances. After that, it was presented to multiple city departments and neighbors who all expressed concerns about the scant documentation. By the time it hit Plan Commission last night, none of the looseness had been tightened.
And it showed. Even former City Council Member Angela Hunt who’s worked for Lincoln for over a year was herself forced to deflect a large number of questions to others to clarify.
Questions rang out noting the disparity between what was written in their request and what was shown in their illustrations. Many other Commissioners were confused by the multiple, rapid-fire iterations and which was most current. There were so many “we can do that” answers to hole-exposing questions that no one could have kept track of it all. And in fact, Commission Chair Gloria Tarpley said she couldn’t.
Regardless of who a developer is, “trust me” are the two words I’d never place my faith in.
Let’s also not forget that while 2727 Turtle Creek wanted to add 20 percent in height to an already tall in-zoning maximum, it resulted in better buildings. Lincoln wants to double height and density for the lump of a building you see above. Hardly a fair trade.
I believe it was CandysDirt.com writer and Vine Condo representative Amanda Popken who said of the rear of the building, it “points its ass to the asset of the Katy Trail” and that Lincoln’s minor concessions were so much “lipstick on a pig.” (A woman after my own heart!)
Commissioner Ridley tried to make a motion on the project to wrap things up that no one would second. Ultimately Lincoln was told to return in a month. Both Commissioners Housewright and Jung strongly suggested they return with a better project. A feeling echoed by others after the meeting ended. However, I suspect the entrenched arrogance of this project won’t allow for a re-think.
Eye on The Prize
It was worth listening to Commissioner Paul Ridley, appointed by Council Member Philip Kingston, whose district contains both projects. It was clear in both cases he strongly favored passage. After each developer’s presentation and opponent rebuttals, he opened the question portion with leading, softball questions to elicit positive spin from the developers. It seemed he’d taken notes and wanted developers to highlight points unmade or that needed strengthening. In each case, I noted to others in the room that he was obviously in favor of the project.
While I’m not shy with my opinions, somehow when a city official does it, it’s more “finger on the scale.” This isn’t to say that other Commissioners don’t do the same thing for projects in their districts, I just don’t recall seeing it so obvious in the past.
Tonight, I don’t believe the tactic changed minds. The Turtle Creek project is a good project that I suspect would have passed anyway and Lincoln was always going to come up short under questioning.
We’ll see what August brings for Lincoln (besides even hotter weather).
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) 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.