The highlight of last night’s PD-15 meeting was seeing the developer proposals for both the Diplomat and Preston Place by A.G. Spanos and Provident Realty, respectively. No slam on city planners, but somehow platting, drainage, and residential proximity slopes don’t hold the same ooo-ah as drawings.
To give a few spoilers, A.G. Spanos’ plans for the Diplomat were much more baked than those presented by Provident for Preston Place. Where Spanos was showing the actual skin of their proposed building, Provident showed a stack of grey boxes resembling the Centrum on Oak Lawn Avenue and Cedar Springs Road. No skin, no windows, no life — a first date who shows up wearing a tent wanting to know if they look fat.
But before diving into the plans, there are some high points from the city’s sections. First, an illustration of why having city staff working with the neighborhood is helpful. Residential proximity slope. The calculations used for last fall’s task force were much different than those presented by the city last night. Essentially, the northern boundary of PD-15 would max out at 125 feet in height (essentially 11 stories) while the buildable southern edge would allow about 20 stories. Now, PD-15 isn’t subject to RPS (good and bad news there), but it’s an instructional metric to have. Especially when accurate.
Yes, the current towers both break RPS guidelines. We were told that if either tower burned down, they could rebuild (acts of nature events grandfather things in). However, if a developer wanted to knock either one down to build a taller structure, they’d be denied if they were subject to RPS (which they’re not currently).
In the “weirdo” category we were told that only Preston Tower was platted with the city and had a development plan. The other PD-15 parcels (along with a few more to the north) were not currently platted with the city. The city and DCAD know they’re there, but redevelopment would require them to be platted. Platting is different from setbacks listed in deeds. All Northwest Highway-facing lots within PD-15 have a 100-foot setback that is outside this process to change (not that we’d want to shrink the frontage road).
A.G. Spanos’ New Diplomat
The reimagined Diplomat has come a long way since the first iteration I saw last summer. Gone are the kitschy 1960s throwback elements. Instead it’s a sleeker, more upmarket exterior of cast stone and lots of glass. The plan calls for seven stories containing 110-125 units averaging 950 square feet.
If you focus on the ground floor you will see the alley separating the Diplomat from the Diamond Head Condos has been given the option of a pocket park connecting the two buildings. You can also just make out a long green wall to the left of the main corner entry. This adds greenery for people walking along the new sidewalk running the length of the building.
While the pocket park isn’t an official part of their plans, it’s a nod to neighborhood desires and something that could be done were there support for it. We were told that if fire department access were required, they could use a porous concrete product called Grasscrete that would not only allow for vegetation growth, but also allow storm water permeation (slightly reducing runoff). Along the wall, you can see a few ground-floor units that would open up to the park. A far cry from those Laurel units on Northwest Highway that seem to open their doors to car exhaust.
From the Diamond Head Condos, this is the side view of the project. Again, a good amount of glass, stone and balconies. The recess accommodates an above-ground amenity deck (the pool is on the other side of the building).
In between Diplomat and Preston Place is the main marking entrance and exit. The partially above-ground garage is screened behind contemporary metal punctuated by what are essentially window boxes of greenery (I might toss a few more in, maybe with flowering vines for a splash of color).
It wasn’t all wine and roses for the Spanos proposal. Several committee members questioned the proposed 950 square feet average unit sizes. Some viewed this as being too small for the neighborhood – particularly Preston Tower representatives. Funny that. Preston Tower’s largest naturally occurring unit size is 1,673 square feet but it also contains a boat-load of very small units, a lot of which are under 600 square feet. Pot, meet kettle.
One thing I found odd was that no one had questions for the author of Spanos’ latest economic viability study that debunks the Preston Center area plan. Joseph Cahoon from HR&A was standing in the wings ready to answer questions that never came. Perhaps it was the shortness of the time allotted for each developer or they’d missed his introduction (acoustics were bad and speakers weren’t projecting as they should).
Provident Realty’s Preston Place
In a case of the dog ate my homework, Provident didn’t show up with a plan so much as a massing study to show how a building would sit on the property. What you can take from this lone graphic is that the building is 20 stories tall and would contain 275 units averaging 1,300 square feet. A lot of big units translates to an overly bulky building.
While I didn’t want to use the Centrum as the example, it was the only way to go. Provident is proposing a stair-stepped building that is tallest along Northwest Highway that tapers down in the back. The result in both buildings is the creation of what could be wonderful outdoor spaces. To Provident’s credit, their wire-frame showed a lot more articulated building than the Centrum’s solid slabs.
The problem is that of the 20 stories proposed, the first stair step appears to be 12 stories off the ground at the northern edge of their lot. That’s five stories taller than Spanos’ neighboring Diplomat renderings. The building also rests on a tall plinth that hogs up the lot pretty completely. Losing the skirt would produce a svelter figure and more green space opportunities. As it is, the proposed green space has more in common with an overzealous bikini wax (so I hear).
Also, the main entrance and exit are on the Northwest Highway frontage road. This has always been a dangerous proposition. The frontage road means drivers entering Northwest Highway have to almost make a U-turn to go west (right) and can’t see far enough down Northwest Highway to adequately see traffic to go east (left) at Edgemere Road .
I approached Provident after the meeting to share my concerns about the building’s bulk and height at the northern side of the lot. I also razzed him about the incompleteness of his plans, especially compared with Spanos’ renderings. They’d had plenty of time to come to the table with something more baked and didn’t. What do they say about first impressions?
On the upside, unlike other projects, Provident’s architects here have done some good work around Dallas. GDA (Gromatzky Dupree Associates) were the designers of Museum Tower, an iteration of The Limited Edition at 2505 Turtle Creek, the Windrose at Legacy West and while a cringe-worthy name (depending on your politics and love of big, sparkly signage), this.
Looking through GDA’s portfolio, I found Confluence Park in Denver, which may offer inspiration to de-bulk this project.
One of the biggest topics to come up were the ramifications of traffic. It became a Catch-22. The city said they wouldn’t let the area be overdeveloped so as to overtax the internal or external (Northwest Highway) roads. But they wouldn’t perform a study to understand what capacities could be supported until a development plan was in place. But the committee didn’t want to allow overbuilding and needed the traffic study before they enabled any changes … down the rabbit hole you go.
City staff cited the traffic studies done for the Preston Center area plan that showed traffic at Preston Road and Northwest Highway has been decreasing for many, many years. The audience scoffed (as we all knee-jerk that traffic must be getting worse). But here’s the thing, Park Cities and Preston Hollow are becoming grayer, equating to more retirees and fewer children. This results in smaller households, fewer cars, and so, fewer trips.
Coincidentally, Spanos was ready with their own traffic study. A good start, but what the committee needs is something that can be used to extrapolate the impacts created by all the coming projects. Compartmentalizing (minimizing) one building’s impact while ignoring the whole diminishes its usefulness. I’d hope Provident and Spanos offer a common format to ease the need for holistic understanding.
Spanos also agreed to pay into a fund to fix and enhance existing infrastructure that would be impacted by development. I assume Provident would also chip in as the surrounding area’s issues would become their tenant’s issues.
Provident also agreed to enshrine any specific (as yet unnamed) project requirements in their development plans or in deed restrictions that wouldn’t naturally (or appropriately) fit within an updated PD-15 document.
Mark my words, this isn’t the last time the committee will meet with the developers. And that’s a good thing, that’s how you get it right.
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.