PD-15: More Baseless Anti-Development Propaganda From Towers

Sheesh, I can’t leave town for a minute before the woodwork erupts with another in the continuing stream of faulty logic and lies thrown against the Pink Wall to see what sticks. Last week, Athena representative Barbara Dewberry continued the towers’ unending salvo of scare tactics and misinformation targeting the other committee members and city staff.

I’m going to (again) break apart the distortions contained in her email (her words in bold, mine plain text) …

There is so much to consider and a lot at stake for the right decisions to be made if we change PD15 drastically. It could harm the neighborhood forever.  PD15 has had a long life, but that does not mean it’s completely outdated. The purpose when implemented and now was to define and restrict. It was recognized that the area was best served by not allowing a row of six high rise apartment buildings. The density could be overwhelming! The two towers are grandfathered, and there are no good reasons to have any more tall, dense buildings in our area.

PD-15 and its resulting buildings were the desire of a developer. It was not a grand plan for what exists today, but rather what was the most profitable to build. Before Preston Tower was built, the Dallas Morning News reported that developer Hal Anderson’s original iteration was for Preston Tower to have a perpendicular twin of the same height and density on what became the Preston Place lot.  The Athena was to have been 40 stories tall – nearly double its current height. Preston Tower was to be apartments and the Athena condos – both spent their first years as apartments.

For whatever financial reasons of the era, Anderson did not build those buildings. Instead, to eke out as much profit as possible, he pulled Preston Tower south and inserted the garden building across the northern edge of the lot.

When it came time for the Athena to convert to condos, Anderson dumped five small units on the eastern roof of its parking garage that he was able to sell independently for further profit.

Second proposed high-rise for Preston Place lot from 1970s

If the market would have supported Hal Anderson building more high-rises, he would have. In fact, in the early 1970s, another high-rise was proposed for the Preston Place lot whose units remain within PD-15’s density calculations.

Profit was the motive, not altruism for the sanctity of the neighborhood. Prior to the citywide rezoning in the 1960s, the entirety of the Pink Wall was zoned for commercial development and was owned by H.E Prather (developer of Highland Park Village). That should offer a taste of the original plans for the area.

The original plans for PD-15 were to cram as much density into it as was profitable to build. Waxing poetic about those early developers is simply wishful thinking to bamboozle a neighborhood. Living in an existing high-rise with claims of being “grandfathered” is a simple “we got ours” rationalization.

Tall, dense buildings will impact the quality of life of the residents already living in this and the surrounding areas. No one in the Steering meetings has mentioned preserving the neighborhood for the Tower and Athena residents–approximately 700 people whose lives will be impacted for many years of construction and thereafter with overcrowding. Also, we should respect the neighbors North of us.

There is no current density problem in the neighborhood. Those freaking out about additional density are simply assuming the new residents will somehow have an outsized impact on the neighborhood beyond the traffic that doesn’t exist today. The inability to lay down in the middle of Bandera, Averill or the Northwest Highway frontage road for a half hour without being run over is not the definition of crowded roads. One suggestion to corral new traffic.

Regardless of what’s built, there will be disruption. The only measurement therefore is the difference between what could be built and what may be built. It’s also shortsighted to say the future of the neighborhood should be held hostage because of construction traffic. And again, the continued whine of the me-me-me towers.

The Steering Committee has only 6 members who are residents in the six buildings and the others are either investors or live elsewhere.  There are only 4 members (33%) who want to remain in their homes in two Towers. That is not a very appropriate ratio to be deciding the impact on about 700 people in the Tower and the Athena, which have 460 units and represent 77.4% of owners and 52% of the land approximately in the PD15 area.  The other low rise buildings have 134 owners, about 40% of whom are investors. (per DCAD)  Also the Diplomat ostensibly has 2 members for 40 units. Not very well proportioned for members related to owners and buildings.

The towers clearly believe in selective democracy. They want outsized representation on the committee, but as far as I know, all the buildings in PD-15 will cast a single vote for their entire membership. The reason is because none have inserted wording in their HOA documents allowing individual residents to vote their conscience when this issue goes before City Plan Commission and City Council.

So the six HOAs have tight-fisted control over the ultimate vote and yet the towers want the committee to treat them as 700 individuals. In November 2017, Athena HOA president Carla Young told me she was going to insert the individual voting into Athena documents. When she wasn’t selected to be on the Authorized Hearing committee, it never happened. As I said, selective democracy – only when is suits the towers’ goals.

And the towers’ goals are already vividly known. They will oppose any development in the area that exceeds existing controls. Why does the committee need to be muddied with more people not seeking the best solution for everyone? No one needs a second child crying in their ear while they’re trying to work.

The low rise owners–even including some who wanted to remain there– are all now wanting to cash out while there may be an opportunity.  We do ask that they have respect for those of us who want to remain. We might have to endure ten years of construction with density that would deprive those of us who are not speculators to the right to a peaceful and enjoyable existence with the lovely views that we purchased.  A high rise replacing Diamond Head would impact one half of the Athena’s units views to the North and greatly devalue those. High rises replacing Preston Place, Royal Orleans, and Diplomat would impact all the Athena’s Western views and thus decrease value there as well.

No high-rise owner purchases their view. Purchases end at the glass. And to ask for respect when there is money at stake is a fool’s errand that few of the towers’ owners would respect if the moneyed shoe was on their foot. Money almost always trumps principles.

Diplomat is not asking for a high-rise. After their amorphous blob was shown, no one knows exactly what Provident wants for Preston Place. The Royal Orleans and Diamond Head do not even have a buyer.

And honestly, striking a deal everyone can live with is the whole point of this exercise. Diamond Head needs to be educated that Diplomat was able to strike a profitable deal for a seven-story building. There is no reason another seven-story project double Diplomat’s proposed size shouldn’t work for Diamond Head too. Giving Diamond Head the same density is an equitable solution. Again, this is the work the committee was assembled to address.

The two Towers were built for longevity, with attractive design, green spaces, trees, underground and other adequate parking.  The owners have paid for that, as well high dues so that we may maintain and update the buildings as needed and have adequate reserves.  Those of us in the Athena paid an entry fee that is not refunded upon sale.  This strengthens our reserves for emergencies as well as provides capital improvements.  We have not let our building degenerate!

Some of the low rise residents complain of poor quality buildings, lack of green space, no adequate reserves to repair, poor views, etc.  They want to treat this as a windfall opportunity to sell and leave the Towers with the problems. They knew what they bought, as we did and we paid the premium. So is it fair to try to correct their remorse at someone else’s expense? It appears they want to use their majority of members to change our neighborhood, but move away escaping the chaos created?

The two towers do not have adequate parking nor is it all underground – Athena has three levels above and one below ground. One of the items all agree on is to change the existing PD-15 parking requirements that’re woefully low. As for green space, the Athena’s side yards offer the most, Preston Tower has a front yard and a whole side taken up with a surface parking lot.

Dewberry is correct that many Pink Wall buildings have not charged high enough HOA dues to maintain their buildings. The results are buildings crumbling from decades of deferred maintenance. As much as I am loathe to reward self-inflicted indolence, there is little choice except watch them deteriorate further while bringing down the rest of the neighborhood’s values.

Should buyers have known the state of their buildings before purchasing? Sure. But no one reads condo documents and I suspect fewer than none investigate the physical state of the buildings before buying either.

It’s strong to call the next chapter of the Pink Wall and PD-15 “chaos” especially when you’re one of the committee members who volunteered to navigate the transition. If it’s chaos, some of the blame rests with the committee itself.

There is evidence of Dallas overbuilding apartments now–just look around the city–one tall box after another–with small, expensive units. The WSJ and DMN have featured articles about Dallas overbuilding.  We are several years into frenzied building and we don’t want to be at the end of the cycle, which would mean vacancies and foreclosures as workers lose jobs and can’t pay high rents for small units. This would mean poor maintenance and flipping until HUD takes over.  We need careful consideration to maintain our neighborhood. This was the reason for PD15 in the first place–not to over reach in height and density.

It is not the committee’s purview to dictate a developer’s risk or profit margin. If a developer overbuilds for the market, the rents will decrease just as for sale properties will decline in value. While there may be some hesitation to be at the end of the building cycle, I will say that it’s far worse to wait until the next one.

The only constant in building is that the next cycle will require more. The land will cost more, the construction materials will cost more and the labor will cost more. The result will be buildings that cost more and require more density to be profitable. When Preston Place’s 60 units were built in the 1970s, they were profitable. Flash forward 40 years and 100 units per acre is a drop in the bucket for some parcels of land. Waiting for the next cycle may mean 150 per acre or more are required for profitability.

Contradicting herself, Dewberry here states an aversion to smaller units. But smaller units equal smaller rents which make them easier to afford than the larger units she touts further down.  Smaller units are a better hedge against vacancies than oversized units double or triple their size. You can’t have it both ways.

Another item discussed is the 66 available units that have some value that extends to all six buildings.  Suppose the total value is $20,000 divided by 594 total units for a value of $33 per owner approximately.  Example for the Tower:  320 units X $33 = $10,560. You can do the math for the other buildings.

I have no idea what the point is here.

The developers can make a profit if they build large sized and luxurious units with a lush exterior.  They don’t have to be so greedy that they have to permanently ruin our neighborhood with tall buildings and small tacky units. They can put green spaces on the roofs and thus not even consider public parks, which would be a burden to maintain with non-residents leaving trash and walking pets irresponsibly.  Neither should retail or commercial use be considered, other than what is already at the Tower.  The parking cost and traffic would be prohibitive.  Also the Tower has proved that this neighborhood does not support retail or commercial use.  If one wanted a coffee shop, work with the Tower to get one and then support it.

Dewberry, and the rest of the committee members, have no construction experience and are unqualified to judge what is and isn’t profitable.

Again, it is the work of this committee to put limits on construction density and height. But it’s a different kind of greed that tries to limit ground-level green spaces out of fear the spaces would actually be (shudder) used. It’s also worth noting that the green spaces would be on private land and up to the owners to maintain. It doesn’t do a landlord, looking for top dollar, any good to let their landscaping fall into ruin.

Another point I agree with Dewberry on is the idiocy of proposing additional commercial uses. Preston Tower has proven for decades that retail and restaurants are doomed to fail from lack of parking for outside customers and a lack of support from within.

Have you thought about how 3 or 4 developers are going to be excavating, hauling dirt, bringing in cement trucks, materials and have 4 work crews coming and going at the same time?  If the development is staged with say, Preston Place first, then Diplomat, then the Royal Orleans and then Diamond Head, how long will construction last?  If four buildings or one building is done by one developer it might take 36 to 40 months.  If staged one at a time, maybe 8 to 10 years?  With the noise and vehicles and confusion, we will all be crazy by then…….

Two of the four potential development parcels are already under contract. This committee should work with those developers to design joint building schedules to minimize construction time. I suspect Royal Orleans would love to be part of this building cycle if they can find the right buyer/project.  That leaves one building potentially out of synch with the others. Hardly the stuff of a decade of constant construction. Again, the committee can regulate and synchronize much of this in order to grant approvals.

Also how are 3 or 4 developers going to implement necessary sewage and drainage and easements and streets for emergency vehicles and trash handling? Surely one developer for the whole area would be more feasible and result in higher quality.  The low rise owners seem to think that one developer may not pay as much as four?

It is not within the scope of the committee to dictate which parcel owner sells to which developer nor to try to orchestrate a combination of parcels.  It is within the City of Dallas’ purview to dictate the necessary sewage and drainage requirements for any project.

In my opinion, I would agree to the following:

Size–Footprint of buildings and units– 60% of lot, with units 2200 to 3500 sq. ft. Deed restriction to state size of units.

The existing properties are likely already at 60 percent lot coverage because the roadways are part of each PD-15 building’s parcel.  Also, at $3.00 per square foot for rent, advocating for 2,200 to 3,500 square foot units equates to $6,600 to $10,500 per month in rent. On the open market, this would equate to homes valued at $1-to-$1.5 million – completely unsupportable economics behind the Pink Wall.

Even if the economics were supported, the market downturn Dewberry fears would have a catastrophic effect on apartments charging this level of rent. There’s also the location. For $10,000 per month, you could rent a unit at the Ritz – where would you spend $10,000 per month?

It’s also shortsighted for the towers to want units this large. The neighborhood needs a steady stream of buyers, something that falls away when the economy dives. Preston Hollow and Park Cities are not the primary feeders to the Pink Wall any more – they head to Turtle Creek and Uptown. Alternatively, do apartment renters downsize? No. They’re far more likely to trade in a one-bedroom unit for a larger towers unit when buying and remaining in the area. Huge rental units would diminish the pool of buyer’s for existing, smaller area condos.

Height–Two to four stories max. RPS per PD15

Residential Proximity Slope (RPS) doesn’t kick in until the 12th story at the northern edge of PD-15.  Two-to-four story construction coupled with huge units would result in a reduction in density. Talk about two steps back.

Sewage and Drainage–Carefully planned and agreed in writing among builders (if more than one) and City, etc.

The city requires this already.

Streets–Open Tulane and decide with developers. City, Fire Dept, etc. as to where easements and streets will be in writing. It has been brought up to consider deeding streets to City?

Opening Tulane isn’t necessary when your goal is to reduce density. In addition to being unneeded, it would be costly and there wouldn’t be enough money in the deal to make it an option.

Quality–Long lasting buildings with excellent design-Expensive Construction–Developers will agree in writing to bus the workers to site (no parking on our internal streets) keep trash picked up and repair neighborhood streets when construction is complete. Have fixed completion date with penalties in writing

Two to four story construction are more townhouse or low-rise projects. They would be lightweight wood construction and therefore of more limited life.

The other items are negotiated between the committee and the developers.

Greenspace–Primarily on the tops of buildings

While I support green rooftops for ecological and aesthetic reasons, two-to-four story construction will not provide enough incentive for developers. “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride” comes to mind.

I’m not sure how to square a desire for 60 percent lot coverage while limiting green space to roof tops. What is the remainder of the lot to be filled with? Gravel?

Setbacks–100 ft on Northwest Hwy and same as PD15 for other low rise buildings.

The setbacks along Northwest Highway are part of each building’s deed. I’m guessing the other setbacks are part of deeds as well. Limit what you want, but it’s probably already there.

I respectfully submit for your consideration,

Barbara Dewberry

Wednesday’s meeting aught to be a ball.

 

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