Lincoln Property has done some work to change their Lincoln Katy Trail project. Arguably, these changes should have been the result of the first thumbs-down from the Oak Lawn Committee (OLC) well over a year ago. Instead they come much, much later and only after having exhausted their ability to cram the project through the Oak Lawn Committee and the neighborhood before hitting a Plan Commission brick wall. This project continues to be a manifestation of hubris.
Since Plan Commission kicked the project in August, there have been changes. For example, the single, unending block-long building has been split in two. The Katy Trail no longer faces a fire lane and the ass-end of an underground exposed parking garage and loading dock. The trail also gets a proper entry from the property to engage residents.
But the question remains – Should a 307-unit, 70-foot-tall building (not counting above ground parking garage) comprising 80 percent one-bedroom units, now with 70 percent lot coverage, rear setbacks cut in half to 15 feet, and 600,000 square feet – giving back a miserly 15 affordable units – be allowed to blowout existing MF-2 zoning? That zoning limits a building to 36 feet in height, 60 percent lot coverage, and wider setbacks. It’s also worth remembering the current complex contains 115 market-rate affordable units in a rapidly unaffordable part of Dallas. More troubling still is that this case will be used as precedent for future encroachments into this still affordable area.
Of note, city staff’s recommendation when evaluating the neighborhood and factoring in the affordable units is for 230 units – 77 fewer than Lincoln is asking for, which is “a 152 percent increase, or deviation, in the current allowable density.” Staff also recommends shaving the project to five stories or a 60-foot height limit, calling 70 feet a “detrimental effect” for the Vine Condos on Carlisle. Sixty feet would restrict but not eliminate privacy and views of existing neighbors who comply with the MF-2 zoning.
For the past 35 years, these question have been haggled out at the Oak Lawn Committee where support is either withheld or granted (sometimes painfully) before being presented to Plan Commission and City Council. Certainly when Angela Hunt was the council member for Oak Lawn District 14, before she began representing developers such as Lincoln Property, every project required Oak Lawn Committee support. Ditto current council member Philip Kingston.
And yet, Hunt and Lincoln have decided to skip allowing the Oak Lawn Committee to re-approve (or not) their “significant” changes. They’re barreling into City Plan Commission on Nov. 1, hell or high water. OLC City Hall liaison Sue Krider’s invitation to return fell on deaf ears. The neighborhood and the city should have a problem with that.
It’s funny — Hunt only calls the project’s changes “significant” when speaking about how they’ve accommodated the neighborhood while downplaying them where Plan Commission and particularly Oak Lawn Committee are concerned. When talking about why they’re not returning to the Oak Lawn Committee, she told commissioners that those formerly significant changes were “nothing that changes anything substantially.”
- The building has been broken apart but it’s now 35,312 square feet or 6.2 percent larger (563,925 vs 599,237 square feet)
- The rear setback minimums have been cut in half from 30 feet to 15 feet
- The existing three parking spaces on Hall Street for public Katy Trail access have been removed.
- The only surface parking will be eight spaces adjacent to the leasing office (the 75 feet between the separated buildings, that should really be green space)
There are other subtle changes too …
The excerpt above removes the prior limitation of five residential stories north of the garage entry on Carlisle Street (“right” side of development, masked in renderings behind non-existent hill). While it’s true the building has been split and the main garage entry is no longer in this position, that shouldn’t change the requirement. It’s odd, the renderings shown to the neighborhood (page 9) show both sections as having five residential stories above the parking garage topping at the same height (on this sloping parcel how can both buildings be the same height?). The south (left) section has additional ground-level units on Carlisle fronting the garage, giving it six residential floors (which doesn’t count as a residential floor because it fronts a garage). The same is true for ground-level units facing Katy Trail (image below).
Another curiosity is a change in their above ground parking. First, remember Hunt repeatedly told the Oak Lawn Committee that parking was 100 percent underground? The truth is here. Originally, above-ground parking needed to be concealed by either “residential units” or a façade matching the rest of the building. Again, the renderings show walk-up units on the southern end of the building (lower terrain) and on the backside facing the Katy Trail. If that’s still the plan, why weaken the requirement?
Even without the separation of the buildings, I wouldn’t call these changes insignificant. Especially when the city places higher priority on wording than renderings. Would you?
The neighbors have also never trusted the DeShazo traffic study and asked for an independent review — particularly in light of 20-odd nearby projects already approved. Instead of a neutral party, Lincoln asked their in-house Austin civil engineer to look it over and bless it.
At last Thursday’s Plan Commission meeting, that sentiment was echoed by several commissioners telling Hunt that a lack of Oak Lawn Committee support for the new design will “heavily weigh” on their view of the project, with Commissioner Michael Jung finding these events “very disturbing.”
In addition to Hunt telling commissioners that the “significant” changes for the neighborhood shouldn’t be significant to the OLC, they also didn’t want to “go back for timing reasons.” Commissioner Jung questioned the timing excuse, noting this project has been kicking around for “a very long time” already and he was “not impressed by the need to move forward quickly” given that Lincoln was responsible for taking six of the eight weeks allotted in the last delay.
This all sets a horrendously bad precedent for the area, essentially enabling developers to skip Oak Lawn Committee for a potentially lighter touch at CPC and city council. This process-breaking also has spectacularly bad optics by being led by the former neighborhood council member. That alone should ruffle feathers all over town.
Earlier in the discussion, Vine Condo representative Amanda Popken detailed how, after the August CPC meeting, they had assembled a group of HOA representatives who met with Hunt and Lincoln. After the initial meeting, subsequent meetings were cancelled until a week prior to Thursday’s meeting. She recently noted community meetings where Vine representatives were ejected.
(Full disclosure: Amanda Popken is also an occasional columnist for CandysDirt.com.)
Popken also noted that some HOAs had become frustrated with the process and were boycotting meetings with Lincoln. Commissioners Paul Ridley and Margot Murphy chastised those for giving up on the process, but come on, how many cancelled meetings are needed before they’d give up too.
It all paints a picture of fear and doubt on the part of a brazen Hunt and Lincoln. Hunt told the commissioners that if the OLC pulls its support for the changed project, they’ll still be at CPC on Nov. 1. Hunt and Lincoln clearly think the OLC doesn’t matter. Unfortunately they heard loud and clear last Thursday that for a good number of commissioners, it does. The big question is whether the OLC still matters to Oak Lawn District 14 council member Philip Kingston and his Plan Commission appointee Paul Ridley?
Because, while multiple commissioners voiced their concern over OLC support, Ridley was silent. And his softball question of Hunt teed-up the answer within the question itself, “Is the reason your client is seeking the two-week hold beyond the original 60 days is to hold additional neighborhood meetings and further engage the neighborhood about the new plan?” You and I might have asked the less leading, “Why should we give you two more weeks beyond the 60 days already given?”
I reached out to Hunt and Ridley for some clarification regarding the project’s next step. While Hunt didn’t respond to requests for comment, this is what Ridley offered:
At the CPC meeting on Oct. 18, the commission voted to hold the matter under advisement until November 1 to allow further stakeholder input on Lincoln’s new design of the project. Nothing more to say until the case is considered on Nov. 1.
Before I forget, Lincoln did have a support letter from the “Friends” of the Katy Trail. Incongruously, the “Friends” supported the earlier plan that flashed a dumpster and headlights to the trail. I wonder if now that these improvements have been made to the backside whether they’ll pull their support because it’s too nice.
This whole project has just never smelled right. The presentations by this team of experienced and politically connected professionals have been incomplete. Requests for information go unanswered or are sketchily delivered (the August CPC meeting was a clown car). Once-protected institutions have been damaged and ridden roughshod over by this project. Former protectors are now enemies while current protectors remain silent. A process imbued from start to finish with a “don’t question me” arrogance.
I’ve seen developers present to the Oak Lawn Committee who have their act together and who present a polished and informative face to the city. The difference is stark.
My personal bet is that Lincoln asks for another Plan Commission delay while they go hat-in-hand back to the Oak Lawn Committee on Nov. 13, realizing that even though it means a fourth trip to CPC, this lame duck won’t pass without OLC blessing.
P.S. Why is Lincoln getting away with 5 percent affordable when the city is hitting up developers for at least 10? And why do affordable units in all projects expire at all? Do we believe the Dallas of the future will suddenly be more affordable?
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 email@example.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.