Attention developers! Forget LinkedIn — if you’re looking for accountants and financial analysts anxious to help you avoid monetary missteps, look no further than the PD-15 authorized hearing steering committee. Sure, they’re (very) long in the tooth, but last night’s meeting showcased a half hour of endless financial advice and “deep” research into how precisely PD-15 should be developed to avoid catastrophe. After decades of unending failure, their assistance would be a comfort, no?
To reiterate, it is not the purview of the committee to make amateur stabs in the dark as to what product a developer should build (except that the buildable envelope is capable of supporting a project of reasonable profitability). It’s not up to the committee to decide the appropriate level of risk, the market timing or whether Dallas is overbuilding. The same way you don’t waltz into an operating room and bump the surgeon out of the way.
So the first half hour and untold amounts of oxygen were essentially wasted. Where was the city’s guiding hand of the last meeting?
Amongst a passel of repeat slides, the city showed an example of how density (unit counts) would change when applied equally across parcels. It was a good slide. As you can see above, if density were applied fairly, there’s the real possibility the Athena and Preston Tower would lose height if rebuilt.
It makes an excellent and needed point. The towers have exhausted everyone by their immovable stance to development (“we got ours, everyone else pound sand”). If the towers believe density is always the enemy, they need to put their own height and density where their mouth is. No “grandfathering.” If they’re truly altruistic in believing the neighborhood needs less density, they should welcome being part of the solution. They’re not, of course.
It’s excellent at the other end, too. If density is evenly applied across all parcels, then at some point, the towers themselves become the target for redevelopment (and their own cash-out). It may not happen today or 20 year from now (long after the current crop of Pink Wallers has gone to its grave – including me), which is why the towers are unlikely to be interested. While it does pose an interesting question for the future, that future is being boxed-in by those managing the last 20 minutes of theirs.
I added the right-most column to capture the numbers of net-new units we’re talking about, and also how unit counts play out if the towers keep their existing density. The numbers get a lot smaller and more manageable. It’s only once 125 units-per-acre is reached that we see an essential doubling of area units. That’s because the total of 1,552 units has to subtract the 594 that currently exist and another 352 units if the towers keep their existing density (which they should be happy to do with as much moaning as they do about density).
To RPS or Not To RPS
Height was again brought up. I’m sure you’re hearing my frustration. The same questions are batted around every meeting with no stake placed in the ground, not even a range to consider. Again, should PD-15 adopt RPS limitations. The same people say “yes,” while the same say “no.” It’s exhausting to listen to people who seem to know to the penny how others should spend their money and what they should build, but no one has budged a foot once numbers are discussed. How these people have escaped so long without understanding what a negotiation is, I can’t say.
The rest of the agenda basically went out the window as time ran down and the meeting ended, but not before city staff asked how the group wanted to proceed.
One towers’ representative wanted to invite developers to present alternative plans for the area. Seriously? What developer in their right mind, who hasn’t got a parcel under contract, is going to spend the time and money to work up a serious proposal including designs and economics for a community group? Zero. Much as this group worried about developer finances at the beginning of the session, they seemed OK with asking random developers to waste money on them.
Another member wants this group to act even further above their pay grade and make everything open-ended to encourage a diverse set of projects. We’re talking about six acres. It’s never going to be West Village or Highland Park Village, or any other village. Make the best of what it is and be done. That alone will require extensive kicking and screaming to get half right.
Suggestions for the City
Skinny the meeting agenda. This group is never going to be able to discuss, let alone decide on more than one topic per meeting. In order, the next meetings should be height, density, and buildable lot coverage (versus the lot coverage shown that includes the streets).
That’s right, spend 90 minutes deciding on height limitations and tower stepbacks – the one metric I don’t think will be equal. Then spend two 90-minute sessions on options for limiting traffic build-up with a traffic engineer, following up with how each potential change can mitigate traffic buildup from increased density (“if you do A, X-cars can be accommodated with little impact. If you do B…”). Then spend 90 minutes figuring out the streetscape and lot coverage. Those four meetings will produce a buildable envelope for each parcel.
Then the developers for Diplomat and Preston Place return with specific plans (Provident) and discuss how their plans deliver against those parameters. If there are minor changes required for a specific lot, then there is a discussion about what the neighborhood gets in return for those changes.
For Diamond Head and Royal Orleans, the committee inserts a provision that the PD gets a say on the exterior of any new construction to ensure it’s not butt-ugly or out of place. In other PDs there might be exterior materials and building styles spelled out. There is no way anyone within the PD has the experience to craft that, but they can give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down when they see something.
If this group keeps circling the block, it’ll be the Roaring 20s before anything is settled.
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.