Oak Lawn Committee Talks Affordable Housing And Third Uptown Luxury Hotel

Across Cedar Springs Road from the Ritz-Carlton and the McKinney & Olive buildings sits a half-acre, triangular parcel anchored by Pizza Hut and Comet Cleaners in a shopworn building. Last night, the Oak Lawn Committee saw renderings for an 18-story “lifestyle” hotel crowned by a restaurant, pool, and check-in desk.  Yes, the check-in desk will be in the top floor offering a cool experience I’ve seen in Mandarin Oriental hotels in New York City and Las Vegas (since renamed).

The unnamed hotel brand at 2025 Cedar Springs Road will house guests in 230 rooms and suites with a minimum of meeting rooms. This is important because the tiny lot would make large spaces less practical not only due to space, but the ability to supply parking for large meetings and events. As it is, parking needs for the small plot, will be housed in three and a half underground levels. Large meeting or banquet functions would require a much deeper parking hole.

Today, the site is easy to identify in the middle of a rapidly rising Uptown. The 2011 Cedar Springs condos appear to be directly behind the building, but in reality, the proposed building does a good job of folding away from their windows – something the condo owners should appreciate.

From above, the site’s challenging angles are obvious. The footprint of the building is smaller than could have been designed. In this iteration, the leading corner’s tip-of-the-spear green space becomes a softer focal point for the neighborhood. The corner could have easily resembled the prow of a ship docked on Cedar Springs Road. The gray area between the hotel and the green space is a spill-out area for a small café or coffee shop housed on the ground floor of the hotel. To the right is the hotel drop-off/valet area – almost certainly under a canopy.

There were questions about the flow of valet traffic. The entrance to the garage is in the lower left of the hotel on the opposite side to valet. The traffic plan calls for cars to enter the drop-off area and then circle the one-way streeted block. This seemed excessive to me.

In conversations with the HKS architects and developer T2, I asked why traffic couldn’t be shuttled down the hotel-owned alley behind the property and avoid the roads altogether?  Unfortunately, the alley isn’t wide enough for two-way traffic, so the best option would be for the alley to be used for half the journey either in or out of the garage.

You may recall, Crescent Properties got a lot of grief for circling the block with a restaurant valet service a few blocks away. The difference between the two is mainly down to the fact that this parcel’s surrounding streets are all one-way. This means that at no time is valet traffic getting bogged down waiting to cross two-way traffic – and a “what else ya gonna do” lot size.

Shifting Car Culture And Parking

Several recent projects presented at the Oak Lawn Committee have challenged the need for PD-193’s parking requirements. The chart above will be poached by others, I’m sure. Ignoring the top of the slide, you can see on the bottom half that PD-193 requires a heck of a lot of parking – one space per hotel room. But if you look at other cities (including downtown Dallas), you can see dramatically less parking is required for the same size hotel. As was said, it’s not that Austin hotels aren’t building any parking, but that the city allows developers to assess their own traffic needs. These guys don’t want to dig down to China just to have 230 parking spaces that will largely go unused – and I get it perfectly.

Now the top part of the slide is a bit of a pity party. It’s saying that underground parking on their triangular lot is 2.45 times as costly as aboveground, and 0.45 times more than underground parking on a rectangular lot. Well, boo-hoo — the shape of the lot didn’t change after they’d paid.

Sometimes it can be hard to see the improvements made by developers. The picture above makes that distinction obvious. Believe it or not, that’s Olive Street less than a block from McKinney & Olive’s sky-high rents. Clearly, this hotel will have a positive impact, continuing the neighborhood feel and walkability.  Trees and sidewalks replacing utility poles and errant signage – that works.

The Oak Lawn Committee was very positive and welcoming to this project and its ability to remake a small lot into such a nice project. The developer is asking for two exceptions. They want less parking and a larger building than the parcel would support (although not taller and with less lot coverage). While the project didn’t get its official support letter that night, the minor clarifications they’ll be asked for will show how well the project was received.

The only question in my mind is when we’ll find out the names of the three deluxe hotel brands moving into Uptown. Inquiring foodies will want to know the caliber of chefs.

3620 Inwood Road

On Inwood Road, just past Lemmon Avenue and the Braum’s store is a small, threadbare strip shopping center that is trying to spiff themselves up. They came to the OLC in August wanting to renovate the AAMCO auto repair end of the property. Like the other end, they want some type of retail instead of the constant showcase of cars awaiting repair.

The problem is that the former gas station doesn’t have the space needed for the parking required to class-up the joint. In order to change to a retail usage, they need 26 parking spaces, but can only carve out 18 – which is pretty impressive considering pre-convenience store gas stations weren’t exactly lush with reasons to park beyond gassing and going.

The owner basically returned to the OLC a bit hat-in-hand seeking some type of guidance of what can be done to renovate this property that everyone agrees is no longer in keeping with the area. He seemed willing to entertain any restrictions or swizzles to get the job done.

And I agree, the neighborhood is no longer a “light commercial” zoning area and this small lot has few options. They need help.

To that end, the OLD is forming a sub-committee to work with the landowner to try and figure something out. It may not be the quicker outcome the owner desired, but it’s some light at the end of the tunnel if the group can work something out.  Stay tuned to see any results in a few months’ time.

Affordable Housing

Although first on the agenda, it’s last here. Council Member Philip Kingston addressed the OLC with an update on the city’s progress on affordable housing. Net-net, there will likely be a citywide regulation for affordable housing specifically targeting multi-family areas without any today (in Dallas, single-family areas are nearly sacrosanct). You may recall the city got its boobie in a federal ringer for dumping all their federally funded affordable housing in Southern Dallas, making the area’s poverty worse.

It’s always sad to be reminded that Dallas pled their case all the way to the Supreme Court trying to prove they didn’t do what they must have known they did – and the obvious racism behind it.

So now the city has to get its (affordable) house in order – a flower sprouting from a decades-high pile of manure.

The city is still dotting and crossing their plans and we’ll revisit them once the ink is dry.

As I’m currently dealing with a city staff recommendation on affordable housing in Preston Hollow, I have to hope slightly more thought is given. As it stands in this case, the city would offer increased density (more units per acre) for setting aside a certain percentage of units as affordable – fine. But what I don’t understand (and developers agree with me) is that unless the buildable envelope also increases, there is no actual incentive. Let me explain …

You have a dozen eggs selling for $1 and the city offers you a deal. You can sell 14 eggs in the same-sized carton but for the same or less money. Who’d agree to that?

Unless there are some back-end tax credits or something, cannibalizing market-rate rentable space for no increased building size, makes no sense.

Ghosted by Friends of Stemmons Park

The group was supposed to also hear a presentation from the Friends of Stemmons Park but they were a no-show (first I’d seen that). For those who don’t know, the park is the vacant land south of the InfoMart between Oak Lawn Avenue, Harry Himes and I-35E.

Their plans are to raise $300,000 for a first phase to install a pair of Portland Loos, some signage (because no one knows it’s a park), picnic tables and a bike repair kiosk. The hope is to also attract food trucks. The park is a centrally located to take advantage of the evolving Trinity Strand Trail.

Maybe they’ll show next month?

Finally, you may have noted greater detail reported for this meeting. In the past, I was allowed to sit in on the members’ section of the meeting. After the developers had left, their thoughts added color to my own making for a richer story. Often they’d make points I hadn’t considered which helped me understand.  The unwritten deal was that I didn’t report on a case’s outcome. New year, new rules. Press are now barred from the members’ portion of the meeting meaning I’m free to report.  Persistent me will be found post-meeting camping out in the Melrose Hotel bar waiting to chat with parched members.

Looks like I need to ask Candy for an expense account.


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.