When I first heard about Preston Tower and Athena owners meeting to discuss PD-15, I nicknamed it a “witch burning” and it did not disappoint. Bill Kritzer, the main speaker from Preston Tower, accusingly called out Council Member Jennifer Gates’ name so many times that if she had a dollar for each utterance, she could fund the Preston Center garage out of petty cash.
The troubles of the world were heaped on her shoulders, every real or imagined slight (OK, they were all imagined) dumped on her doorstep. Meanwhile praise was reserved for the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association (PHSNA) and its work for the neighborhood. I find that praise comical. It was PHSNA leadership that gave residents the Laurel apartments – that are universally reviled. So the talk track was that the Laurel process was better because the developer met with PHSNA leadership – but the neighborhood wound up with a building they hate. Somehow that irony was lost on the packed house at the Athena.
Also lost on the group was the understanding that the Laurel building they hate is three and four stories – the same height they cheered for. While the biggest example, it was hardly the last piece of incoherent thinking observed. Had their been Kool-Aid, there’d have been a fight for the pitcher.
Another “praiseworthy” item was the Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan. Many believing it to be a gold standard of biblical proportions, when it’s closer to manure. I mean really, what do you call a plan that purports to guide development that has no underlying data supporting the economic viability of its conclusions? How about when co-author Peter Kline told me, “To call it a plan is an overstatement”?
Another way to gauge its credibility would be if the consultants, paid to provide data, stood behind its conclusions. Comparing their (left out) recommendations with the final plan, that endorsement will never come. Don’t believe me? Check out my D Magazine story that dismantles it.
The graphics shown displaying the city’s draft PD proposal were inaccurate (lead story graphic). The cries of the process being developer-led ignore the fact that the one developer who’s come to the table (A.G. Spanos for Diplomat) is actually asking for a shorter building than the city’s proposal. A shorter building, it should be noted, precisely where lower matters. The trope about developer greed seems to call for non-profit developers to step forward.
The continued red herring of the 100-foot setback on Northwest Highway was again rolled out as being something to fear simply because the city’s draft calls for 70 feet. What they ignore, or have been kept in the dark about by their HOAs, is that documentation exists in multiple locations dating back to 1945 that supports the 100-foot setback. This evidence includes a contract signed in 1966 between all the Northwest Highway landowners that states no changes can be made without unanimous approval. Done and dusted, but the drone wears on and the rubes still get whipped up.
The plan known as 10-6-4, which reflects the stories proposed as a “compromise” by some of the committee members is shown above. It’s wholly unworkable. On the back side, four stories are not economically viable to build and even if someone agreed to build that height, the resulting build quality would be on par with The Laurel mentioned above.
The 10 stories outlined for Northwest Highway are similarly unbuildable. Hybrid construction enables buildings up to eight stories, after that, it’s concrete and steel, which raises the build costs by 30 to 35 percent. No one is going to incur that cost for a measly two stories.
As you can also see, the plan seems to think all the low rise properties are owned by one owner. They’re not. No bank will loan on a project that’s physically connected with other owners’ property. BUT the biggest folly of all is a one story concrete plinth under the whole thing. Part of it would be parking while maintaining Tulane Avenue running underneath through a ground-level tunnel. If the buildings themselves are not economically viable or financeable, there’s no way anyone would pay to essentially jack their buildings up over an enormously expensive shared concrete slab.
This group has presented their plans to developers, architects and others and have been told exactly what I’ve outlined here, namely that its UN-buildable. And yet they persist.
Their plan calls for units 1,600 to 3,000 square feet – much larger than neighborhood averages. What they seem to forget is that larger units equal larger buildings. Shown above, you can see what happens if unit size increases and the units per acre are stable. Regardless of whether it’s 90 units per acre or whatever, the percent increase in building size stays the same. For people hell bent on keeping buildings short, this makes no sense.
Behind the scenes, it is sadly even funnier. While tonight they said it would be all residential, the plan they presented to me (yes, to me) included a coffee shop that’s a pet project of one committee member. This same committee member told me the only reason they settled on 10 stories on Northwest highway is because another committee member’s condo was on the 11th floor and she didn’t want people looking in. Oh, and that same committee member’s friend’s relative drew up the plan – not a licensed architect, never built a building in his life. They couldn’t even tell the group how many units it would contain – it’s just a picture thrown together by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.
They call it a compromise, but it’s only a true compromise if it has a hope of working. It’s like offering a naked person a sock … sure, it’s clothing … but not enough to keep from being arrested.
Prediction: If the 10-6-4 plan is actually built, residents will spend the rest of their days bitching about the low building quality and blaming everyone else but themselves. As I also pointed out, the 3-year-old Bandera apartments have already been repairing leaks to their stucco exterior.
It’s worth noting that former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller was there, and I can say it’s the first time I’ve ever seen her at an Athena meeting in over five years. As expected, she tried to attack Council Member Gates on a number of topics. Gates defended herself pretty well.
There was a fearful question about the city’s inclusion of sweeteners for developers offering affordable housing. Nothing gets people who think they’re wealthy in a knot like people who know they’re not rich living nearby. As I tried to point out – no one is going to build them the way it’s stated. The city is offering increased density (units per acre) in exchange for affordable units. But there’s no increase in the buildable envelope. So as you can see above, if you’re selling a dozen eggs for $3 and someone says you can sell 14 eggs in the same size box for the same $3 (or less), why would you? It’s a bad deal.
After the meeting, one Preston Tower resident tried to convince me that the 10-6-4 could be built. My response was that the rents would be too high for the neighborhood to bear. His flip answer was “we’ll see.” But we don’t have to wait that long.
The Laurel apartments have been for lease since May 2018 and are reportedly 22 percent occupied. That’s a failure. But the neighborhood is so unthinking that they can’t even understand that one way or another, those units will be rented. Butts in beds will win and so the quality of tenant will decline with rent decreases or perhaps advertising for higher-density roommate rentals who split the costs and fill units.
And of course, you had those who think nothing should be done. Preston Place should be a burned-out concrete platform and no other building should change.
Whatever makes these people think that repeating the Laurel mistake with the same crew of “negotiators” will achieve a different outcome is beyond me. The only answer I can come up with (that’s printable) is that they are grossly uninformed and have no desire to step outside of their bubble to learn – while reserving their right to complain if they actually get their way.
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.