A couple of days ago, Phil Crone, Dallas Builders Association Dallas Division executive officer, asked for help plugging the DBA debate planned for April 4 at the division’s monthly meeting. Knowing that Jennifer Staubach Gates had canceled an earlier debate, I jumped on this and called executive editor Joanna England: we’ve got to live stream it!
We got to Maggiano’s, got set up, and were told that we had a problem: Neither candidate had agreed to video of any kind. Jennifer Staubach Gates was seated, and Laura Miller had not yet arrived.
I went right up to Gates and asked if we could live stream. She said yes, of course. The DBA asked Miller when she arrived, and she agreed. The Dallas Morning News was there taking stills. Knowing that residents of District 13 wanted to see this, we also decided to post the hour-and-a-half-long video here on the website.
Keep in mind that the DBA drafted the questions and yes, it was builder-oriented, which is very pertinent to the issues concerning D13: building, growth, density, big houses dwarfing smaller 1950s ranches, traffic, site views, density, highest and best use of land, and did we mention density? Crime and other issues were not discussed, but we will cover those in our soon-to-be published candidate questionnaires. (Ours were so detailed the candidates are all asking for more time.)
During the debate, Dallas Morning News writer Robert Wilonsky messaged me that it was riveting, then asked how I would score the candidates.
We have been following the Preston Center/Behind the Pink Wall real estate saga for years. Full disclosure: my mother bought a condo there in the early 1990s, which I still own. My daughter lives in another complex there. Our Jon Anderson lives there. Several dear friends live there. Many Real Estate agents live there. So I just know too much, and I knew when either side was not being entirely truthful.
For example, when Laura Miller stated that 90% of the people living Behind the Pink Wall are against the city’s vision to re-zone the roughly 13 acres constituting PD-15, she was not telling the truth. The truth is 90% of the HOA reps are against the city’s plan. Because of HOA rules, individuals are not allowed to vote individually. Our Audience Engagement Director, Bethany Erickson, asked Miller to clarify her statement via email after the debate. Here’s what she said, as well as the documents she provided:
Councilwoman Gates appointed a PD-15 Steering Committee in May 2018 to come up with a recommendation for a zoning change to PD-15. When that group could not agree on a recommendation, Ms. Gates disbanded the group. To its credit, the group engaged a pro bono architect and urban planner and met separately as a group from their regularly scheduled meetings from September 2018 through December 2018 in order to find a compromise that would be supported by all, or most, of the Pink Wall homeowners and could be presented to the Councilwoman. This was accomplished in December 2018, and committee members representing 90 percent of the Pink Wall homeowners presented Ms. Gates with the compromise, which she did not support. The Steering Committee member who shepherded this effort is Kevin Griffeth, who was appointed to the Steering Committee (along with Grover Wilkins) by Ms. Gates to represent all of the 612 Pink Wall owners outside PD-15. The compromise is currently supported (as the attached document shows) by the Steering Committee members who represent 1,077 of the 1,213 owners behind the Pink Wall (90 percent), which also includes owners in the Athena and Preston Tower; the only owners not in favor of the compromise are the four, small properties located inside PD-15 (136 owners) who support the re-zoning because they either currently have sales contracts on their properties that are conditioned upon the rezoning; or they want the ability to sell under the new, higher zoning conditions. The color-coded map of the Pink Wall, also attached, identifies the buildings containing the 1,077 homeowners who are represented by the Steering Committee members chosen by Ms. Gates and who currently oppose the staff recommendation that Plan Commission will vote on on April 18, which Ms. Gates supports.
I also know there is a high percentage of renters in this area because many people, like me and like Laura Miller, inherited units from parents. (Laura said she and her husband bought their Athena unit for her mother-in-law when Gates pointed out the hypocrisy of being anti-high-rise when you own a unit in one.)
A systematic, standardized poll of residents behind the pink wall has never been done. Not by mail, not door to door, nor by phone. I do know what we hear from our readers via comments and emails. So I would challenge the veracity of Miller’s statement.
When Miller stated that an alternate plan for the new development had been created by an architect (but ignored by Gates) she was also fibbing. She was referring to a model created after “Several committee members felt no progress was being made, mainly due to the lack of direction and absence of a conceptual vision the city was supposed to provide.” (I’m quoting from an email I received from one of the actual committee members.)
They went a little rogue, pulled in an architectural designer, not an architect, though talented nonetheless. I spoke with him, actually. He told me what he created was a rough conception, a first stab, at a compromising structure. As Gates said correctly, it was a vision. It was not shopped to any developers.
“The “compromise” 10-6-4 plan, just like the Preston Center Area Plan that preceded it, consists of boxes with no ties to economic reality,” says our Jon Anderson, who has covered PD-15 exhaustively. “The plan’s supporters have no idea even on the basics. For example, they have no idea how many cubic feet they’re proposing and how that translates to density. None of the proposed buildings’ sizes are aligned to what’s currently being built in urban Dallas – and there’s a reason, they’re not viable.”
Finally, Preston Center: Gates pulled no punches, had no problem speaking up about her opponent’s motives for getting involved the Preston Center parking garage conversation, maybe the entire D13 race: It was to help out a friend.
Miller said she had a friend ready to donate $10 million to create a park over the current parking garage, the “Deason Family Park”, and put the parking underground. The city has enough money in the bond for semi-underground parking.
Miller said the owners all agreed, and loved this idea.
The parking garage is owned by the City of Dallas, but property owners surrounding the garage have parking easements on it, per court order.
There must be unanimous agreement by the owners to do anything to the garage, and the owners do not want a park.
“There will never be a ground-level, 3 acre park,” says Luke Crosland, who has easements over all the streets and the entire deck. “There will be underground parking, and pocket parks.”
I spoke with developer Robert Dozier briefly last week. For the first time, he told me, there is a unanimous agreement among all the owners, to do something with the garage beside let it rot. That something is a luxury apartment complex with small pocket parks on the corners at street-level, a new parking garage with residences above. Developers have added a park on a top level. He repeated what Crosland said, no park.
Frankly, the owners are concerned a street-level park would attract only more of Dallas’ growing and northward expanding homeless population.
Gates said there were strings attached to Miller’s friend’s offer. The friend, wealth management president Doug Deason, son of Darwin Deason and now Miller’s campaign treasurer, told Gates he’d give the dough for the park if the zoning for the Saint Michael’s and All Angels development (apartments, office) was killed. Gates told Deason she supported the park, but not this way. Darwin, who lives in an 18,270-square-foot condo on the 9th floor at 8181 Douglas – across the alley from the church’s proposed development — is apparently concerned about the site view from his condo should the Saint Michael’s zoning be approved.
Wait, so this all about protecting someone’s site view?
Miller is a very good debater, she grabs the mic, she walks and paces as she speaks. She has mastered the technique you learn when running for public office, to keep on message, validate the question, but steer everything to your talking points (listen to how she responds to/evades Dallas builder Alan Hoffman. Classic.) If only she wouldn’t lie. Miller definitely has a truthfulness problem, said Executive Editor Joanna England, who was present for the debate.
Gates is not a good debater, which she admits, but she was amazing: Articulate, stayed behind the desk, lobbed a few stingers, and defended her record.
Both disappointed on the ethics question from JLD Custom Homes founder Jeff Dworkin: Gates said she, Scott Griggs, and Adam Medrano were the sole BS detectors initially when it came to the Dallas County Schools taxpayer ripoff. No one asked about VisitDallas, dang it. Miller described her first encounter with James Fantroy, who served prison time after thousands disappeared from the Paul Quinn Community Development Corp. Fantroy wrote checks to himself, his family, and his campaign using an account of the corporation. (His attorney told jurors that Mr. Fantroy took the money because he was broke.) She said you stop the corruption by pairing three or four Council members with a developer, not one as the current way. That reduces the risk of taking bribes.
Or does it just spread the money out more?
Miller really raised eyebrows when, after Gates pointed out that she would have to recuse herself from any Council work on PD-15 since she owns an investment rental unit at The Athena, said no way. Miller basically refused with a pout. Ironically, Miller had praised Gates earlier for recusing herself from the Transwestern development that scraped Townhouse Row and resulted in the luxury Laurel Apartments. And City Plan Commissioner Jaynie Schultz, from my District 11, has recused herself from any discussion of PD-15 because she has family members living at The Edgemere. I am awaiting word from the Dallas City Attorney’s office on this.
How would you score them?
This article was updated after further clarification on the Preston Center Parking Corporation from Luke Crosland: underground parking yes, street level park, no