Development, specifically the Pink Wall’s PD-15 and Saint Michael and All Angels’ plans for Frederick Square, are the crux of the District 13 city council race between incumbent Jennifer Gates and former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller. Sure, there are other nitpicks that include the Preston Center garage swizzled in, but that’s just a sideshow.
On April 18, after two years and two committees of dead-end meetings, the city’s recommendation for PD-15 rolls into City Plan Commission. The towers have arranged buses to take their protestors to City Hall (“Please bring a sack lunch”). What are the possible outcomes?
Pass With No Changes
The staff-recommended rewrite is accepted at face value, with no additional changes from City Plan Commission staff. Were this to occur (I believe unlikely), the unchanged plan could be presented and passed by Dallas City Council in May before the newly elected council is seated. I say it’s unlikely to pass without amendments simply because experience tells me that something with this many moving parts rarely escapes some editing. I’ve made my own thoughts known on some of the setbacks and traffic mitigation.
Pass With Changes
If it passes, I think this is the most likely scenario. For the reasons stated above, folks like to tinker. Folks with experience getting eyes on a document usually uncover some intelligent reworking. What those changes may be, I have no idea. At March’s City Plan Commission briefing by city staff on their recommendations, the questions from commissioners didn’t point to any obviously supported change (e.g. four commissioners didn’t focus in on any one thing). Will changes revolve around setbacks? Height? Density? We’ll see.
Again, passage would potentially send it to the horseshoe for a Dallas City Council vote in May.
Plan commissioners could vote to not support the staff-recommended changes, nor any amendments to PD-15. This would mean a majority of commissioners voting to not move the plan forward in any form. Crippling to be sure, but not deadly. The “failed” plan could still move to the Dallas City Council in May, but would require a supermajority to pass. A very difficult, but not impossible, bar to clear.
Held Under Advisement
Plan commissioners could vote to hold the plan for further changes or consideration. For example, if the changes supported required more research/work to flesh out, the plan can be held (postponed) until that work is complete. It could also be held if the City Plan Commission feels warring stakeholders could reach consensus with more time. However, in this case, being held over to give time for consensus would be a fool’s errand. If any of the commissioners have been following the two-year circus of PD-15, they know there isn’t enough time in the world for consensus to be reached.
Holding the case would result in the case being taken up by the newly elected city council and their appointed plan commissioners. Whether this is good or bad, I cannot say. But it does add some uncertainty into the equation.
Lift The Cap
It has been said multiple times by those in opposition to PD-15 development that the Authorized Hearing process should have never occurred. Developers, they say, should have presented their plans directly to commissioners and council – like typical zoning requests.
On the other side, the city attorney’s office has said that because the planned development district has a hard cap of 660 total units, anything above that (meaning the addition of more than the surplus of approximately 65 units) requires either unanimous support from landowners or an authorized hearing.
The hard cap of 660 units creates a shared and connected resource – a highly unusual circumstance. How and why this happened is partly answered by the history of the whole PD being owned by one developer when the PD was created. When parcels were sold and apartments became condos, ownership was fractured, but the PD is still written as though there’s one owner. The past two years have shown agreement within the PD and the larger neighborhood is impossible and requires a neutral referee (the city).
So, if all else fails, I wonder if those opposed to development and the city’s draft PD-15 recommendations would support a straight lifting of the density cap? They’d achieve their stated goal of developers filing individual zoning cases directly with the city (like everyone else). For those seeking redevelopment, it would break the logjam created by the cap. The only downside would be residents having to follow each redevelopment zoning case that was filed. Instead of the “one-and-done” of a rewritten PD, they’d be micromanaging development cases for years.
Blunt Message to Plan Commissioners
Speaking of years, I urge commissioners to think about the longer-term future of Dallas and the Pink Wall. The current area demographics are heavily weighted towards those more likely to see a tombstone before a new building’s cornerstone. How many Preston Place residents have died in the two years since the fire? How many in the larger PD-15 area?
While current neighborhood opinion matters, more weight must be given to the outcome and the eventual lifespan of any new buildings that’ll be guided by the new PD regulations. What serves the greatest good for the next 20 or 50 years? There has to be enough room for development to enable the type of quality that uplifts the neighborhood and keeps it there for decades.
Just as Preston Hollow has McMansioned their older stock, PD-15 needs that opportunity too.
Editor’s note: Jon Anderson is a columnist for CandysDirt.com who lives in District 13. His opinions are his own.
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.