Few Surprises As Plan Commission Hears PD-15 Authorized Hearing Recommendations

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Yesterday, the results of the PD-15 authorized hearing had their first airing with City Plan Commission. Those expecting a knock-down, drag-out were disappointed. Those relishing hypocrisy, dipped in pretension, were not disappointed.

It was explained that because the opposition to the city’s PD-15 draft had paid the fee to postpone the meeting originally scheduled on March 21, the meeting had to take place that day because a postponement sets a clock ticking. Because of that, and the unavailability of the much-awaited traffic study, the CPC hearing was ultimately split into two parts. Traffic issues and more discussion will take place at the June 6 CPC meeting.

CPC chair Gloria Tarpley set out the game plan from the beginning so everyone understood what was being accomplished that day. Zoning cases usually have an applicant (someone wanting to do something) but the authorized hearing didn’t. So the meeting disposed of the usual presentation of whizzy graphs and ambitious drawings. Instead, Tarpley opened it up to public comment for those in support of the city’s recommendation and those opposed.

First up were those in support (myself included – I’m a PD-15 resident). I’m going to call it 10 people who spoke. Their comments can be bucketed into:

  1. PD-15 is old and needs to be updated to reflect today
  2. PD-15 has placed burned-out Preston Place residents in a two-plus year limbo, unable to move on with their physical and financial lives.
  3. PD-15’s draft isn’t perfect and could use a few tweaks – most of those revolve around setbacks. (I, too, have written my personal thoughts on setbacks)
  4. PD-15’s low-rises are old and in rough shape. (This is partially due to their age but also owners’ neglect over years and decades.)
  5. PD-15 needs to enable enough development rights to attract the build quality the neighborhood demands.

In a rarity, I, too, spoke (only once prior have I stood at the horseshoe). I urged the commissioners to understand the area’s development history. I called out the Park Hollow development that began as expensive condos but a lack of sales forced all but two buildings to rentals. I noted the Sorrento, Bandera Apartments, and the Edgemere on the Parkway have each needed to correct issues of poor build quality. The then two-year-old Bandera had enough water intrusion that tenants broke leases (with management’s blessing) in units where the leakage was extensive. Edgemere on the Parkway had a $150,000/unit special assessment in part to pay for a reskinning of the building.

I then spoke about the newest Pink Wall member, The Laurel.  Neighbors report repair crews being visible weeks ago. I also noted that in the roughly 10 months it’s been leasing, just 30 percent of the building is leased. That’s partly due to location, but also the extreme concessions the developer made to the neighborhood to get the project done – and that the neighborhood now thinks is ugly. I compared it to the McKenzie apartments over in Knox, that’s been renting for just four months but is already reportedly at nearly 80 percent occupancy. My point being that history shows that the neighborhood’s shortsightedness and inexperience can’t be trusted to deliver the quality it needs (and even the opposition says it wants).

Later in the proceedings, my comparison was called out as not being apples-to-apples. Let’s look. At this minute the Laurel lists a two-bedroom unit with two full and one-half bathroom at 1,468 square feet. Its rent is between $3,675 and $3,850 per month. Meanwhile, over at the McKenzie, there’s a 1,471-square-foot unit with the same bedroom and bathroom split with rents beginning at $4,450.

While there’s some truth these two are not apples-to-apples in comparison, people are sure signing on the dotted line over on Harvard: the McKenzie is leasing out similarly-sized units in an equally new building for $700 more per month.

Advertisements for the Laurel show that many concessions are being made to lease up the building.

And The Laurel’s $700 lower rent doesn’t count the possibly two months of free rent, no application fees nor the 200 percent commissions being paid to agents. At nearly 80 percent leased in four months, I doubt the McKenzie has had to offer such sweeteners.

I could go on for hours on the almost comedic misrepresentations by those opposed, but I’ll stick to the high-points – bypassing the snobbish penthouse owner referring to apartment tenants derisively as “those people.”

The same Preston Hollow resident who dissed my Laurel/McKenzie comparison made an unending stream of misinformed comments including wanting to know why townhouses weren’t being enabled by the proposed ordinance (they are, it’s just no one is interested in building them).

But the chief opposition speaker was heavily scripted and coached Carla Percival-Young, an architect with Alabama-based GMC and Athena resident. I’ll spare you the long speech, but at the end, District 1 Commissioner Enrique MacGregor asked Young if the opposition would temper their opposition if the coming traffic study demonstrated only a negligible impact to the area (MacGregor appeared to be asking whether new information would change minds).

It was interesting that an architect’s first response was to call out the accuracy and interpretation of traffic studies in general.  She continued that a low-traffic impact wouldn’t update their thinking because they’re against everything in the proposed draft.

This seemed funny since so much of the argument against development hinges on density, and by association, the traffic it generates. Certainly, if the traffic study revealed horrific consequences for the area, I’d reevaluate my position. Equally interesting were the aspersions cast by several on the unseen traffic study simply because a developer paid for it.

Here’s the thing: if traffic/density are the big issues the towers think they are, why haven’t they paid for their own traffic study? Why have the towers only spent money on protest stickers, busses, and lawyers simply to fight this process? If there was a fact-based smoking gun, you’d think they’d want to expose it instead of whining about the results of others’ work.

Young was also asked what she felt was an appropriate density level.  The city proposal calls for 90 units per acre. After stalling for a bit she finally said 60 units per acre. Here’s the thing, if you have an alternative plan, and you’re an architect, shouldn’t these figures be at your fingertips? In contrast, her answer appeared to have been pulled out of the air.

The air-pulling is inexplicable considering their “compromise” plan, dubbed “10-6-4”, has been shaping up for months and yet even after repeated questions about its most basic measurements, they still have no answers. Surely architect Young could have whipped up the basics by now?

As I said, I could go on and debunk most every argument put forward, but the most telling is the universal tagline “We’re not against development but …”

… but here’s the truth. Young and others openly said they were against the authorized hearing process itself, period. The city attorney repeatedly said that because of the density cap placed on PD-15 over 50 years ago, it was impossible to make any density changes – including those resulting from their own “10-6-4” plan. So the opposition’s non-stop battle to kill the only legal method available to update the PD would have the de facto result of stopping everything.

The opposition also said at various points that they didn’t want to spend their time making multiple trips to City Hall … and then minutes later said they want developers to file individual zoning cases directly with the city (that the city attorney said the density cap precludes).

If the draft PD becomes the “new” PD, then developers representing any of the properties within PD-15 are free to work within its constraints – no city or neighborhood involvement required. One and done. By claiming they want to both limit City Hall time and have each individual development file their own zoning case deliver opposing outcomes. One authorized hearing doesn’t result in more City Hall time than the possibility of four separate zoning cases.

When part two commences on June 6, it will be interesting to see what the traffic study reveals. It was said that the study will explore various traffic mitigation options as well as the ebb and flow of traffic generated by potential development. I like reports that not only give facts, but also options to shape the best outcome.  Based on statements made this meeting, we know that regardless of what it says, one side isn’t going to budge – but is happy to put forth their own “compromise” that lacks any detail, density, economics or traffic facts to back it up.

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.

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Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is CandysDirt.com's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on SecondShelters.com. An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

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