Apartment or Nothing: How Saturday’s Election Will Influence the Future of Preston Center

Saturday is election day, and this one revolves around real estate centered in one Dallas city council district: District 13, where 17.6 percent of voters have cast early ballots. That’s the highest voting percentage in any city council district.

There is the Behind the Pink Wall real estate quagmire, the condo owners and tenants who say they do not want increased density from the remaking of PD-15. PD-15 is an antiquated city document that permits a developer to go as high as he wants, but limit the footprint to 60 residential units to replace those lost in the seven-alarm Preston Place fire more than two years ago where a woman lost her life.

The fire has left the owners of Preston Place with nothing more than a parking garage. And now, owners of condos in the periphery of Preston Place find their HOAs are postponing repairs on those buildings that are most likely going to be snapped up by developers and scraped.

Over in Northwest Dallas, on Webb Chapel Road, a group of homeowners is gearing up to monitor the building of $350 to $450K single family zero lot homes on property that once housed a church and a  school.

But the real estate with the most to win or lose is Preston Center. Old Preston Center’s parking garage, the west side of Preston Road, has long lagged it’s retail twin across Preston Road. Preston Center west is anchored by an old double-decker parking garage with a unique, complicated real estate history. And the properties surrounding the parking garage all have access to it plus control over what happens to it. Any approval has to be unanimous.

Preston Center was once part of a dairy farm. Preston Road, the frontier settler road that connected Austin with the town of Preston in Grayson County, ran right through it. Even in the thirties, it was still a gravel road.

The land was purchased in the mid- 1930’s by Sam Lobello.

In the mid 30’s, this was the outskirts of Dallas. A group of businessmen, including Sam Lobello, purchased plots of the former dairy farm that became Preston Center. Sam was a developer, and built homes in the area, then considered country living. Lobello also operated Lobello’s Bar-B-Que stand where Berkshire Court now stands, which became a popular eatery. The stand closed during World war II.

After the war, others also bought up property in Preston center, including Mobile Oil. In 1950, Sam Lobello did a land lease on eleven acres that belonged to the Caruth family, which became Preston Center East. In 1958, Sanger Brothers opened what was the largest suburban department store in the country (originally the space was going to be the Preston Theatre) in Preston Center west, where Target now is. In 1961, it became Sanger Harris.

But the west side was bought and built in pieces, with numerous owners.

Luke Crosland developed Berkshire Court on the southwest corner of Preston and Northwest Highway with the late Ken Hughes. According to Crosland, who now owns Berkshire Court, Sam Lobello purchased the lots around the deck parking lot, which he bought from a man named Rhea Smith. Rhea subdivided the land and gave the owner of Lot 1, Sam, an easement over the parking area and surrounding streets. That easement is only in the deed now controlled by Crosland. Rhea Smith owned the deck land and deeded it to the City of Dallas with the restrictive easement so he would not be estate taxed on the deck parcel. 

Which is why no one, even former Mayor Laura Miller, can force a park to be built on the parking garage. In fact, former District 13 city councilman Mitchell Rasansky tried suing for rights to the parking garage: the city lost.

But now, for the first time since Sam Lobellow bought his land, the property owners are actually in complete agreement to move forward with a plan for the parking garage: they want, as we have reported,  a luxury apartment high rise and underground parking.

Robert Dozier, who recently bought the old Sanger-Harris property, says he is confident a plan to replace the Preston Center garage with a live, work, play high-rise and parking can be done. You have to understand real estate to know how rare it is to find this many owners in actual agreement.

In fact, it’s short of a miracle.

“Our plan would put millions back into the city just from the multifamily units,” Dozier, president of Ramrock Real Estate, says.

“It’s a rare moment in time that all these owners are in agreement,” says Crosland. “But I can tell you now, there will never, ever be a park there.”

In 2017, the Dallas City Council approved the Northwest Highway and Preston Road Area Plan, which called for an underground garage topped by a street-level park.

They can design all they want, says Crosland; the owners who have to sign off have said “no park.”

But the luxury apartment tower, says Dozier, has “100 percent approval” and makes a ton of sense.

1,500 public parking spaces would be built below the luxury residences, plus surface and elevated parking. Below grade parking would be for overflow and employee parking.  The plan calls for corner parks and green space on the upper level that could be used for special events.

“At the end of the day, how many parks do you need?” asks Dozier “The city has seven within a two-mile radius. And parks require maintenance.”

Residential development in Preston Center would create a walkable, corner-greened space environment that would not create vehicular traffic issues and would make Preston Center a vibrant community for empty nesters seeking to stay close to family, friends and churches, says Crosland.

Former Dallas mayor Laura Miller, now D13 candidate, served on the task force that wrote the area plan. She doesn’t like the apartment tower concept. And apparently doesn’t understand the complexities of the real estate.

“(The apartment) will have the opposite effect of a beautiful green space that would completely transform Preston Center into a walkable gathering place surrounded by new development and new customers,” she said. “If I am elected, I will get the funding for the park concept; if I’m not elected, there will be an apartment building there instead.”

The property owners say no way.

“My suggestion is that Darwin Deason buy the proposed St Michael office tower parcel, build underground parking for the church, and put a ground level park on that site to preserve his view. That way all parties win!” says Crosland. “Laura gets a park, Darwin gets his forever view,  and the church gets a huge donation plus parking.”

Crosland is referring to what has been thrown around at D13 debates and here on CD: Miller is running only to help Deason’s father protect the views from his Preston Center penthouse. That view will be obstructed by commercial development St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church hopes to have approved by the city.

The church wants to develop an office tower and parking garage on the northeast corner of its Douglas Avenue property. Working with a commercial developer, the church hopes to lease land for an office project of up to 250,000 square feet, perhaps with retail on the ground floor, as well as a parking garage that would be shared by the church, and be connected to the main church building by an air-conditioned skybridge.

Why does a church want to make a real estate lease deal? St. Michaels currently houses the lower school of Episcopal School of Dallas on its campus, where my son actually attended school. ESD will consolidate the lower school with its upper school campus on Merrell Rod in 2020. St. Michaels will find itself with no lease revenue and a bit of land that is currently zoned residential. The church has said it eagerly awaits the Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan task force decisions. Like most churches, St. Michaels is looking to remain relevant for it’s 7,000 members and grow. Options the church is exploring include a farmers market, moving the St. Michael’s Women’s Exchange up from Highland Park Village, and utilizing the office parking on Sunday.

Councilwoman Gates says that a park donation Miller flouts was contingent upon her denying the St. Michael’s zoning.

“When I met with the donor (Deason) to discuss the idea, it was clear that the gift was conditioned upon opposing an upcoming zoning case on property owned by St. Michaels,” says Gates. ” The offer was, at the very least, unethical and did not move forward.”

“Even if there is a ten million dollar donation, there will be no park,” says Crosland. “Laura Miller was in my office and gave verbal approval to the apartment high rise. Suddenly she is running for city council, we ask to meet with her, then hear nothing.

Crosland says the Deasons, with their strong Trump ties, are polar opposite politically from Laura Miller and her husband, former Democratic state representative Steve Wolens. And he cannot think of any other reason for their new union other than a common goal: quashing the St. Michael’s deal.

“Laura’s “no towers” is just an old political ploy of stirring up emotions over a nonexistent issue to drum up votes,” he says. “Very old school and non-progressive — like her history of governance in Dallas.”

3 Comment

  • I am voting for LAURA MILLER

  • putting 1,500 residences… 3,000 more people and hundreds of employees and customers in preston center is truly obscene. the land use requirement for PC written when PC mostly individual or locally owned businesses, not chain /restaurant store central. and dear SM threw 100 or so low income renters on the street, tore down the modest old apts and built parking lot. pretty sure none of those good christians are headed to a good place.

    • mm

      While I agree St. Michael has been no saint in their handling of Frederick Square, nothing else you’ve said has any basis in fact. There is no plan for 1,500 residences in Preston Center … never has been. St. Michael’s current project is for ~300 apartments. And if the city is dumb enough to give the Preston Center parking garage land to the Parking Corp for Dozier to build his apartment building, that’s another ~300-ish units. That’s less than half of your mythical 1,500 residences.
      .
      I find a lack of facts “truly obscene”.