At last night’s Oak Lawn Committee meeting, Streetlights Residential had a lot of explaining to do in regards to the design of their planned tower at Lemmon and Oak Lawn avenues.
If you’re in a Google satellite, the building on the lower right is the proposed 21-story apartment building. It would supplant the Shell station and Pizza Hut, and would be next to Eatzi’s (which is also sorta part of the plan).
For those without long memories, this is the parcel of land that empowered the neighborhood to set out the Oak Lawn Plan and PD-193 that is rigorously overseen by the Oak Lawn Committee. On this lot once stood the Esquire Theater, built in 1931 as the Melrose Theater. Lore says the reason “Esquire” was chosen in the renaming is that it had the same number of letters and would fit on the marquee. The theater would have turned 88 this year had Lincoln Property not demolished it in February 1985, in the middle of the night (also according to lore). The demolition catalyzed the neighborhood. So as things go, this is sort of hallowed ground in Oak Lawn.
Thus, when Streetlights Residential presented their proposal for this long-neglected corner, questions naturally arose about the building’s unfortunate exterior. More than one OLC member asked why Streetlights wasn’t going all out for a “signature” building on such a highly trafficked corner.
The response was that the exterior was still being worked on. Good. Thus far, it appears to be poor company to other high-rises seen in their picture, and the many other well-done projects Streetlights is known for.
One positive highlight is the extra-wide, 25-foot setback on Oak Lawn Avenue, ostensibly to allow for a more gather-y type place. Restaurants and shops will spill out onto the wider, more landscaped frontage, more engagement with the street scene. It’s certainly a far cry from the stumps and concrete seen today, and really nice to see a developer holding back from slapping concrete on every morsel. To further enhance the pedestrian experience, Streetlights is even burying the utilities for a pole-less block. Hopefully, this can inspire more of the same.
I always say that if a car looks bad in white, it’s bad. Dark paint hides flaws that white amplifies. In the close-up above you can see a lot of white. Another reason to be happy the design isn’t yet completely baked: elsewhere in their presentation, there was more brick than the sea of white stucco seen here. Regardless of the final exterior colors, it has to look good in white.
Also seen are two design issues that irk me, if you ask. First, while Oak Lawn Avenue has a jumbo sidewalk, Lemmon Avenue is given short shrift. Why? I’d like to see the main tower go straight to the ground without the podium bump out.
Second, on the lower right you can see the backside of the mostly above-ground parking garage. There appears to be little screening afforded to both Oak Lawn and Lemmon Avenue traffic: just an unattractive view of a garage. Why?
The garage, like the power lines, should be completely buried with a single ground-level of parking for Eatzi’s spillover and their own retail parking. (Breathe a sigh of relief, Eatzi’s isn’t going anywhere.) Resident parking should be underground, away from the dust and dirt of an open garage made worse by such a busy intersection. Sure it’s expensive, but these aren’t going to be inexpensive apartments. Besides, such a prominent corner deserves something more articulate and thoughtful than a large boxy garage podium more resembling a suburban hotel.
But the tallest shoe to drop is the height. As I said, it’s proposed to be 21 stories and 240 feet tall with 297 apartments. Current zoning for the parcel is 120-feet in height. The developer’s thought is to “take” the 120-feet allowed on the Eatzi’s site and combine it with the corner’s allowed height. Their math is slightly off unless Eatzi’s is without any height of its own.
Height is a big issue and Streetlights knows it (people actually chortled in surprise when its height was discussed). All their images downplay the building’s size. Whether looking down from above or as seen in heavily cropped before/after image pairs (above), the true scale of the building is obscured when viewed in context.
And while shifting height from one site to another is generally something I’m open to exploring, it should come with caveats. For example, were I to give the corner Eatzi’s surplus height, I’d want that height forever extinguished from the Eatzi’s site. As it was explained, this isn’t their intention. Attendees were told that while the swap would be in the site plan, height could still be resurrected on the Eatzi’s site with another zoning case being filed. No double dipping.
Finally, let’s talk about traffic flow. It needs work.
Because Oak Lawn and Lemmon are such busy streets, there are un-crossable medians near the intersection. The medians limit the directions cars can enter/exit the building. As you can see in the yellow above, if you’re coming from the Love Field direction you can turn into the property and if you’re leaving you can continue towards West Village and Central. What you can’t do is go towards Love Field on Lemmon Avenue from either of the main entrance/exit points.
On Oak Lawn Avenue, you can enter when traveling from Park Cities or West Village or Central (turning left from Lemmon onto Oak Lawn). You can also exit the building onto Oak Lawn Avenue traveling towards the Tollway and I-35E. Returning, you can’t cross the median to enter the building nor turn left onto Oak Lawn Avenue.
The red arrow shows what will happen when residents exiting the parking garage decide the backup is too long and decide to cut directly through Eatzi’s parking lot.
For those wanting to turn left onto Oak Lawn (perhaps to turn left at Lemmon) or enter the complex from the direction of the Tollway/I-35E, the most likely route will be to/from Rawlins Street and again cutting through the Eatzi’s parking lot. While the red arrows used in the diagram above were “cheats”, this cut-thru is the proposed route of travel.
Think about it – traffic returning home at rush hour will be cutting through Eatzi’s parking lot when they are also at their busiest. I predict that using Eatzi’s parking lot as a thru-street will make it far more fender-bender-y for shoppers and residents.
Finally, the fact that the entrance to the parking garage isn’t aligned to the Eatzi’s cut-thru, means extra congestion as drivers dog-leg left or right. It’s simply not efficient and is only done because of the orientation of the garage ramps.
And right where traffic is dog-legging, is also the area for Eatzi’s delivery trucks and their parade of 2-wheelers laden with groceries.
There is no question that this corner needs revitalization, and Streetlights has certainly produced many trophy building in this town. But this project still needs to iron out its exterior design, garage and traffic flow kinks before we call it ready. Oak Lawn Committee will be seeing this project again, and perhaps again. This is a very important corner and Streetlights has a better track record than many, so we’ll wait and see. We have no doubt the interiors will be drop-dead gorgeous: let’s get the exterior there, too.
2929 Oak Lawn Avenue
The next intersection down from Streetlights’ project is 2929 Oak Lawn Avenue where Office Depot sits next to The Melrose Hotel today. You may recall that a year ago, this project was supported by the OLC and made its way through City Hall to approval.
For those who know The Melrose Hotel, you will see this new neighbor as an update to that 1924 building’s vibe.
So if it was approved, why are they back? They want less. Instead of eight stories, they want seven. They also gussied-up the Unnamed Street between it and the Post Office (which I’d complained about previously). As you can see in the mid-lower left, there are now units wrapping part of that side to obscure the parking garage. The back portion is now a landscaped dog park/run. Both are nice improvements. Should the Post Office parcel ever be redeveloped, the money spent on this opposing side should encourage that future development to make their side equally attractive. A win for pedestrians and residents.
Technically, these and other minor changes didn’t require a return to the OLC, but I’m glad they did. Good to see projects getting better.
But there’s still one thing to be done (for me, anyway). See that pool bottom-center? Since it’s projecting beyond the building and is right on Oak Lawn Avenue, cantilever it.
Come on guys! Imagine walking under this on Oak Lawn Avenue. Imagine this floating above the main driveway. How cool would that be? We were told the project wouldn’t be breaking ground until the first quarter of 2020, so there’s still time! You know you could get more rent on coolness alone.
Anyway, it was a short, two-project meeting.
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.