PD-15 Changes Are Necessary, Says Former Preston Place Resident

The morning after the Preston Place fire, the extent of the damage was revealed to be catastrophic.

By Kevin McMahon
Guest Contributor

Recently, guest writer Barbara Dewberry expressed her opposition to the City Plan Commission’s proposal for updated zoning for PD-15. I would like the opportunity to offer a counterpoint and speak to the merits of the proposal. But first, I should state something up front some may consider relevant.

I am a former resident of Preston Place.

I lived there about four years. Our unit was the first home purchase my wife and I made, and we undertook a major renovation when we moved in, doing much of the work ourselves on nights and weekends. We aren’t real estate flippers. We had no intention of buying and selling and moving on to the next project. Instead, we put a lot of care and detail into our unit because we planned to call it home for many years. And then one Friday night, we watched with our then-5-year-old son as a fire indifferently consumed all that hard work.

Now two and a half years later, I see another destructive force at work in the neighborhood. It takes the form of hyperbole and fear of change which form the basis of much of the opposition to CPC’s proposal. Ms. Dewberry’s arguments are this hyperbole at work.

 

Nowhere does CPC’s proposal say anything about forcing private properties to set aside land to create a public park, as Ms. Dewberry fears. In terms of green space, the proposal does include some significant updates from the current zoning on improved streetscapes and open areas. These elements are strongly desired by the neighborhood. And the reality is these won’t happen unless the current zoning is updated. Same with saving trees. Without the updated zoning in CPC’s proposal, it is likely existing trees could be taken down precisely because of the current absence of setback/green space requirements.

In terms of building height and density, the allowance under CPC’s plan is consistent with the two existing towers in PD15, one of which is where Ms. Dewberry herself lives.

As for worries about traffic, a professional study – conducted at the request of the city planning commission – found no significant increase in expected traffic as a result of CPC’s proposal. The additional vehicle trips would be insignificant compared to the daily volume of Northwest Highway.

Finally, Ms. Dewberry ends with a plea for city council to deny the proposal, saying homeowners and developers should get back together to find a plan. The irony in this statement is the six properties within the PD have already worked to reach such a plan for the better part of two years. The CPC’s proposal exists today only because a minority of the properties remained unflinchingly opposed to every idea put forth over that time. When it became apparent the only change acceptable to this minority was none, CPC staff crafted its own proposal with substantial neighborhood input and which was overwhelmingly passed by CPC members in June.

PD-15 Map

Throughout this long process, there has been a repeated and not-so-subtle implication by some opponents that Preston Place residents are somehow selfish for wanting to recoup an investment that took years of work and discipline to achieve. A parched man in the desert is not selfish for filling his canteen at the oasis; he is selfish only if denying others the opportunity to fill theirs. Preston Place residents are not seeking to deny unit counts, or height restrictions, or greenspace, or road access, or property rights, or any other scarce resource from anyone.

Ask yourself just what exactly IS the scarce resource at the heart of this matter, who currently controls it, and who is seeking to deny it to others.

Meanwhile, Preston Place residents remain in financial purgatory until this zoning question is resolved. For my family, we’ve had to move twice as we tried to remain in the neighborhood. We had paid off our mortgage just two months before the fire, after years of frugal living and financial sacrifices. But today we find ourselves back in debt. The situation for others is more dire. Two and a half years later, some remain living out of hotel rooms. Others are staying with relatives because they cannot afford another place to live. Some are still paying mortgages on their Preston Place units. Two of us have died. To return to square one after more than two years of crawling forward would be a second devastation to these residents. And it would be irresponsible to those in the PD which have been diligent and thoughtful about how to make lasting improvements to the neighborhood.

I could point out the CPC proposal doesn’t necessarily go as far as I might prefer in allowing more density and more height, with fewer restrictions on setbacks, parking, etc. But instead I return to the earlier point about working constructively vs. just saying ‘no’ to everything. In these times, we often pull no punches in opposing any idea that doesn’t fully meet 100% of our wishes. Compromise is a dirty word and fear conditions us to try preventing it at all costs. But in taking such a rigid position, we often forget that inaction is sometimes the single biggest determinant of the future, and usually not in a good way.

An old lyric once pined “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Rather than trying to positively influence this process, some have been so opposed to everything that they would “save” the neighborhood only by tearing it apart. Pitting one property against another, neighbor against neighbor.

It is my hope the city council will finally put this matter to rest by adopting CPC’s proposal; allowing Preston Place residents to finally move forward; allowing the neighborhood to heal and achieve the improvements it has asked for.I have lived in Dallas for about 8 years, and I work in the airline industry.  Let me know if you need anything else. 


Kevin McMahon has lived in Dallas for about eight years, and works in the airline industry. 

17 Comment

  • Kevin, I’ve read and re-read your article about Preston Place. I think you very well covered it all. My husband and I bought our unit off a floor plan in ’79. This has been a lease property for us for all these years. While we miss the income it brought in, our sorrow is nothing compared to the people like you and the other residents who lost their home.
    Thank you for writing such a true and comprehensive article.

  • I echo what Charlotte just said… it’s an eye-opener to read an account from someone who was affected by the fire. Your piece is very well-written and should put things in perspective for all but the most rigid naysayers. I wish you and your wife — and all the Preston Place residents — the best.

  • You have spoken for all the Preston Place residents so eloquently, including myself. I hope the public can see the true story of our situation for the last over 2 1/2 years after the fire. We desperately need zoning changes for PD 15 for ourselves and our fellow PD 15 neighbors.

  • This is an enlightening perspective, and I thank the author for his input. I’ve wondered, after seeing stories of those who lived at Preston Place, what did the homeowners’ insurance, and the insurance of the condo association cover? As a homeowner, it’s frightening to think that we would still be battling for a settlement years after a total destruction of property.

  • Well written article.

    It is notable that anyone (less those with very conservative insurance policies) are not made whole by a catastrophic event. It was PP’s condo board that chose underfunded insurance policies, and they spoke for their collective ownership. I know that is unpopular and heartless, but it is the truth. Because there is now a larger movement to change zoning, it is not a simple equation, and PP residents are now one of many voices with diverse opinions and needs.

    Should anyone’s home burn down, the best one can do is receive insurance for personal property and then sell the land for market value at current zoning regulations. Condo owners only owning “part of the land” by nature therefore have less opportunity to be made whole by a land sale. PP was not a unique situation.

    Per this taking 2.5+ years, this is expected given the significant zoning changes, which is ultimately costing everyone more money.

  • Mr & Mrs. McMahon: First I do sympathize with the impact of the fire. I, too, have gone through a fire. It is devastating ! My insurance paid my mortgage, I found an apartment and was back in a home within a year. I did not try to up-zone.The Provident plan I saw had a 1/3 acre public park partially on Diamond Head Circle which cannot happen.. The 70 ft setback will destroy a line of vintage live Oaks and have two buildings jutting out into the Parkway. But there is a deed restriction not allowing this. Traffic study was paid by Pr. Place (maybe Provident paid them?) and the spokesman said the traffic will double, but there will be no impact (WHAT?) The” minority of Properties –unflinchingly opposed to every idea” were the Pr Place, Royal Orleans, Diplomat and Diamond Head. They offered no compromise. But six of the Committee members kept working and presented a compromise to the City and all.. We came up in height and density from the original properties and the Area Plan. Provident kept seeking more and more and Spanos certainly did not come down even an inch! There was no effort from the Low Rise owners to compromise at all. Preston Place turned down an offer right after the fire that could have them all back in their homes by now. BTW why are Pr Place owners still paying mortgages? A lender always requires insurance to cover a mortgage and most policies cover an equivalent housing to whatever was destroyed. So maybe people are enjoying living in a hotel? But compromise is really not a dirty word! I do live in the Athena –bought one month before the fire. Now your tragedy has become our tragedy with 5-7 years of construction in our side and back yards. We would welcome a compromise that might help you all get back into a home or condo and be comfortable again. My best wishes to you and your wife.

    • mm

      The renderings are just that, renderings. It’s really important here to look at the facts. The city’s setbacks are actually more stringent. I cannot recall any groves of Live Oaks but will be by later to try and find them, camera in hand.

    • Ms. Dewberry, I owned a condo at Preston Place. After the fire, I spent 17 months sleeping on the floor of my office and showering at the Y. I can assure you that I did not “enjoy” that. During this time, I was also still paying a mortgage on my condo at Preston Place. You seem to doubt the sincerity and enormity of the pain and loss suffered by those of us at Preston Place which absolutely astounds me. I would simply remind you that disagreement can be expressed without insulting and being insensitive to those of us who have already lost so much. We don’t deserve that.

    • I’ve always thought trees were more important than people.

    • Very funny Ms Dewberry: “Now your tragedy has become our tragedy with 5-7 years of construction in our side and back yards.” That you compare putting up with nearby construction to losing one’s home in a fire is telling. You lack empathy for your fellow neighbor. One of your neighbors DIED in said fire!

      PD-15 is currently a wasteland in sore need of major investment. Will Dallas grow into a world-class city or be held back by the usual NIMBY’s that have caused the housing crisis in states like California?

  • Kevin, thank you for sharing our thoughts and feelings. I think the worst thing is that the opposition doesn’t care how we feel. It is all about them.

  • “Preston Place turned down an offer right after the fire that could have them all back in their homes by now.”

    THIS IS FALSE INFORMATION. YOU COULD AT LEAST GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT.

    You once again are spouting untruths, and you obviously know absolutely nothing about city planning. You and your arguments are offensive and show your ignorance and hypocrisy.

  • Candy: I said line of vintage Live Oaks–did not say grove. But what’s an old tree or five here and there?
    Every time we construct a building do we have to bulldoze the trees?
    My reply began that I have been through a fire and know the devastation–that I did understand.
    Now, the Preston Place fire has caused two plus years of angst for us all in varying degrees.
    Certainly everyone is compassionate. It’s time for all to be compassionate with each other
    and solve the problem in a way that is beneficial to all.