Dallas City Council Ends 30-Month PD-15 Saga With 240-Foot Height

Dallas City Council chambers were not as packed as expected on Sept. 11, 2019, as PD-15 came up on the agenda.

  • Dallas City Council unanimously passed city staff’s plan for PD-15, which compromised on height, topping out at 240 feet.
  • Some small changes were made to the plan.

The general wisdom is that any city council vote requiring a supermajority due to opposition will be a nail-biter. And while certainly many a nail was chewed to the quick, it was all for naught. After blissfully little speech-a-fying on both sides, Dallas City Council voted unanimously to pass city staff’s sorta plan for 240-foot heights on Northwest Highway – instead of the full cherry-on-top 310-foot heights Plan Commission had passed one vote shy of unanimously.

Will this result in affordable housing? Unlikely. And that’s a pity.

Councilmember Jennifer Gates listed a slew of minor tinkers to the staff recommendation that I’ll have to get to later (I can’t write as fast as she can rattle off). But generally, it’s 240-feet across Northwest Highway and 96-feet behind. Assuming a 10-foot ceiling height, that’s essentially 21-stories and eight-stories.

While some in the neighborhood might say it’s too much, I will say it’s a heck of a lot less than was proposed decades ago. And it’s a bit sad to live in a future that’s less bold than yesterday.

Zoning That Looks to The Future

Some proponents were slightly less graceful in their description of this concept. Several (all?) area Millennials reminded the council that they were the future and they supported development. This was in stark contrast to their white-haired opponents who booed when reminded that attracting new blood would bring residents who weren’t property tax frozen by age.

Some may have thought this a cheap shot, and perhaps the wording was crass, but it was also true. Outside of preservation districts, zoning is about the future, not the past. That’s not to say that every new generation gets to scrape away the last, but when opportunities arise, the goal should be to speak to the future.

So while the 240-foot heights might not have spoken as clearly to the Millennial generation as 310 feet, it was clearly a move away from preserving a low-density status quo that itself was never planned (plans from the 1960s were much grander and denser than those ultimately built and burned). It’s also a status quo that’s financially unfeasible to rebuild.

But in a comically ominous note, University Park resident Steve Dawson told Dallas City Council that they had not seen the last of the protestors. But Plan Commission passed their 310-foot height version with just one nay – council passed their 240-foot recommendation unanimously. A clearer signal could not have been sent – the wistful four-story throwbacks desired by protestors were a non-starter.

Debunking Myths

The oft-used talk track that the opposition had been silenced was shown false when Gates rattled off the number of committee meeting from two separate neighborhood-based committees, neighborhood meetings and individual meetings she’d held.

“Neighborhood harm” was also debunked when it was revealed that the Pink Wall was rated a “D” in the city’s Market Value Analysis (surrounded by the “A” of Preston Hollow). A “D” rating means a declining area – the Pink Wall may have increased since the Recession, but not at the overall Dallas market rate.

But it’s America and if protestors want to throw good money after bad fighting an essentially unanimous, heavily documented done deal, well, it’s still America (I think).

But were I still living in a building hell-bent on challenging the outcome, I’d be peeved by that statement, as it telegraphs that I would be contributing my HOA dues to further a lost cause. But protesters were seen shortly after the vote powwow-ing with recently hired spokesman Brett Shipp.

I’m sure you’re all wondering where former mayor and Jennifer Gates rival Laura Miller was on the evening her signature campaign rallying cry met its end at City Hall. Well, it sure wasn’t at City Hall fighting for the neighborhood to the bitter end.

Whatever financial quagmire the residents of Preston Place find themselves in due to widely rumored insurance shortfalls, it doesn’t justify the two and a half years of purgatory that have been ground into them by an immovable opposition.

For those not in the PD-15 orbit, there are lessons to be learned when developers come a-sniffing: Never shut-off communication. Never refuse to negotiate. Never be closed to something until the last minute. Always learn. Talk, talk, talk.

The second of two unbuilt high-rises on the Preston Place lot.

Understand History When Evaluating The Future

Finally, some have complained that I am inconsistent in my opinions on redevelopment. I’m not.

In October 2017, I wrote a piece titled, “The World (of Zoning) According to Jon.” In it, I said that I always go back the underlying zoning as a starting point. In the case of PD-15, I said that since the PD was fairly restrictive, they would need to negotiate with their neighboring PD members. Little did I know at the time that the neighbors would force this 30-month process of non-negotiation whereby the city was forced to step in and break the impasse.

The underlying zoning for PD-15 is MF-3 within Chapter 51 of city zoning, which stipulates unlimited height. This is backed up by the area’s history of aborted plans for more high-rises. Tall, dense construction was always the plan back before the PD was formed, when the whole Pink Wall was commercially zoned like Preston Center. I look at the two existing and two failed high-rises not as aberrations but exemplars of the original intention.

It’s from this base of information that I evaluate developer asks. I am quite consistent. When a developer asks for a ton more than their underlying zoning allows, they better have a good reason. For those who read more than my columns about PD-15, this will be apparent.

Finally (really!), I liked that Gates read two letters – one from TXDoT and NTCOG – about their intention to open Tulane Boulevard as reported earlier in the week. I also liked Gates’ insertion of language that requires developers filing a plan to stop at the city to evaluate their plan before going for permits. Because of how the opposition forced this case to unfold, actual plans were not filed, but rather buildable envelopes provided. So it’s good that the city will get to evaluate projects before they hit permitting.

The world isn’t perfect, but overall, I give the outcome a B+.


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.

15 Comment

  • Your comment about the D cluster rating Area 4 received in the Market Value Analysis performed by The Reinvestment Fund is incorrect. Our Council Member and a few of the CPC “experts” also mischaracterized the “D” rating. The scale goes from A to I, there are 5 levels of ratings below “D” that indicate progressive levels of distress. “D” does not stand for “decline”, it represents a “steady” neighborhood and the strategy is asset preservation. Much like the Area Plan characterized the neighborhood. I know you won’t take my word for it, so here’s an email from an expert, if you’d like to ring him and set him straight. p.s. note the date on the email….it’s been shared with everyone of the CPC members and our Council Member.

    Colin Weidig
    Thu 4/18/2019 2:59 PM
    You; Ira Goldstein

    Hi Mr. Griffeth,

    To start to answer your question, it might help if I give a little background on how we think about “Steady” neighborhoods and some of the issues those neighborhood encounter. “Steady” neighborhoods generally have higher than average home values, but not the highest values in the city. They often have residents from a mix of income levels. Because home values are strong, these neighborhoods are often important contributors to city and school district tax bases. A common challenge for these neighborhoods is that they don’t receive either the private investment that the strongest markets get or the public investment often concentrated into neighborhoods with more distress.

    By asset preservation we generally mean activities that mitigate or prevent risks to home values. Those could be things like loan programs that help homeowners reinvest in their homes, foreclosure mitigation to prevent home vacancy, or marketing the neighborhood to the next generation of homebuyers. We often suggest those activities for “Steady” markets to encourage investment from homeowners and maintain the quality of life in those places.

    “Steady” markets are part of what we call ‘middle neighborhoods’, meaning, places that are generally stable, but not necessarily the hottest markets with rapidly rising prices. There is an organization that has many resources on these neighborhoods: http://middleneighborhoods.org/. Hope that their information is helpful to you.

    Best,
    Colin

    • mm

      You are right. Council mis-characterized the “D” designation. But I still stand by the Pink Wall not appreciating at the same rate as similar areas.

      • That’s true. Multifamily will always be the last to heat up and the first to cool down in hot markets. 3-6 years of destruction/construction wont help matters for the community.

        The properties adjacent to the Laurel missed out on the hot market and really haven’t recovered.

  • Jon,
    From what you gleaned at the meeting, is the 24-story building likely to still be built similar to the initial renderings shown at all the previous Gates meetings: with the bulk of the units parallel to Northwest Highway and in line with the two existing high rises? Or is there a potential of a perpendicular structure, similar to the rendering in your story? Thanks!

  • You are just another developer shill Mr. Anderson, the people want this, really? Do you think it was any coincidence that in her landslide victory this spring, Jennifer Gates list one precinct, this one 62% to 38%.

    Coincidence do you think she is pushing these commercial developments shortly after her husband’s company buys HFF, a company that finances developments like this one. Maybe you should be looking into that connection rather than fawning over the bought and paid for officials.

    • mm

      You have clearly not done your research on me.

    • mm

      Brian, I was at the meeting, and these things really stood out:
      1. The very last speaker against the increased density was Steve Dawson, who actually made a threat to Council saying, if you vote for this, you will hear from me/us again. I don’t think that threat did his side any good, as it portrayed the group as rigidly inflexible.
      2. The Preston Place residents who spoke were heart -rendering. That they have had to wait 2.5 years to close the financial books on their property is way beyond reason. They are not the only property that is under-insured Behind the Pink Wall.
      3. Chad West made the very astute comment that this was an opportunity to increase density without displacing any residents. That is a rare opportunity.
      Cities across the US are moving towards more infill density, and Dallas should, too. The city spends millions of dollars attracting businesses to move here and bring people with them. They have to live somewhere, and I think The Pink Wall is a great place to live. I will be happy to chronicle the forward progress of this project.

  • What is Area 4?

  • How will this affect the property value of Diamond Head?

    • mm

      First, I have no idea. Second, that depends on what value you mean…as developable land or as individual condos for sale on the open market…and I still don’t know.

  • Thank goodness and just shy of Q4 2019 and potentially 3 years… We shall see, as a Preston Place owner I want this chapter closed so we can move on with our lives.

  • What a joyous and unusual day! Joyous that PD-15 is no longer held hostage and unusual that the Dallas City Council got it right! Cheers all around!