- 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.
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.
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 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.