“And that’s my fear. A city that is more lenient than the neighborhood, resulting in even more being built. Many think of the towers as being an aberration in the neighborhood. They’re not — they’re a harbinger.”
I wrote those words in December 2017 after having resigned from the first PD-15 task force. The quote was near the end of two columns on what I thought would be the best solution for PD-15. With the issue unanimously passing Dallas City Council last week, let’s revisit those columns.
Residential Proximity Slope
The first part outlined the rationale of my thinking. Rereading it, it still holds water. I said the rest of the Pink Wall outside PD-15 was unlikely to redevelop due to ancient deed restrictions and the height limitations brought about by the Residential Proximity Slope (RPS).
The deed restrictions are particularly tricky.
There are three tracts with the same restrictions that run north-to-south from northern Bandera to Northwest Highway (or the back of PD-15). Extinguishing the restrictions would require 51 percent of the street frontage parcels to agree. Will parcels with very limited potential to redevelop (due to RPS) vote in favor of enriching their southern neighbors? Human nature says, “No”. This makes getting rid of the deed restrictions unlikely. Nothing has altered my opinion there.
I also noted that the Pink Wall had not kept pace with the broader market. When I looked at sales over the prior 15 years at the Athena (because I had the data), I found that pretty much anyone who bought years ago (pre-Recession) had really only made it back to parity values (especially when factoring in inflation). Assuming similar trends within the Pink Wall, it has not been an area where a real estate investment had paid dividends. Only those who purchased during a pronounced market dip (like the Recession) saw any appreciation.
The point of this was to say that without new, quality investment, the area would continue to bumble along. And, coupled with the deed restrictions elsewhere, PD-15 was the only patch that could uplift the area, in part by attracting younger, wealthier residents. Without redevelopment of some complexes, deterioration would continue at maintenance-deferred complexes.
There is nothing I wrote in that “part one” that isn’t still true.
The Best Solution For Every Building
Part two outlined my thoughts on what would be most beneficial to the low-rises, high-rises and the broader neighborhood. Given what was approved by city hall last week, the fear expressed in this column’s opening quote came to pass.
That doesn’t mean I necessarily disagree with what the city approved. But the city is often the blunt instrument that is short on nuance.
My suggestion was first to separate the six parcels that comprise PD-15 into six sub-tracts within the overarching PD-15 ordinance. This arrangement would allow each parcel’s rules to be tinkered with individually. There is a subtlety here the city missed. For example parcels could have had more tailored structural (not ground) setbacks where they faced existing buildings versus new builds. A more valuable lever would have been to set uniform density (where the value is) but changed the building envelope for each of the four low-rises to minimize their impact.
The most nuanced suggestion was the concept of transferrable development rights (TDR). Using TDR, one building could have been incented (paid) to abandon height. In this way, they’d still get paid as though they had the height but wouldn’t be able to actually build it.
In other words, Diamond Head Condos – literally in back of the Athena – could have been paid by the developers of the other low-rise parcels to abandon some height in exchange for givebacks – for example, added height in Northwest Highway, increased density, aboveground (screened) parking, etc. Properly executed, Diamond Head’s eventual height would have been more palatable while they reaped millions in payments for doing nothing.
The Result? Nothing Today, Panic Tomorrow
The opposition “party of no” decided to unbendingly stick with the all-or-nothing strategy they’d embarked on since the beginning. And when they kept losing, complained that they were being excluded (like flat-Earthers at a globe convention). They refused to rethink whether they were just plain wrong, instead choosing to surround themselves with paid and unpaid voices (with no skin in the game) advising them to double-down at every turn. (Pay me enough money and I’ll tell you anything.)
And crucially, the Athena representatives lost sight of the only thing that really mattered – keeping Diamond Head Condos as low as possible. At a build height of 96 feet (reflected in the new PD-15 ordinance), a rough estimate says the top of an enlarged Diamond Head would reach the ninth or 10th floor of the north face of the Athena, blocking views almost completely.
As far as I know, Diamond Head is not for sale, but it will be at some point. The question is whether any of the Athena’s “party of no” representatives will be around to reap the blame when it does? Certainly residents living below the ninth floor should be incensed (if they’re even paying attention).
Instead, the “party of no” continues to send incendiary emails and tape-up flyers filled with CAPITAL, bold, and BOLD CAPITAL accusations. They spew conspiracy theories instead of reality (e.g. developer plots and political quid pro quo voting). These neighborhood representatives say they’re regrouping when they should be helping their neighbors. They’re happy for the opening of Tulane Blvd. but did nothing to help it.
Revisiting those 2017 columns was interesting. I was perhaps naïve to think people would act in their own best interest. But rereading my hopes for PD-15, I still believe mine to be a fairer and more nuanced plan that would have had a lot more winners. Feel free to reread those columns and tell me differently in the comments.
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.