Earlier in the week, I wrote a column about Dallas ruining its skyline. It struck a chord with tens of thousands of readers. That column resulted in a tip on a case hitting Plan Commission on Thursday that illustrates my point of Dallas not caring about its surroundings.
Case Z190-226 is a trio of parcels (totaling 2.02 acres) off Commerce Street bordering the west side of the Trinity River between the two Calatrava bridges on Beckley Avenue (yellow triangle above). As you can see, any proposed building there will have breathtaking views of downtown across the Trinity River. It will also set precedent for high-rises along the Trinity River, impacting downtown views from the west and kicking-off a walled blight on the Trinity Skyline Trail and park.
What’s going on?
Currently the area is zoned for IR (Industrial Research) with the existing businesses being various single-story automotive repair uses. Developer Mill Creek wants to change the zoning from IR to MU-2 (Mixed-Use) so they can build an apartment building with possible retail uses on the ground level – and requiring some heavy goosing to the straight MU-2 designation.
If you haven’t been there, this section of West Dallas is hot for apartment builders with new complexes beginning to line any road crossing the Trinity. So I get that the area’s past as warehouses and light industrial is being swept away. What I’m generally seeing are bland-new five-story complexes with four apartment levels on top of some restaurant/retail space surrounding a giant aboveground parking garage. Again, I have no issue with residential overtaking warehouse land so close to downtown.
The fine print?
The site is currently single story, but it’s zoned for IR that allows up to 200-feet in height but bars residential use. However, IR zoning has an FAR (floor area ratio) of 2:1 at best. This ratio means that for every square foot of lot they can build two square feet of building. So unless we’re talking about a needle building, IR doesn’t get to 200-feet in height.
The developer, Mill Creek is asking for a 95-foot base height with an increase to 160-feet (14 stories) if they add 10 percent of affordable housing. They’re also proposing a base unit count of 100 with the affordable units boosting that number to 350 units total
City staff are recommending to increase the unit counts in two trip levers on affordable (adding up to the same 10 percent) which would bring the maximum unit count to 360. Ten more than asked.
FAR FAR Bigger
The documents are very cagey on FAR for the project. It lists FAR as 1:1 for non-residential use and “no maximum residential floor are ratio.” A quick calculation has FAR at 8.79:1. I get there by multiplying the lot size (87,991 square feet) by 0.8 (80 percent lot coverage) for the first eight floors (counting parking floors). Floors 9-14 are stipulated at 35,000 square feet per floor max (6 x 35,000). That brings a total residential square footage to 773,142 which divided by the lot size (87,991 square feet) nets 8.786 (6.86:1 if three parking levels not counted). Current IR zoning is 2:1 FAR – less than a quarter of what’s proposed. (Full disclosure: I may be slightly off depending on the shape of the building, but I’m close.)
Put in perspective, the new Truluck’s building on McKinney has an FAR of 7.48:1 with all underground parking. On Cedar Springs Road, Granite’s original building started at 6:1 before shrinking and it also offered all underground parking.
The above calculation assumes full boat on height and density. But developers hate affordable units, so another perhaps more likely scenario sees this building as eight-stories with a three level concrete garage and five stories of brick, stick and stucco above. Chopping off the affordable bonuses and you get a 6.4:1 FAR (4:1 not counting garage space).
The other reason this might be the real plan is down to construction type. At eight stories the developer can get away with much cheaper construction. Anything above eight stories would be steel and concrete – adding roughly a third to the construction cost.
It’s all aboveground. What this does is allow the residential portion to completely harvest city views because the lot is right next to the 2-3 story tall levee (that parking will face). I’m not saying I’d do it differently, but it does push up the building.
I’m all for reduced parking, but only in areas that can support a car-free lifestyle. This isn’t one of those areas. But the developer is asking for a reduction in the amount of parking. Multi-family zoning requires one space per bedroom while Mill Creek is asking for one space per unit. Is it realistic to believe that in this area that only one person with a car will live in each unit (or that only one person will live in any unit)? No. It points to either a project with a lot of tiny units and/or streets clogged with resident’s parked cars.
The parking reduction for any restaurant does make sense since as the neighborhood matures, people will walk between complexes.
While there appear to be a lot of trees, they’re not trees of any great size. The main front of the building has nine trees of 3-inch diameter. The remaining 40 trees are 2-inch diameter – called “shade trees” I wonder how much shade a 2-inch tree produces? As I’ve stated before, this fun size Halloween candy bar sizing (RE: cheap).
Garbage and Loading
The natural place for loading docks and garbage will be between the building and the Trinity River levee. This means Trinity Skyline Trail walkers will see garbage collection and truck traffic running within the “Trinity River setback.”
Show me the … anything
Mill Creek has provided zero pictures or renderings of their proposal – to anyone. The neighbors have been asking for months – even though they’re tasked with turning in their support/oppose ballot to the city (sight unseen?) City staff and Plan Commission have seen no renderings that are public and yet they’re supposed to vote? That’s complete BS. You know who you don’t trust? Any developer who says, “trust me.”
Looking at the preliminary park between the levees at Commerce (the north-south road in graphic above). It’s easy to understand why this building wants to overlook it. But should it? If we are prioritizing the Trinity for Dallas citizens, should a 14-story tower be allowed to loom over it – especially when their fire lane requires maintaining an access road to the detriment of the park? Should two? Because sure as shootin’ the Trinity will be lined with high-rises soaking up the views.
As a city, we deserve to know what specifically will be there besides a developer’s wing and prayer promises.
Why does West Village work? Planning. While not specific to this area, there’s a lot of development in this area and it’s all disjointed with no central plan. If the city desires this to become a functioning neighborhood, there should be a master plan. There isn’t. It’s every developer for themselves.
Net it out, baby
This case does no less than set precedent for any old tall building to canyonize the Trinity River blockading not only city views, but darkening the Trinity River park and trails.
In a redeveloping area where new apartment buildings are five stories, Mill Creek wants to build a potentially 14-story building.
Trinity Skyline Trail walkers get a views of garbage trucks and moving vans.
It’s an enormous increase to existing zoned FAR with no renderings.
Developer’s cha-ching. Both cost-saving aboveground parking and without any apartments having a below-levee view (renting for less).
Parsimonious landscaping with thin trees offering little shade for decades.
Parking reductions will see the project generate continual spill-over on-street parking.
Finally, Mill Creek
Having saved the Trinity from a tollway and with plans for structured park land coming, should adjacent new construction be held to a higher design standard?
Personally, I’ve never seen a Mill Creek building I liked better than an empty lot. And I seriously wonder if this building will look any better than the prison across the river (except with balconies). But that’s me. I invite you to look at Mill Creek’s portfolio. Are these the guys who can bring forth a building worth sacrificing so much for?
Would any smart city give away development rights on an oversized, under-parked, unseen project in a first-class location bordering a river walk park facing straight into downtown? How is city staff recommending this project? How is Plan Commission even discussing it without seeing it? If approved, how can City Council evaluate the unseen?
Let’s see if Plan Commission and City Council decide to walk into their voting booths as blindfolded as city staff already has for this project.