Oak Lawn Committee To See Caven-Ablon’s Vision for Cedar Springs Strip – There’s A Better Way

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Beyond the academic arguments of how historically gay neighborhoods are changing and specifically how Oak Lawn’s gay epicenter will evolve, there are the buildings themselves.

Tuesday night, Mike Ablon and Caven Enterprises will present to the Oak Lawn Committee. Honestly, the renderings and numbers that’ll be shown (and have been presented elsewhere) offer little to like.

Reusing the arguments from Streetlights’ project on Lemmon and Oak Lawn Avenues, this project claims to be shifting allowed height from one section of their lots to another. However, Streetlights’ attempt was pretty much one-for-one in height movement. In this case there are zoned heights currently adding up to 396 feet but asks for 592 feet in total height – essentially 50 percent more than zoned.

The developer also wants to escape Residential Proximity Slope which controls high-rises from looming over single and multi-family residences – they don’t have the land for the step-backs required. Due to an overly-complicated FAA process, it’s unknown if 260 feet will even be allowed given the proximity to Love Field. Looking at Toll Brothers’ 21-story high-rise a few blocks further away, I wonder.

Regardless of what’s allowed by the FAA, let’s review that Streetlights project. It began at 240 feet tall then shrunk to 199 feet before finally resting at 175 feet. Their parking garage did some shifting, too, resting at five stories above. All considerably less than Ablon and Caven are asking for – and as with this project, Streetlights was able to accomplish this while saving a much-loved existing business beneficial to both – Eatzi’s.

Phase 1 view from Dickason

Step Backs and Sheer Faces

Current zoning requires a 25-foot step back for any structure over 36 feet in height. The developer wants that increased to a step back above 75-feet. The reason is that their eight-story, all-aboveground parking garage will be 75-feet tall and the math won’t work if it steps back lower. The above-garage step backs also become the apartment towers’ pool and amenity decks.

If you look at the base of these buildings you see sheer faces of near-industrial facades that will produce a jarring impact on the surrounding area. Returning to the Toll Brothers’ project (also on an interior street), we see a building lined with walk-up units that mask the partly-submerged parking garage. In fact, walk-up units have become the go-to solution to masking ugly parking. I suspect we don’t see it here because there isn’t enough room when using all-aboveground parking (the same reason for the higher step backs).

Instead, Dickason gets a few green push-ins and benches with the looming sheer-face of garage above. You can never undo the harm this will do to the neighborhood facing it. Backyard views will be of an eight-story garage in patterned concrete.

Please don’t let the waterfall rotate in rainbow colors

Rendering-wise, outside of an overly-proud waterfall, there is way too little care and detail provided to judge this project in depth – something I find concerning.

The more I look at this plan, the more I see it as a sketch with details to be worked out later.

The Bars, Like Eatzi’s, Are The Problem

Does anyone (apparently except Eatzi’s) looking at the Streetlights project not see that keeping Eatzi’s in its old building rather than integrating it into a cohesive design was dumb? Aside from a temporary relocation during construction, the benefits to all are clear.

Most, if not all, parking could have been underground – shortening the building by five stories. Expanding the construction footprint, or perhaps constructing two buildings – one on either side of the alley would have shortened the overall height even more.

And Eatzi’s would have been able to move back into a modern, likely larger, purpose-built space that might see them better able to compete against the Central Market coming to McKinney and Lemmon.

Ablon’s team is using the same arguments Streetlights used to centralize height on their lots. What they should have been doing is learning from Streetlights’ biggest mistake.

A New Sheet of Paper

Phase 1 is the Cedar Springs block between JR’s and TMC (Throckmorton and Reagan Streets). Knock it all down and either build temporary pop-up bars on the back of the Skivvies lot (phase two) or rent space nearby (S4 in Exile – the old Ghostbar at the W Hotel will likely still be empty). Given the pandemic’s effect on entertainment venues, this shouldn’t be difficult.

As the map above shows, the current bars take up more than half the block’s depth. This is why the proposed building’s parking podium is 75 feet tall and why it can’t step back as it should.  If they were able to harness the entire block, they could bury more than half their parking with just two, full-block, underground levels.

And, let’s be honest, there’s nothing architecturally noteworthy on the block. Sue Ellen’s and S4 are relatively new split-face concrete block (hardly the building material of kings). And JR’s has been so bastardized as it expanded over the years, it’s nothing anyone would consider architecturally significant. Their history and importance are in what happened there, not their architecture. Remove any signature items (JR’s bar and tin ceilings) and reinstall them later.

Then set true architects to work designing the whole block as one project – encompassing the high-rise and the new/improved bars. In addition to burying parking, the full-block design allows for a lot more efficient use of space and green space. The result could be the love letter to the struggles and celebrations of the neighborhood that this project fails to deliver.

And as some have mentioned, the fear of new neighbors complaining about bar noise (and ultimately shutting them down) can be addressed in design (maybe a parking level above the bars providing a physical gap from sound penetration into the tower?).

Toll Brothers’ walk-up units shield the garage

Imagine The Results

On Cedar Springs, imagine wider sidewalks, better trees and landscaping and underground power lines – all resting in front of a new generation of bars. These are amenities and a streetscape impossible in the current design.

Imagine Dickason Avenue with a street feel of townhouses with front stoops running along a reinvigorated residential street. Also impossible with the current plan.

Ultimately, the project would be shorter, more neighborhood-friendly – AND enable more apartments to be built on a more efficient footprint. A big win for the neighborhood and the developer.

And once that first phase is a glowing success, do the same thing for Phase 2 across Throckmorton Street.

The only reason I can think of that a plan like this hasn’t been pursued is because of Caven. Maybe like so many area high-rise projects, they don’t want to risk the bars being demolished and then having the rebuild stall.

Affordable Housing For The Community

In many ways, affordable housing requirements are a blunt instrument – and that’s usually best. But here, there are two different, specific and chronic needs.

Believe it or not, LGBTQ+ youth are still thrown out of the homes of bigoted parents. These kids have higher rates of suicide, drug-use, homelessness and prostitution. One can imagine their life outcomes are often similarly tragic. Why not work with the Resource Center (or whomever) to provide housing to at-risk LGBTQ+ teens?

At the other end of the spectrum, bucking the myth of the suave, wealthy homosexual gentleman is the real need for affordable housing for an aging, often single LGBTQ+ population. The old Braniff training building on Wycliff used to house overwhelmingly gay senior residents.

With its two phases, this project could also offer affordable housing to 55-plus-year-old members of the community who would feel out of place in “straight” senior housing. There is a global issue of harassment in retirement communities – here, here, here, here, here.

So as this project will definitely be required to provide affordable housing, why not tailor it to these community needs?

Start Over

The gay community is a story of change, struggle, and ultimately reinvention. So use the change to secure the future, struggle to find a place to drink and dance for 18 months … and celebrate the reinvention.

But this can’t happen with the plan currently in place – I urge the community to not “cement a mistake for another 100 years” like another recent proposal.

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Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is CandysDirt.com's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on SecondShelters.com. An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Alex says

    “Shorter and more neighborhood friendly” = giving in to NIMBY whining that keeps housing unaffordable in the central city. We have to build higher. That’s the only way to meet demand. If people do not wish to live next to tall buildings I suggest they move out to one of our many suburbs instead of impeding progress for those of us that want to live in a proper city.

    • mmJon Anderson says

      Alex, clearly you don’t read me regularly because height doesn’t scare me. But when it abuts existing residential, it has to blend better than a sheer concrete wall. A lot of my height reduction is the result of burying the parking – something urban neighborhoods should do. Also, if you read this column completely, you’d have seen that I believe my suggested course results in MORE apartments, not fewer.

  2. Bob Stoller says

    If this project as presented is anyone’s idea of “affordable housing”, then that person lives on another planet. Every new project in Oak Lawn for the past 40 years has reduced the supply of affordable housing. And this project will not reverse that trend. The best that we can do going forward is to make sure that the replacement structures make a positive contribution to the neighborhood. Seventy-five foot concrete walls at the property line do not.

  3. Levi Hanes says

    This is nothing more than a financial transaction for Caven Enterprises trying to get the highest pay off for the bars before they are eventually forced to close. Since Caven is an employee owned company, that is why the employees like Mike Nguyen and Matt Purvis are pushing this project on social media. They want their portion of the pay out from the sell.

    • Aaron says

      That is simply false. The reason they are pushing it is because of the end result of preservation, rather then sell the bars to the next developer who just wants the land. They could easily push to sell the property to another developer without need for zoning changes – and you wouldn’t know till the bulldozers were on their way. So if you don’t support this deal, you basically are saying you don’t support preserving the gayborhood. There is no other way around that, you either support keeping the neighborhood and it’s survival or you support a developer tearing down all the bars and building new 6-8 story complexes. That simple. I personally support the project because I want the next generations to come to have what we had. There isn’t many concentrated neighbor hoods and communities like this anywhere. And to be frank, you people don’t own that property so there really isn’t much you can do if they decide to sell to another developer if this deal fails – at least in this deal you get the chance to help keep the bars intact. And from what I’m told, it’s a contractual agreement to keep the bars intact.

      • Levi Hanes says

        So where is CAVEN Enterprises’ responsibility in “preserving” the bars? As you state in your comment, CAVEN is going to sell whether it is to this developer or another developer. My statement is based on facts, this is simply a financial transaction and, the best offer CAVEN has received for the property. I work for another major developer based in Dallas and so I know the value of the property and I have been privy to the offers made. You can spin it however you like.

  4. Aaron says

    This is a terrible read and misinformed many people. In most cases – we could call this fake news or a conspiracy theory. This deal is to preserve the strip for the long term and makes it able to do so. Either way, caven has made the decision to sell the property either to this concept and preserve the strip – or to sell the property to the next developer at a higher bid that doesn’t require a zoning change and will simply remove the bars. So if you don’t support the deal, you basically are saying you don’t support keeping the strip alive.

    • mmJon Anderson says

      So no cost is too high? No demand too much? Good to know.
      .
      And for something to be “fake news” you have to point out where it’s fake. Otherwise it’s news you don’t like.

  5. William B Ingraham says

    This project needs to be revisited entirely in it’s design and construct. I appreciate this article and agree with most every point.

  6. Bo says

    Poor Dear Alex and Aaron, you sound like a few bartenders I know that pushed for the parade and picnic to be held at the State Fair. Once this was done a few months later the bartenders came into some extra cash and a lucrative bartending job in California. For many of us that have lived in this area for a while, we realized long ago that people come to Dallas for what it is not what it’s going to be. This is why TBRU is so large. This is why people booked hotels months in advance for the parade and Halloween party. Ever since Parkland expanded, the city has tried to move the guys out of the Cedar Springs area to make way for the expansion of medical district. You are just pawns in a bigger scheme that has been going on for ages.

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