Fifty years after last school bell rang for attendees, front rows are still last to fill

[Editor’s note: Jon Anderson is a columnist for CandysDirt.com who lives in District 13. His opinions are his own.]

The community gathered last night to discuss PD-15, and honestly, I expected this to be a “bottle of rotgut and a bullet to bite on” kind of meeting. But it wasn’t. To be sure, when the public comment section came around there was no shortage of strong words on every side of this issue. Former Dallas mayor and District 13 city council candidate Laura Miller gave her 2-cents when everyone else had gotten one. (More later)

In a bizarre coincidence, earlier in the day I’d read about the jet stream’s current velocity pushing eastbound airplanes as fast as 801 miles per hour — which is about how fast city planner Andrew Ruegg zipped through 96 slides in about 40 minutes at last night’s second PD-15 community meeting. While some of the city’s all-important graphics could have benefitted from a few more seconds on the screen, it was a comprehensive overview of the draft proposal being delivered to city plan commission on March 21.

Note to city: Graphics of exactly what’s on the table are critical to comprehension. They should be there at the get-go, not batting clean-up.

But just as the Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan didn’t take economics into consideration, the city’s PD document really didn’t either. It would have been helpful to have had a “likely outcome” section.

You see, while the land bordering Northwest Highway is proposed to allow 240-foot heights, It’s not probable that’s what will be built. Let me explain …

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The Dallas Morning News called the District 13 election results a “trounce” by incumbent Jennifer Gates against former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller. And at a commanding 66 percent to 34 percent, who am I to argue?

Delving into the precinct-level numbers, an interesting picture appears. Miller was a one-trick candidate, focusing her campaign on anti-development messaging surrounding Preston Center and the Pink Wall. As you can see in the map above, District 13 is a lot more than Preston Center. The myopathy of Miller’s message wasn’t lost on voters outside the Preston Center orbit. Oh, and constituents really like Gates. By contrast, Miller didn’t even win her own precinct, where neighbors voted for her opponent, two-to-one.

In total, Miller carried just three precincts within District 13 – essentially the Pink Wall and Preston Center along with a tiny precinct out by Marsh Lane and Walnut Hill (although not as tiny as the 16-vote precinct to its right that was one of two reporting a tie).

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Saturday is election day, and this one revolves around real estate centered in one Dallas city council district: District 13, where 17.6 percent of voters have cast early ballots. That’s the highest voting percentage in any city council district.

There is the Behind the Pink Wall real estate quagmire, the condo owners and tenants who say they do not want increased density from the remaking of PD-15. PD-15 is an antiquated city document that permits a developer to go as high as he wants, but limit the footprint to 60 residential units to replace those lost in the seven-alarm Preston Place fire more than two years ago where a woman lost her life.

The fire has left the owners of Preston Place with nothing more than a parking garage. And now, owners of condos in the periphery of Preston Place find their HOAs are postponing repairs on those buildings that are most likely going to be snapped up by developers and scraped.

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Note: the Dallas City Plan Commission Public Hearing for PD-15 is scheduled for Thursday, April 18

This is the real story of the Pink Wall – a little pocket of Preston Hollow tucked between two of the highest net worth zip codes in the country. It is one of the few places where women of means at some point, who suddenly find themselves with a drastically limited bank account, can live with some dignity. And safety. For years it has been the answer to the need for affordable housing skirting the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

Sometime in the 1990’s we moved my mother “Behind the Pink Wall”, into her unit at The Seville on Averill Way. My mother had moved to Dallas in her seventies to be closer to my children, to help in my husband’s medical practice (she had managed medical practices in suburban Chicago) and to escape the bitter midwestern cold. Her first home when she moved here was a townhome off Knoll Trail Drive I found while taking the kids to Toys R Us: it was being leased by the bank holding the note, brand new, bright and cheerful.

It was also seven miles away from our home.

We wanted her to be closer, especially as she aged. We lived in Old Preston Hollow at the time and the only proximite multi-family living was Behind the Pink Wall. That is why I jumped on the two bedroom, two bath first floor unit at The Seville: it was about a mile from our home on Park Lane. We could walk to her house!

I will never forget sitting with her as she closed on the only property she had ever owned “sole” by herself. My parents had been married for 42 years before they divorced, and like most women of her Depression-era generation, men handled every penny. As we turned each page after her signature, she’d whisper to me, “are you sure I’m not going to lose everything?”

When she died in 2003, I left the condo exactly as it was for months, hoping she’d walk in the door. It remains in our family as an investment property, and has always been leased by retirees, most of them single women. My mother loved living Behind the Pink Wall.

Thank God she is not here to see it turn into a Senior Slum.

I met a Realtor a few weeks ago who is moving into an apartment down the street from mine: her husband supported her with the Highland Park good life until he decided her best friend was more exciting in the boudoir. She is a woman needing a place to live with two school-aged kids as she stitches a life back together. All up and down Bandera, Averill Way, Pickwick, Edgemere are neat, tidy little homes, 1950’s and ’60’s apartments converted to condos, decorated to the hilt with furniture and antiques moved from some of the toniest addresses in town. Come dusk they walk their dogs, doting on them, chatting with neighbors, accepting the lot life has thrust their way.

But all that changed with the fire. (more…)

Two weeks ago, District 13 council member Jennifer Staubach Gates debated rival candidate and former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller at a luncheon hosted by the Dallas Builders Association. The event was live-streamed and later posted by CandysDirt.com. About 20 minutes into the recording, the topic of PD-15 was raised. (Planned Development district between Preston Tower and Athena on Northwest Highway).

The proposed updating of the area’s decades-old governing document has been one of two zoning issues at the center of this campaign. In mid-February, I pointed out that Laura Miller’s ownership of an Athena condo would constitute a financial conflict from which she’d have to recuse herself.

At the debate, Gates pointed out the conflict to Miller. Here is Miller’s response:

[The city of Dallas’ ethics code says,] “If you are involved financially in a situation that’s voted on by the Dallas City Council, where you will personally be making money where other people will not be making money but you are personally involved and will make money from it, then you have a financial conflict of interest …

My living in the area plan area and having a rental unit that we bought for my mother-in-law before she passed away has nothing to do with the code of ethics and any financial conflict of interest. I do not have a conflict of interest nor would I be or will I be recusing myself from any vote involving zoning in the area.”

According to Miller’s own words, “you have a financial conflict of interest” if “you will personally be making money where other people will not be making money.” Whether redevelopment is good, bad or indifferent to surrounding property values, that trajectory will be influenced by city hall’s vote.

Steve Long, SMU’s Maguire Chair of Ethics wrote that using Aristotle’s definition of truth, “I’m puzzled by the candidate’s response because it appears to violate this basic tenet of truth-telling.” He continued, “If she is making a profit from a rental unit then her conclusion makes no sense.”

Mayor Mike Rawlings echoes this sentiment, “I think that your assessment of the situation is absolutely correct.” (more from Rawlings further down)

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The truth about Preston Center: Latest proposal for the parking garage

A couple of days ago, Phil Crone, Dallas Builders Association Dallas Division executive officer, asked for help plugging the DBA debate planned for April 4 at the division’s monthly meeting. Knowing that Jennifer Staubach Gates had canceled an earlier debate, I jumped on this and called executive editor Joanna England: we’ve got to live stream it!

We got to Maggiano’s, got set up, and were told that we had a problem: Neither candidate had agreed to video of any kind. Jennifer Staubach Gates was seated, and Laura Miller had not yet arrived.

I went right up to Gates and asked if we could live stream. She said yes, of course. The DBA asked Miller when she arrived, and she agreed. The Dallas Morning News was there taking stills. Knowing that residents of District 13 wanted to see this, we also decided to post the hour-and-a-half-long video here on the website.

Keep in mind that the DBA drafted the questions and yes, it was builder-oriented, which is very pertinent to the issues concerning D13: building, growth, density, big houses dwarfing smaller 1950s ranches, traffic, site views, density, highest and best use of land, and did we mention density? Crime and other issues were not discussed, but we will cover those in our soon-to-be published candidate questionnaires. (Ours were so detailed the candidates are all asking for more time.)

During the debate, Dallas Morning News writer Robert Wilonsky messaged me that it was riveting, then asked how I would score the candidates. 

The corner of Preston Rd & Northwest Highway, 2014. It has since been replaced by The Laurel Apartments, the first shot over the bow of the burgeoning Preston Road and Northwest Highway debacle.

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[Editor’s note: Jon Anderson is a columnist for CandysDirt.com. His opinions are his own.]

While Thursday’s meeting fell short of the usual fireworks PD-15 brings about, the City Plan Commission asked some great questions regarding city staff’s proposed changes to PD-15.

In the lead-up to City Plan Commission’s public hearing on staff’s proposal for updating PD-15, staff briefed plan commissioners Thursday morning at Vital. Groups. Knee. Senior Planner Andrew Ruegg, who’s led the process so far, presented essentially the same slides as were shown to the community two weeks ago.

What the few who went to the meeting were most interested in were the questions and comments from the other commissioners. I give a “Hallelujah!” to CPC chair Gloria Tarpley for commenting that the 3-D images shown of the proposed changes would have been welcome at other cases. How the city can be devising “words on paper” documents reflecting 3-D realities without 3-D models has always been a mystery. It should be ante to the game.

The first questions were from District 11 appointee Janie Schultz. First, she was curious whether the requirement for a street lamp every 50-feet was adequate. While boilerplate, staff said they’d look into it. Schultz’ second question concerned the affordable housing sweeteners and whether anyone would use them. The suspicion is that along the northern side they will be unlikely to be used, while on the Northwest Highway side they may if the developer wants to get near tapping any height. It kind of goes to what I’ve been saying that if the buildable envelope doesn’t grow, it’s just cannibalizing market-rate units for affordable units.

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Recategorizing zoning to reflect reality.

[Editor’s note: Jon Anderson is a columnist for CandysDirt.com. His opinions are his own.]

The actions and words of many city plan commissioners and city council members should be a warning to all who live in multi-family areas – discrete zoning designations don’t matter. Personal investments made in part because of existing zoning don’t matter. You as residents don’t matter.

When the Lincoln Katy Trail project was at CPC, chairwoman Gloria Tarpley said in response to huge neighborhood opposition to changing the MF-2 designation to MF-3, “we do this all the time.”  For those uninitiated in city zoning, among other things, the change would increase buildable height from 36 feet to 90 feet. It’s also real estate alchemy, administratively making land a lot more valuable for the sellers.

When the Lincoln project hit city council in January, Mayor Rawlings swept away neighborhood opposition to concentrate on snagging less-affordable housing that currently exists (and calling it a “win” for affordable housing in north Dallas).

This is just one example of a city unconcerned with residents in multi-family areas. For some reason, city leaders think that any change is OK, and that residents should just buck-up. Somehow, they feel that constant worrying about huge increases in density is part of what living in a multi-family are means – in contrast to near bullet-proof zoning in single-family neighborhoods.

In a Faustian deal, multi-family areas are the carpet Dallas can sweep its increasing population under as a way to preserve single-family homes, which are rarely converted to multi-family. The exception (of course) is a sliding scale of resident income. The poorer the well-located area, the more likely single-family will be swept away in gentrification.  Middle-class and up?  You’re pretty golden.

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