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In Part One, you learned about the final plan to be delivered to the city by the Preston Center Task Force.  It’s been two years in the making and cost $300,000 to produce a plan with little substance and holes a developer could drive a truck through.

Here in part two, we’ll finish out by reporting on the recommendations for development in the area.

Mixed Use, Not Mixed Income

There’s lots of talk about walkability, and an equal amount talk about luxury housing product.  This means that just like today, people who live in the area don’t generally work in the area.  An infinitesimal number of Preston Center workers walk to work today, and luxe-only development assures that will not change. Apparently walkability isn’t for area cashiers, cooks, waiters or firemen/women.

The vibrancy claimed to be the goal will not happen without housing that’s affordable to those who also work in the area.  Without it, what we’ll get is a plastic Disneyland that comes to life with the flick of a switch.  We’ll also have the added traffic as those workers commute in for their shifts. Lose-lose.

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If I could sum up this final report by the Northwest Highway and Preston Road Area Plan task force, it would be that it took two years and $300,000 to identify what will cost the city even more money and more time to actually attempt to solve. But that’s what you get when a group rife with personal agendas discards most of the hard data.  As Laura Miller said, “Every task force member agreed on every word” in the self-authored report.  This was after the task force commandeered the report back in July from the hired consultants.

Consensus equates to a watered-down, namby-pamby report with all the right buzzwords to calm the natives while delivering absolutely nothing of substance.  The report tells the audience what they already know and want without a shred of information or detail on how they’re going to address any of it … except with more study and more money.

The audience at last night’s meeting nodded on queue to the placation … traffic is a problem … sometimes it’s hard finding lunch time parking at Preston Center … the Preston Center parking garage is ugly … Mark Cuban needs to put those mansions back.  But what was not comprehended was that every, single, solitary issue and crack-pot recommendation contained in this report is someone else’s problem to study, evaluate, fix and pay for. It’s like they typed up the flip charts of suggestions from the community meetings.

The actual recommendations are without detail or teeth, often fobbed off on another entity.

In other words, 99 percent of this report could have been written two years and $300,000 ago by an intern. The most frightening thing is that this report apparently represents the quality of work expected by the City of Dallas. (Although after the Fair Park debacle, I shouldn’t have been surprised)

Let’s review…

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“Train Wreck.”  “Waste of Time.”  “Squandered Money.” “Are you eff-ing kidding me?”

These were the thoughts screeching across my brain as I sat in last night’s Preston Center Task Farce Force meeting. Sixteen months and $350,000 later and we’re officially at the exact same place we were sixteen months ago, less $350,000. After the last meeting I thought there was progress, but nope … we’ve regressed to Square One. Even the underground parking lot with a park on top that’s become a centerpiece was on the table a year ago.

For their part, consultants Kimley-Horn have counted a few cars and slapped some scenarios together for the task force and general public to throw up on.  Last week, they dropped a 150-ish page report detailing their findings to task force members.  “Findings” is a strong word. Apparently it’s a ton of data and scenarios that never actually got to the point.  It also didn’t include enough of the task force’s personal recommendations … because … you know … they didn’t spend 16 months on this project to go away empty-handed.

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My top-line takeaways from last night’s public flogging unveiling of the latest from the Preston Center Task Force were that its results were better than previous airings, but still not fully baked, and as expected, the Pink Wall Negative Nancys were out in force only at the end of the process. But as I told Dallas City Council member Jennifer Gates, I didn’t feel like I immediately needed a stiff drink afterward … and that was progress.

However this plan is still a far cry from being a document I’d stand in front of the Plan Commission and City Council and present with pride. And the audience felt the same way. Many asked Gates to hold another public meeting to present the actual final, final proposal before it goes to the Plan Commission and City Council, a suggestion she appeared open to. (Fingers crossed)

I find the Kimley-Horn methodology and output flawed, relying on what can be done versus what should be done.  The disconnect between development’s specific impact on underlying infrastructure (roads, parking, etc.) and how they must be connected. The missing baseline research on how optimized infrastructure impacts development scenarios. The results appear to be a shoehorning of development into a defined area with little intelligence and common sense applied to how it would function best. It’s about promoting “could” rather than “should” … and being a study that recommends, it should be all about the “should.

There should be:

  • Data tables detailing the specific infrastructure impacts of every increase of “X” number of residential units, or “X” increase in office square footage, or “X” increase in retail square footage on traffic patterns.
  • Armed with that information, buckets containing the suggested mix of increased residential, office and retail and a system to subtract from those buckets as new development is considered. If a bucket runs dry, that type of development is at capacity.
  • A system of triggers where “X” amount/type of development requires “X” in infrastructure improvements from the city. Given the increase to tax base, it’s quid pro quo from the city investing in increasing their revenues.
  • Overlaying all this should be intelligence in placing realistic development in realistic locations.

I’ve seen none of this, however I detailed it a year ago.

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First KISS

KISS has many meanings including being the acronym for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

For nearly three hours we sat through the latest, painful presentation by Kimley-Horn, who is being paid $350,000 for their efforts.  It’s getting better, but either these guys don’t present to lay people often or they’re fresh off the MBA boat. Thankfully I’d pre-downloaded the deck before the meeting and was able to question them on how they’d presented their data.  Let’s just say that as someone who’s pretty data-driven, I might have gone a different way.  Loads of questions and clarifications by Task Force members proved my point.

What’s still missing (and I’ve said it before) is this progression of charts:

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Last night’s Preston Center Task Force meeting laid bare their purpose — development.  It’s funny how way back when, this body was begun to study traffic and parking in the Preston Center area and yet, as we’ll see, these critical concerns from neighbors have been kinda pushed into the back seat by development.

Back in February 2015, I outlined the need for a Zone Zero that would concentrate on developing the overarching calculations for what’s possible given the current infrastructure.  How could existing roads best be optimized?  What traffic patterns need to emerge? Once you’d optimized raw traffic flows, then you could measure impacts of development and resulting capacity increases against that baseline.  Roadway optimization is something that must be done before development impacts are assessed.

Last night, near the end of the meeting we saw one slide outlining the three-stage project TXDoT and NCTCOG will be embarking on IN THE FUTURE to address the optimization of traffic flow (here’s my plan from July 2015) and the central parking garage.  Their work will be barely begun as the Preston Center Task Force draws its last breath in June.  The Task Force was invited to be a part of that new project but several members responded that this “was beyond their scope of work.”

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Last night I spent time at Preston Tower listening to Steve Dawson, the Pink Wall representative on the Preston Center Task Force explain the area’s poison pills for redevelopment.

There are two ways land usage can be shaped. Either through city/municipal zoning or through civil covenants and deed restrictions. According to the Task Force, aside from the Preston Tower and Athena PD 15 area and the new PD for the Laurel project on Preston and Northwest Highway, the Pink Wall is zoned MF-1 (A). Roughly, this designation equates to three-stories with the (A) designation adding some setback requirements. However according to Article IV on Zoning, the MF-1(A) setback requirements are only required of “nonresidential districts” and the Pink Wall is clearly residential.

In addition, when the Pink Wall was developed in the 1950s as part of the town of Preston Hollow, the builders placed deed restrictions on the lands from Northwest Highway to the alley between Bandera and Del Norte and from one lot inside Preston Road to Edgemere. Covering several tracts, the restrictions are the same. The restrictions essentially limit the building to the existing height, setbacks and unit counts per parcel. In other words: A dead end for redevelopment without intervention. Transwestern’s Laurel project is outside the restriction zone.

The deed restrictions, dating from 1956, had an initial enforceability period of 20 years and automatically renew every 10 years. The latest renewal was on Jan. 1, 2016.

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UPDATE:  Both D Magazine’s Frontburner and Dallas Morning News’ City Hall Blog referenced this posting today.

 

The session on Feb. 16 was different from the recent Preston Center Task Force meetings. Nearly all the task force members were there … and about 50 residents showed up as well! Before I run through the high points, a pair of interesting things …

During the meeting, I was paying particular attention to Laura Miller, as she tends to speak often and with some authority. I’m not sure if her demeanor had softened with the blue jeans she was wearing, but at some point I realized she’s smart-smart versus just opportunistic-political-smart. I’m not saying I completely agree with her, but she connects the dots quicker than most. And lately, I’ve been in too many rooms filled with people unable to connect the dots.

Secondly, after the meeting I approached councilwoman Gates to make a (constructive) suggestion (that I’ll get to later) and her preemptive question was to ask if what was said tonight matched up with the plan I’d crafted oh so many months ago. “Kinda” I said, caught a little off guard. (In truth, I’ve said I don’t have the resources to drill into development comparisons as these consultants have, but my plan and conclusions have a lot of similarities.)

Anyway …

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