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

It’s only been a few days since I broke the story of former Dallas mayor Laura Miller’s candidacy for city council District 13, and the whirlwind of sound bites has already begun. Multiple news outlets have reported variations on Miller’s bite of being a “mellow” 60-year-old in an attempt to distance herself from her combative days as mayor. Any news outlet covering Miller’s campaign will quickly see that for the political lie it is. Ignoring Miller’s combative attacks on council member Jennifer Gates, how “mellow” is it to join Twitter for the express purpose of calling out Gates in six tweets that now seem to have been scrubbed? But as you’ll see below, Twitter never forgets.

(Editor’s note: Miller did not delete her Tweets, they were all replies to Gates, which we documented in this December 2018 story. In the interest of transparency, we’re linking to it now, and indicating our error with a mark through).

Ignoring campaign rhetoric japes, Miller is unabashedly running for city council because of zoning – specifically, two zoning cases that haven’t made it to plan commission yet. This myopathy pigeonholes her as a one-trick-pony candidate in a district and city that requires more.

Equally telling is a seeming lack of research by Dallas news outlets. WFAA identified Miller supporter Steve Dawson as a “resident.” Dawson lives in University Park and can’t vote for her. His family owns a small apartment complex behind the Pink Wall. As regular readers know, seemingly to keep competition out, Dawson fought the Pink Wall’s Laurel development at Miller’s side and continues to fight area progress. In the WFAA story, Dawson claims Miller has wide support in District 13. If that were true, why didn’t she offer up a “reference” who actually lives in the district?

In Miller’s announcement, she names former Sen. John Carona and former city council members Donna Blumer, Mitchell Rasansky, and Sid Stahl as supporters. Given their admitted ignorance of the zoning issues in the district, I wonder if their support is little more than the toll of friendship.

That a city district with many needs is reduced to a single issue in a single area should be troubling to residents living outside the Preston Center orbit. To get very specific, anyone who is untouched by St. Michael and All Angel’s proposed development of Frederick Square and the redevelopment of Planned Development District 15 (PD-15) within the Pink Wall should be very wary of Miller’s desire to do much for you.

For those involved with these two zoning cases, Miller may wind up being a paper tiger.

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Laura Miller Ambush Gates

As promised, It’s time to see what’s been going on outside of view – a gift just in time for the holiday season. There was a meeting on November 1 at City Hall with Council Member Jennifer Gates, Plan Commissioner Margot Murphy, and a bevy of opposition to the Authorized Hearing within PD-15 behind the Pink Wall.

The opposition was a combination of the usual suspects and a few oddities:

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While meeting three didn’t see anything hurled through the air, that doesn’t mean all’s been quiet in the neighborhood. But you know me, I’ve saved the best juice for last.  The meeting opened with a review of the second meeting, specifically reviewing people’s thoughts on the various types of multi-family buildings presented in an exercise (here if you missed it).  The meeting also had a special guest star in David Cossum, Director of Sustainable Development and Construction for the city. Before the meat of the meeting a few (important) stray questions were asked.

Kevin Griffeth from Gas Light Manor asked about seeing developer examples and plans. This has been a key grumble from the small group opposed to the authorized hearing process. They claim only by disbanding the authorized hearing and forcing developers to open a zoning case will the neighborhood have any input.  The city stanched that claim by answering “yes” the committee will see and question the developers.

It was asked whether the Plan Commission could override any agreement by the neighborhood for development. The scary answer was “yes” they could make different recommendations to city council. However, Dallas City Council member Jennifer Gates has repeatedly said she will not support any plan that isn’t supported by the neighborhood. I take that as a stalemate that defaults to the committee’s decisions.

Ken Newberry from Royal Orleans asked about the committee’s ability to take economic data into account when creating their recommendations. The answer was a bit more nebulous. The committee can be informed by economic data as they deliberate, but the economics aren’t part of the city’s decision making purview. Newberry summed it up best, “a development plan without economics is just a hallucination.”

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Packed House at Park Cities Baptist Church

If you’ve been following along in your prayer books, you know that over a year ago the Preston Place condos burned. You may also know about the failed attempt at negotiating an area redevelopment plan. I’ll even toss in bonus points if you’re aware of the Athena and Preston Tower working with former mayor Laura Miller to stymie everything.

All caught up?  Good …

Last night, Dallas City Council member Jennifer Gates assembled the neighborhood to discuss the history and next steps in the process. What was a surprise to most was that the authorized hearing, first mentioned last summer as having a two or three year waiting list, had been bumped up in the schedule and was beginning immediately. Gates made available applications for representatives on the authorized hearing committee.

But I get ahead of myself.

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PCTF Image 1

“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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Preston Center Arial Pic

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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Douglas Square Apartments formerly located on top parcel

Frederick  Square Apartments formerly located on top parcel

I have to thank Dallas Morning News’ Robert Wilonsky for my literal laugh-out-loud Sunday as he broke the story on St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church’s plans to lease land to a developer to build a high-rise office tower in Preston Center. I mean you just can’t make this stuff up.

Flash back to Christmas Eve 2007 when the Church, pulling a Martin Luther, nailed 60-day eviction notices to residents of the Frederick Square Apartments located on church-owned property … and on a Sunday no less! While Martin Luther only nailed 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church, St. Michaels and All Angels nailed closer to 100. I’m sure back in 2007 many made the allusion to Mary and Joseph also being turned out on Christmas Eve a few years earlier.

Vacate your home, St. Michael needs a parking lot.

Vacate your home, St. Michael needs a parking lot.

Flash forward to March 2, 2015, the Preston Center Task Force had its first meeting to present its mission and membership. Jay Grogan was named a representative of Zone 3 (bounded by Preston, Del Norte, Hillcrest and Walnut Hill). You remember Zone 3, right? The chief grumblers on the recently approved Laurel apartments Transwestern will be building on the northeast corner of Preston and Northwest Highway?

According to the autobiography supplied to the task force, Jay Grogan is “actively involved in Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church” located in task force Zone 1. He’s also been “a practicing real estate and business lawyer for more than 30 years.” It’s obvious why his church involvement included being one of three members of their Campus Development Committee overseeing the proposed redevelopment of the former Frederick Square Apartments site.

Why is St. Michael’s scrabbling for more money? In February 2015, the Episcopal School of Dallas announced they were embarking on a plan to unite its younger and older students on their Merrill Road campus. That plan has its own hurdles to jump and is reportedly years away from breaking ground. But that move will quash the rent paid to St. Michael’s by the Episcopal School for the 403 students currently educated on St. Michael’s land. (The main gripe for that project is of course, traffic. Neighbors worry about the twice-daily drop-off/pickup parade of 403 SUVs – I was apparently the last child to ever walk to school.)

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New-Transwestern-rendering-Preston-Rd

As predicted, we are all two-weeks older since the Planning Commission fobbed-off the vote on the proposed Transwestern development at the northeast corner of Preston Road and Northwest Highway. What, if any, votes changed in those two weeks is unknown, but I suspect few. Certainly attendees were not treated to German band Texas Lightening popping out of a cake as I’d hoped.

In those two weeks Transwestern held a meeting largely for angry single-family homeowners upset that the proposal had moved on without them paying attention and seemingly their neighborhood association not informing them. Thankfully I was busy elsewhere that evening. However, I invited Candy over after the fireworks to spill the beans while I plied her with wine.

Also in those two weeks the opposition became a bit more organized and vocal, certainly putting up more of a show at today’s Planning Commission meeting.

And a show it was… hours of tedium and speechifying. It was like church without the wine and crackers.

The same tired rubrics about density, traffic and parking ultimately found no purchase with the Commission. Especially after both the Transwestern-hired traffic engineering representative and the City traffic planning representative spoke. Those arguments were shot, gutted, stuffed and mounted on the rumpus room wall. (more…)