Preston-Center-parking-garage

The Preston Center Task Force meetings have given Jay Grogan plenty of time to talk about the office tower St. Michael’s and All Angels wants to build on its empty lot, but said nothing until documents came out, says Task Force member Laura Miller.

By Laura Miller
CandysDirt.com Contributor

Editor’s Note: CandysDirt.com continues to expand, explore, and evolve to serve the real estate needs and curiosity of North Texas. We focus daily on this fast-growing region which is metamorphosing before our eyes, reshaping some of our most beloved neighborhoods. Whereas we always want to bring you the inside story and scoop, sometimes we have to go outside our staff to become the best informed. It is our mission to not just earn your trust and confidence in our reporting, but to fill a void we see missing from conventional daily journalism: the inside stories about where we live. We want to connect you to the highest caliber voices in our midst, and we will do so from time to time with guest contributors. Today, we welcome former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller who serves on City Councilwoman Jennifer Gates’ Task Force Committee to develop a Preston Center and Northwest Highway Area Plan that will examine existing conditions and future needs & improvements within the area. 

A few observations about the new office tower St. Michael’s wants to build next to its church on Douglas Avenue from the perspective of a Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan Task Force member trying to find the right balance between new development and current traffic and parking problems:

Besides being a terrible idea (the church’s property serves as a much-needed buffer between high rises and homes), what is also unsettling about the proposal is that it was purposely kept from the Task Force. When you’re spending $350,000 to analyze one neighborhood — $250,000 of taxpayer money and $100,000 in private funds — a full picture of what is going on under your nose is obviously necessary for a successful result.

Unfortunately, the Task Force only found out about this project because this past fall, a concerned citizen gave me a copy of a confidential Request for Proposal (RFP) that real estate attorney Jay Grogan had sent out on Aug. 3 on behalf of St. Michael’s and All Angels Church (SMAA). The 10-page RFP described the proposed office project in great detail and required interested developers to pay a $5,000 non-refundable application fee; the winning bidder (which has been selected but remains unknown) was also required to make a non-refundable $25,000 donation to the church. Since our Task Force meets so rarely, the first opportunity I had to raise the issue with the group was Dec. 3, although I had called several members previous to the meeting to see if anyone knew about the proposal (no one had).

There was one paragraph in the 10-page RFP that particularly surprised me:St. Michaels

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My previous two posts covered the parking issues being raised (and how much the perception varies from reality) and St. Michael’s prayers to upzone one of their Frederick Square properties to accommodate a 250,000-square-foot office high-rise. Well, it ain’t over yet!

The other side of the complaint coin is traffic, or more specifically how much time does it take to get from Point A to Point B on Preston Road or Northwest Highway. Existing speeds for both roadways are 35 miles per hour. For example, that should translate into roughly six minutes to travel the 3.4 miles from Inwood to Shady Brook Lane along Northwest Highway without hitting a single traffic signal or slow-down. Unfortunately, you are almost guaranteed to hit a majority of the 11 traffic signals on this route, spaced on average one every 1,631 feet or 0.3 of a mile. Good luck with that!

Let’s continue the example.

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I bet the task force members thought I’d given them a Christmas present by not writing up the Dec. 3 meeting. Nope. I was just outta town. So what happened at that meeting (you didn’t show up for)?

First was a recap of a Nov. 3 meeting, the Task Force open house held to share preliminary data to area residents and to ask for feedback. As in previous open house sessions, there were “topic stations” setup with flip-charts and markers for capturing thoughts. This time, 66 residents attended. For those keeping count, that’s 1 percent of the 6,736 residents in the task force area. I suppose the other 99 percent were either out of town (like me) or more likely apathetic (waiting for any action to be a gavel-bang away before piping up). You know the type — the first to complain and the last to volunteer — and if you live in Task Force-land, you likely only have to look in the mirror. (Although I do love those with total apathy — no opinion and no interference.)

Before I get to parking, one topic seeped into every question posed of the meagre attendees. That question was, “How do we ensure Mark Cuban gets the shaft on Northwest Highway?” In one question, attendees were asked to put colored “dots” on locations they want to see Residential, Office, Greenspace, or “Other.”

First, there wasn’t a single dot placed that wasn’t spitting distance from the intersection of Preston Road and Northwest Highway. So again, while the task force’s mandate covers a huge area, only that intersection is of any real interest. Is that “concern” really just attendee self-interest? Probably. The vast majority of attendees to these meetings reside or have businesses within blocks of this intersection.

Does it call into question why a resident’s opinion on the outskirts of the task force area carries more weight than a non-resident who works daily in Preston Center? Probably. Should the task force have included the opinions of people who navigate Preston Center every day? Probably. Just 8 percent of survey respondents actually work in Preston Center. Given this task force is so focused on one intersection, shouldn’t University Park (one quarter of the intersection) officially be part of this foofaraw? Probably.

Have I said all that before? Very probably.

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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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Preston Center Arial Pic

Earlier this year, I wrote about a ballot that was distributed in Pink Wall territory whose greatest take-away was that surprisingly few cared to vote. Apathy was certainly the tenor of this installment of the Preston Center Task Force (PCTF). Half of the appointed Task Force members didn’t even show and the five members of the “unwashed public” could have cleaned themselves up with a hotel-sized bar of soap.

To put this in perspective, there are a total of 6,736 people living within the study area and five people showed … FIVE. I’m sure you all remember the falderal about Transwestern’s apartment complex and the bemoaning angst that’s caused. My take-away from this is that people are largely uninterested with planning but are quick to brandish pitch-forks after the fact.

Oh, Transwestern? The representatives from task force zones 2 and 3 which border the proposed complex and who have raised the most hackles were among the missing. De facto foot-stamper Laura Miller was also otherwise engaged (although she did get a shout-out for successfully cajoling her Rolodex to donate cash to the now fully funded plan).

As for me, I’m a self-described “hopeful pessimist,” figuring the city will shirk implementation of whatever may be recommended but hopeful that something good comes of this exercise … and I recorded missed Big Bang Theory to be there!

The data was largely unsurprising but had points of insight. This was a first crunch of a larger data set that’s not complete, so it’s bound to be rough.

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Post-It 2

Last night, the Preston Center Task Force consultants Kimley-Horn and Associates met with residents of several “zones” including my own Zone 4 (Pink Wall). Now I’m not going to point fingers, but some of the earlier groups must’ve been Chatty Cathys as we were a half hour late getting started and had a hard stop because the facility was closing.

Because of that pinch coupled with the size of our group (four times the others, apparently) and the early time-suck spent rehashing the Transwestern tête-à-tête (that alters no one’s opinion), attendees were only able to scrawl their thoughts on flip charts to eight open-ended questions and leave. Zero discussion.

It’s my hope the consultants will schedule another meeting with Zone 4 and include a “swear jar” where anyone talking about Transwestern puts in $100 for charity.

Note to both sides of the Transwestern topic: Zip it. An opportunity was squandered to discuss the future of the entire Preston Center area because you couldn’t stop blabbering about a penny in a room filled with diamonds. There is a time and a place.

In addition to the Transwestern rat hole, there’s a theme that’s continually brought up that I frankly just don’t understand. Several felt the need to discuss the area’s history and more precisely their longevity in the area. Are we to give more weight to opinions from residents who’ve lived in the area the longest? There are just as many illogical long-timers as there are smart newbies (and vice-versa). Staying put doesn’t increase intelligence nor should it increase the weight of an opinion. Isn’t the point to involve all current residents in making the best decisions for the future?

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The Diplomat's Roof is Playful 60s

The Diplomat’s Roof is Playful 60s. We Love Playful!

Get ready. On October 7th, the Preston Center Task Force will be meeting with Zone 4 (Pink Wallers) to get residents’ “thoughts and ideas” on their “vision for the future” for the neighborhood. Certainly the two properties likely being replaced on the corner of Preston Road and Northwest Highway are not the only properties in the area in need of replacement or renovation. Since I already solved the traffic issues as best as they can here, I thought I’d turn my talents to musing on what the next chapter of the Pink Wall should include.

(What, no one asked?)

Renovation
Any building that wishes to ride out the coming transition should ensure their properties are in tip-top shape. This will ensure that prices rise, potentially making them too costly for development. While I don’t see many architecturally significant complexes in Pink Wall territory, I welcome every complex that wishes to be part of the next chapter. It’s my hope that new buildings will spur the remaining older ones to make the investment necessary to return them to their glory, both in unit interiors and building infrastructure.

Neo-Classic with HUGE Units

Neo-Classic with HUGE Units

In my opinion, there are only two buildings in Pink Wall territory I see as architecturally significant – the George Dahl designed Imperial House and the unattributed Diplomat. Both in their ways typify 1960s architecture in it’s glory. Imperial House is a mid-century classical throwback, perhaps influenced by the Beverly Hillbillies which debuted in 1962, two years before it was built.  The Diplomat, on the other hand, is pure 1960s with its joyous full-vault modernist glory. If you disagree, we’d love to hear. (more…)

HH Aerial Preston Center

Monday evening saw the latest installment of Councilwoman Jennifer Gates’ Preston Road and Northwest Highway Task Force Meetings. It renewed my belief that the only thing missing from Texas politics are footlights. Molly would have been in hog heaven (versus the real one she’s in now).

I’d describe many of the attendees as being Republican red on the outside and Democrat blue on the inside. It never ceases to amaze me the number of Republicans whose conservatism decreases the closer an idea or action gets to them and/or their home. Let’s call them NIMBY Republicans.

NIMBY Republicans are often seen shouting drill baby drill, big business, small government, no regulation … until it effects them. At which point the placards shoot up from the sweater-on-the-shoulder set. Of course, the kerfuffle surrounding the Preston Road and Northwest Highway intersection is a perfect example.

MarkCubanProperties-thumb-565x321.jpg aerial

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