Last night, city council member Philip Kingston spoke at The Mansion in an attempt to bring clarity to the Toll Brothers project.  Unfortunately, after a good start, he failed to seal the deal.  Kingston presented the big picture on the project – namely that Toll Brothers is completely within their rights to build a high-rise that’s uglier, boxier, more dense, with worse parking, and that looks terrible on the street.  In fact Toll Brothers delivered a letter to Kingston and the plot sellers stating that they have every intention of building the worse-in-every-way plan should this better-in-every-way plan be shot down at city council.

Kingston’s question to the audience was simple and rational.  Essentially, given the two alternatives, why should he support the worse “by right” plan? “By right” does what it says on the tin; no neighborhood or city involvement period. It’s a simple enough question. But for people for whom the only answer was “neither,” that question was rationally unanswerable.  “Neither” isn’t an option, something rich folks ain’t used to hearing.

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The fate of the proposed Toll Brothers high-rise in Oak Lawn remains stalled for another month. A bus load of Plaza residents showed up to voice their concerns without actually admitting their issue is view blockage and that the rest was just a smoke screen.  Several gave themselves away in saying that a midrise would be better (but then complained about other midrises in the area). So, why exactly would a midrise with essentially the same number of units be better than a high-rise?

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Hillwood's proposed 3001 Turtle Creek project

Hillwood’s proposed 3001 Turtle Creek project

Tuesday night’s Oak Lawn Committee (OLC) meeting might not have had armed police in attendance, but there were some interesting goings on.  The two worth chatting about were Hillwood’s evolving plans for 3001 Turtle Creek (corner of Turtle Creek and Cedar Springs) and a proposed Starbucks at Oak Lawn and Congress (southeast-ish corner). I call 3001 Turtle Creek “evolving” because when asked when they wanted to break ground, the reply was, “when we get a tenant.”

But, since I know my readers, let’s start with a soupçon of hypocrisy … Starbucks … and end with a humorously gutsy ask … from Hillwood.

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Area Downzoners Targeting

Area Downzoners Targeting

Last week, a group calling themselves “Stop the Downzone” sent out a packet of information that I was unknowingly part of.  It included a pair of articles I wrote … Teixeira Duarte’s move to build a by-right plan on their Dickason and Hood plots and the prior piece written about the downzoning campaign. I am not aligned with either side of this issue.

However …

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Downzone 1

“Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn, and caldron bubble.”

In Macbeth, Shakespeare’s witches were casting a spell to double Macbeth’s toil and trouble.  It seems some Oak Lawn residents are looking to double developers’ trouble by asking the city Plan Commission to downzone parts of Oak Lawn covered by PD-193.  I’ve written about these proposed developments here, here and here.

I’ve been sent emails dating back to April 2016 from a townhome owner diagonally across from the proposed Toll Brothers apartment building on lots at the southwest-ish corner of Welborn and Congress. Those lots are currently occupied by aging three-story structures but are pretty well surrounded by mostly 1990s or newer townhouses.

The April emails have some of the propaganda, bombast and petitions typical of protesters … laced with claims the other side says are false. In this of all years you should know this story cold.  But I will say even in my lay capacity, the down-zoners do seem to inflate. Here’s just one example …

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Toll Brothers latest proposal for Welborn and Congress

Toll Brothers latest proposal for Welborn and Congress

On Tuesday night I attended my first Oak Lawn Committee (OLC) meeting.  For those unaware, the OLC was founded in 1982 as the neighborhood forum to guide development, maintain the area’s vibe, and generally improve the area.  Their “yea” or “nay” offers weight to Plan Commission’s deliberations on new projects seeking zoning changes.

OLC Map SM

The OLC’s coverage area resembles a gerrymandered voting district that spans City Council Districts 2 and 14, covering 15 square miles. The main boundaries are Woodall Rodgers, Harry Hines, Inwood, Highland Park and Central Expwy. Basically encompassing Oak Lawn, Uptown and West Village.

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Surprisingly, Jon ain’t a big ol’ hypocrite on zoning

I write a bit about development projects that include zoning changes of some sort.  This is mostly because those that don’t require a zoning change just file their plans and they’re off.  There is no public discussion, except after, when we see the usual awfulness that we’re all left to look at.

Some, even CandysDirt.com’s editor, question me on what are seen as wildly inconsistent opinions with regard to zoning and resulting density.  I thought detailing my thought process would help others in how they think about zoning issues.

Every property is zoned for something.  Anything from Agriculture (AG) all the way up to the tallest skyscraper.  Land within a Planned Development District (PD) also has rules for what can be built on the land.  Land use within a PD may not be defined in the same language or categories as the standard zoning tables, but the documents that created them detail height, lot coverage, uses, etc.

That’s where I begin.

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There are two columns today on the Oak Lawn Committee’s (OLC) latest meeting because there were really two agendas. First, was the business of reviewing the Crescent’s proposed redo of 2401 Cedar Springs and then the internal battle to wrest control of the committee towards a more developer-heavy make-up.

It began with a few bylaw changes proposed by a committee made up of four prior OLC presidents and Kyle Lyon who was later nominated as vice-president for the coming year. The changes were simple enough and targeted at strengthening the OLC’s position within the city’s development process. Those three changes were:

  1. Limiting membership to people who live, operate a business or own property within the PD-193 boundaries, but excluding investors who own shares in an entity that holds title to property. While every owner views their ownership as an asset, it was viewed that those who are merely investors (e.g. stockholders) were most interested in their investment over the neighborhood as a whole. It was said this change would affect one member.

In large part because of this proposed change, OLC vice-president Leland Burk sent an email to The Melrose Hotel, without OLC board knowledge, alerting them to the coming change and broadly hinting they would not be welcome under the new rules. The OLC board only found out when The Melrose started calling for answers. It was a disrespectful action, meant to whip up controversy.

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