Dallas City Council chambers were not as packed as expected on Sept. 11, 2019, as PD-15 came up on the agenda.

  • Dallas City Council unanimously passed city staff’s plan for PD-15, which compromised on height, topping out at 240 feet.
  • Some small changes were made to the plan.

The general wisdom is that any city council vote requiring a supermajority due to opposition will be a nail-biter. And while certainly many a nail was chewed to the quick, it was all for naught. After blissfully little speech-a-fying on both sides, Dallas City Council voted unanimously to pass city staff’s sorta plan for 240-foot heights on Northwest Highway – instead of the full cherry-on-top 310-foot heights Plan Commission had passed one vote shy of unanimously.

Will this result in affordable housing? Unlikely. And that’s a pity.

Councilmember Jennifer Gates listed a slew of minor tinkers to the staff recommendation that I’ll have to get to later (I can’t write as fast as she can rattle off). But generally, it’s 240-feet across Northwest Highway and 96-feet behind. Assuming a 10-foot ceiling height, that’s essentially 21-stories and eight-stories.

While some in the neighborhood might say it’s too much, I will say it’s a heck of a lot less than was proposed decades ago. And it’s a bit sad to live in a future that’s less bold than yesterday.

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Armed with scant facts and heavy hyperbole, hired hand Brett Shipp held a “press conference” next to Preston Tower Wednesday morning to bemoan the PD-15 zoning case that will finally land in the hands of the Dallas City Council (for better or worse) on September 11.

Around 50 to 60 people attended. As Robert Wilonsky dubbed them, “the party of no,” consisted of the same handful of people including Bill Kritzer, Carla Percival-Young, and Steve Dawson — all of whom you will see featured in any other press coverage. But not all were there to protest development. I stood with a dozen who supported the city’s recommendations.

Those against the restructuring of PD-15, which includes much of the neighborhoods behind the Pink Wall at Preston Road and Northwest Highway, also continued their upwards march on how opposed the area is to the city’s plan. We’ve seen 60 percent, then 70, now we’re up to 80 percent opposition. The funny thing is, their numbers aren’t swelling. With that much opposition, “the party of no” this morning would have swelled to hundreds, but it hasn’t.

And of course, this press conference was choreographed …

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preston center

PD-15 Map

In 1963, the RCA Victor Company, which manufactured televisions, ran an advertising campaign with the slogan “The Gift That Keeps On Giving.” The neighborhood adjacent to Preston Center —PD-15, where one might actually still find an RCA Victor TV today, is a lot like that old ad.

PD-15 is the neighborhood behind the Pink Wall at Northwest Highway and Preston Road where a condo fire almost three years ago killed one resident and left hundreds homeless (not to mention a charred hulk of concrete over a basement parking garage).  

I received word on Sunday that CARD (Citizens Advocating Responsible Development), non-profit association that is not happy with the way zoning changes proposed for PD-15,  has hired former WFAA investigative reporter and congressional-candidate-turned-media-consultant Brett Shipp as their spokesperson. Or, as Brett told me, “to fight out of control, irresponsible development” at Preston Place.

CARD says it is a “grass-roots force to stop development change,” claiming Dallas City Hall is not listening. As always, I add this disclaimer: I own a unit in this area, and I do have a dog in this hunt. That is one reason why our columnist, Jon Anderson, who recently sold a unit at The Athena, has been covering so much of this case from the days when Transwestern first bought Townhouse Row and an apartment complex on the very corner of Preston and Northwest Highway.

Brett Shipp told me Sunday he is taking on the cause and is planning a presser. And there’s more…

Preston Place fire, where the fire eventually spread to the chimney stack and stairwell left of the blaze.

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Maybe. Brett Shipp over at Channel 8 has this cool video of Nasher’s proposed, computerized external louver system that would “open and close, cascading down the outside of the building, dulling the sun’s harshest rays.”

“Our goal was not to detract from this building,” del Monte said. “Our goal was how can we respect it, and even make it a little more interesting.”

The concept was taken from the Hegau Tower in Singen, Germany. A close look at video obtained exclusively for News 8 shows louvers lowering, and the new look it gives the building, from the outside and the inside.

Interesting, but MT folks say it’s not so simple — there are wind gusts to figure out, and if one of those louvers was caught up by a major gust could it crash into the existing glass and destroy the facade of the building, not to mention injure someone? We do have tort reform in Texas, but you can get away with a lot more liability overseas than you can in the sue-happy U.S. of A.

I am just glad that these engineers and architects are thinking through all this, including the consequences.

Meantime, the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund, owners of Museum Tower, will offer their own solution today, they say. Which will give us all in real estate something to be thankful for.

Meantime, Dallas art critic Willard Spiegelman wrote one of the best, most balanced pieces on this issue yet for yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. I wonder, however, why the WSJ did not choose to put it in the new Mansion section on Fridays. In any case, Spiegelman’s piece reflects exactly what I’ve heard every time this convo has come up in intelligent company: an impossible situation. Some people think Piano Renzo, who designed the Nasher and those brilliant light oculi, and Nasher officials are pulling an “I was here first!” tantrum and refuse to change the direction of those light louvres or move exhibits or otherwise alter the Nasher to allow a peaceful co-existence. Did they really think nothing would ever be built next door?

Others blame the Museum Tower folks, the owners, particularly those who decided to make it taller than 22 stories, and did not use glass of no more than 15% reflectivity in order to protect the grounds and interior spaces of the museum. Why were they not more thoughtful of their neighbors?

You see, something happened between 2005 when the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System first stepped in and 2010: the greatest recession since the Great Depression. And here we are today:

Only 15 of the 126 apartments (priced at $1.3 million to $4.5 million, not including the $20 million penthouse) have sold. Some potential local buyers may have been scared away because they don’t want to suffer criticism that they are helping to damage the very arts district that appealed to them in the first place. A spokesman for the tower claims that once it is occupied the building will generate $9 million annually in tax revenues for the city of Dallas. But no one knows when that may happen.

Was it greed or the the quirks of economics that made the building bigger, taller, and more reflective? Will BOTH SIDES have to give in a little? Maybe there’s a Twinkie solution! I don’t know, but it is nice to see some balanced reporting on the subject.