2020-2021 PHSNA Board posted October 27, 2019

Members of CARD (Citizens Advocating Responsible Development), the group that was against changes to PD-15, has taken over the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association. The stacked deck appears to be an attempt to gain leverage with a city government that’s moved on.

At the end of the City Council vote on PD-15 redevelopment, University Park resident and Pink Wall eight-plex apartment owner, Steve Dawson, told council they hadn’t seen the last of the protesters. After the unanimous passage of the zoning changes, Dawson told the Dallas Morning News that “they would take the next week or two to consider their legal options,” and that they could “request a legal injunction to stop development from proceeding while the lawsuit was pending.”

According to an excruciatingly detailed email circulating through the neighborhood by Claire Stanard, a former PHSNA board member, Dawson also threatened Council Member Jennifer Gates: “he intended to sue her personally for ethics violations using the power of the three attorneys in his family and planned to get Northwest Parkway blockaded in order to prevent construction equipment from entering, and intended to sue the City over abandoning the Area Plan.”

Stanards’ email continues, “I was also sent a text by Steve Dawson saying that he was upset by the fact that Jennifer Gates had finally done something positive for the neighborhood in agreeing to the opening of Tulane Road to Northwest Highway on Sept. 5 and honoring her commitment to the RPS.” [Note: RPS is Residential Proximity Slope, a city ordinance that controls height near certain residential neighborhoods.)

City Hall sources tell me that Dawson’s years of unending opposition to any form of development have left him little political capital. And yet, at this pivotal time for the Pink Wall, when moving smoothly forward with a functioning conduit to City Hall is crucial, the PHSNA appoints Dawson as its president.

Usually, I’d have said he was elected, but sources say that’s not what happened.

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“And that’s my fear. A city that is more lenient than the neighborhood, resulting in even more being built. Many think of the towers as being an aberration in the neighborhood. They’re not — they’re a harbinger.”

I wrote those words in December 2017 after having resigned from the first PD-15 task force. The quote was near the end of two columns on what I thought would be the best solution for PD-15. With the issue unanimously passing Dallas City Council last week, let’s revisit those columns.

Residential Proximity Slope

The first part outlined the rationale of my thinking. Rereading it, it still holds water. I said the rest of the Pink Wall outside PD-15 was unlikely to redevelop due to ancient deed restrictions and the height limitations brought about by the Residential Proximity Slope (RPS).

The deed restrictions are particularly tricky.

Pink Wall Neighborhood – Preston Road on left, Northwest Highway on bottom

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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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I’ve written about new developments in the Oak Lawn and Preston Hollow areas for a few years. Many of you have read about the PD-15 antics with the same hoary relish you watch a reality show. But as Dallas grows, and development reaches into more neighborhoods, there are lessons to be learned once you cut through the caustic tomfoolery.

By-Right vs. Zoning Cases

There are two kinds of developments – by-right and those requiring a zoning case. In a by-right situation, there’s not a lot you can do, it’s as it says on the tin, by right. A building permit is filed and they’re off to the races.

Construction requiring a zoning case is where the action is at. Whether large or small, any variance to a property’s underlying zoning requires the approval of that exception. Those cases are filed at City Hall and are then publicized in the immediate neighborhood – typically within 500 feet of the edges of the property filing the case. Those cases are taken up by and require approval from the City Plan Commission and the City Council. Between all that is the community wooing.

And if you’re going to be wooed by developers, there are some things you should know.

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Good, clean design. Something Dallas sees little of.

A thought has been percolating in my head recently. Having seen more than a few development proposals while stumbling around town for CandysDirt.com, developers always show the same thing: The perfect intersection of mediocrity and profitability.  It’s almost always higher than neighbors want, takes up more space than neighbors want, and is a density increase neighbors don’t want.  And it’s all wrapped in what I’ll gently call a ho-hum exterior.

I get it, you’re presenting an economic wet dream to squeeze the most profit from the least work.

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If you forgot Dallas’ torrential weekend rains, Monday’s return certainly brought those memories … flooding back.

What’s up with that?  It’s not like rain is something new to Dallas.  Sure, depending on whether your beliefs are fact- or fiction-based, climate change may be making rains heavier, but we’ve always had deluge-type rain (when we’re not in drought).

So why does this city flood like it’s never seen a drop of water? Why do we have to repeat, “turn around, don’t drown” and mean it when the water is coming up to the running board of the SUV? There are many reasons, some just mother nature, some brought on by neglect and — shocker — our city’s indifference to infrastructure.

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Bosco 2

Milan, Italy’s award-winning Bosco Verticale homes. Magnificence not seen in Dallas architecture.

Shortly after the deadly March 4 Preston Place fire, I wrote about several options for redevelopment within current restrictions. To recap, Preston Place is within the Planned Development District 15 (PD-15) that is subject to its own development limitations, outside city zoning.

The PD-15 documents were most recently updated to reflect the added units for an unbuilt high-rise on the Preston Place plot in the 1970’s era. Today, it’s those additional 80 units that are available to any lot within PD-15 to increase density, so long as they do not exceed 52.4 “dwelling units” per acre.

After that column ran, one commenter said they’d heard the Preston Place owners were already discussing rebuilding. My answer was that sure, they may rebuild, but it won’t be brick-for-brick the same building. Opening that can of worms with 60 separate owners will result in change. “As long as we’re starting from scratch…” will be the opening of many conversations.

Also, several readers questioned what could happen if a developer went to the neighborhood and city to change the PD-15 documents for expanded growth…and was successful.

A lot.

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