“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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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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PD-15 Map

At Wednesday’s Dallas City Council hearing, the same arguments surrounding the planned development district behind the Pink Wall were shouted, but nothing changed.

If I could sum up the bizarre and illogical nature of the PD-15 opposition to development, it would be when the Athena’s Barbara Dewberry stood up and (again) shouted that the neighborhood doesn’t want green space that will attract outsiders. Making it more worthy of eye-rolling were those who clapped in support (although a few seated in back of me said they welcomed green space in PD-15’s concrete jungle).

Not to be outdone, about a quarter to a third of the audience clapped when council member Jennifer Gates said that if nothing comes from the Authorized Hearing, nothing would be built because what could be built isn’t economically viable.

Of course, before we got to the more brouhaha-y part of the meeting, we listened to an overview of Plan Commission’s approved document and city staff’s rewrite of their rewrite. Even as much as I’ve studied these documents — it was a rough half-hour — I can imagine it sounded like a foreign film without subtitles for most attendees.

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The Dallas Morning News called the District 13 election results a “trounce” by incumbent Jennifer Gates against former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller. And at a commanding 66 percent to 34 percent, who am I to argue?

Delving into the precinct-level numbers, an interesting picture appears. Miller was a one-trick candidate, focusing her campaign on anti-development messaging surrounding Preston Center and the Pink Wall. As you can see in the map above, District 13 is a lot more than Preston Center. The myopathy of Miller’s message wasn’t lost on voters outside the Preston Center orbit. Oh, and constituents really like Gates. By contrast, Miller didn’t even win her own precinct, where neighbors voted for her opponent, two-to-one.

In total, Miller carried just three precincts within District 13 – essentially the Pink Wall and Preston Center along with a tiny precinct out by Marsh Lane and Walnut Hill (although not as tiny as the 16-vote precinct to its right that was one of two reporting a tie).

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At last night’s debate between District 13 Dallas City Council member Jennifer Gates and former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, I fully expected the political point-scoring and backbiting that is politics. What I didn’t expect was the paucity of actual answers to questions. Part of that rests on moderator Tim Rogers for not calling out either candidate for being non-responsive to his questions. Each question was supposed to net both candidates 90 seconds to respond. With such a short time, you’d think they’d get to the meat of an answer. Not really.

Instead, we saw an hour of political brinksmanship with little hard substance from either candidate. One of two things was behind this – either they had no detailed answers, or more likely, those answers were thought to be unpalatable to voters. As you will read, I’m not afraid of unpalatable.

But before I go there, Miller’s opening remarks contained one of the few truthful moments. She described herself as someone of “action” compared to Gates’ “indecision.” While Miller meant this as a dig at Gates, I saw the opposite. Gates’ appearance of indecision comes from her wanting information to help guide a decision. For example, within PD-15,  Gates has spent two years trying to reach a compromise. Only after two committees devolved into factions did she finally ask city staff to come up with something.

Compare that to a quick-to-judge, uncompromising Miller, whom I’ve seen in action on the Preston Center Area Plan committee, the proposed Preston Center skybridge, Highland House, and now PD-15. She’s someone who doesn’t allow new information to cloud her initial judgment. I have the patience for those trying to learn more to get a better result.

In a more visceral display, before the debate, Laura Miller asked me to carry her suitcase to the stage (seen in photo) while Gates glad-handed me as she did many in the room.  To Gates, I was a constituent, to Miller, a lackey, apparently.

Roads are Bad and You Don’t Pay Enough Tax

The topic of roads came up … (more…)

Yesterday, the results of the PD-15 authorized hearing had their first airing with City Plan Commission. Those expecting a knock-down, drag-out were disappointed. Those relishing hypocrisy, dipped in pretension, were not disappointed.

It was explained that because the opposition to the city’s PD-15 draft had paid the fee to postpone the meeting originally scheduled on March 21, the meeting had to take place that day because a postponement sets a clock ticking. Because of that, and the unavailability of the much-awaited traffic study, the CPC hearing was ultimately split into two parts. Traffic issues and more discussion will take place at the June 6 CPC meeting.

CPC chair Gloria Tarpley set out the game plan from the beginning so everyone understood what was being accomplished that day. Zoning cases usually have an applicant (someone wanting to do something) but the authorized hearing didn’t. So the meeting disposed of the usual presentation of whizzy graphs and ambitious drawings. Instead, Tarpley opened it up to public comment for those in support of the city’s recommendation and those opposed.

First up were those in support (myself included – I’m a PD-15 resident). I’m going to call it 10 people who spoke. Their comments can be bucketed into:

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Two weeks ago, District 13 council member Jennifer Staubach Gates debated rival candidate and former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller at a luncheon hosted by the Dallas Builders Association. The event was live-streamed and later posted by CandysDirt.com. About 20 minutes into the recording, the topic of PD-15 was raised. (Planned Development district between Preston Tower and Athena on Northwest Highway).

The proposed updating of the area’s decades-old governing document has been one of two zoning issues at the center of this campaign. In mid-February, I pointed out that Laura Miller’s ownership of an Athena condo would constitute a financial conflict from which she’d have to recuse herself.

At the debate, Gates pointed out the conflict to Miller. Here is Miller’s response:

[The city of Dallas’ ethics code says,] “If you are involved financially in a situation that’s voted on by the Dallas City Council, where you will personally be making money where other people will not be making money but you are personally involved and will make money from it, then you have a financial conflict of interest …

My living in the area plan area and having a rental unit that we bought for my mother-in-law before she passed away has nothing to do with the code of ethics and any financial conflict of interest. I do not have a conflict of interest nor would I be or will I be recusing myself from any vote involving zoning in the area.”

According to Miller’s own words, “you have a financial conflict of interest” if “you will personally be making money where other people will not be making money.” Whether redevelopment is good, bad or indifferent to surrounding property values, that trajectory will be influenced by city hall’s vote.

Steve Long, SMU’s Maguire Chair of Ethics wrote that using Aristotle’s definition of truth, “I’m puzzled by the candidate’s response because it appears to violate this basic tenet of truth-telling.” He continued, “If she is making a profit from a rental unit then her conclusion makes no sense.”

Mayor Mike Rawlings echoes this sentiment, “I think that your assessment of the situation is absolutely correct.” (more from Rawlings further down)

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Development, specifically the Pink Wall’s PD-15 and Saint Michael and All Angels’ plans for Frederick Square, are the crux of the District 13 city council race between incumbent Jennifer Gates and former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller. Sure, there are other nitpicks that include the Preston Center garage swizzled in, but that’s just a sideshow.

On April 18, after two years and two committees of dead-end meetings, the city’s recommendation for PD-15 rolls into City Plan Commission. The towers have arranged buses to take their protestors to City Hall (“Please bring a sack lunch”).  What are the possible outcomes?

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