New buildings set between the towers

Tonight’s Dallas City Plan Commission meeting had a surprise ending for naysayers bent on limiting heights in PD-15.

I have to give the neighbors credit for successfully coming together to put forward a plan to maximize green space in the area. Developers also upended the city’s recommended PD-15 changes with a bold plan to deliver on those neighbors’ request by offering 35 to 45 percent of open space between a combined Royal Orleans and Preston Place. The catch? A new tower on Northwest Highway would hit 310 feet in height, slightly less than Preston Tower. (I was agog when I saw this option gaining support.)

In exchange for that height, the neighborhood will gain the aforementioned green space plus 100 percent underground parking for residents and guests (limited above ground for delivery and prospective tenants). The kicker to the height is that they want fewer units than the city’s proposed plan calls for with its affordable housing and green space sweeteners (120 units per acre versus 125 with all the sweeteners).

The proposal that drove the Plan Commission’s decision is shown above. It will contain 360 units. Given all the cubic footage of the project, the units will have to be very large. It will be part of a semi-connected set of projects punctuated by connected greenspace. The building’s commanding views of downtown and North Dallas will be equal to the rents or selling prices charged.  Yes, selling prices. Seeing the size of the building and the number of units, the resulting oversized units almost beg for condos – if not immediately, then converted at a later date. This is something the neighborhood has long wished for.

Contrary to the naysayers, a development such as this will resuscitate the Pink Wall in a way smaller buildings would be hard pressed to match. I believe once the dust has settled, the values and desirability of the area will quickly increase, bringing in new money to revive and restore the remaining walk-up buildings. It’s what a signature development can do. (Of course, this still has to pass Dallas City Council.)

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At last night’s Oak Lawn Committee meeting, Streetlights Residential had a lot of explaining to do in regards to the design of their planned tower at Lemmon and Oak Lawn avenues.

If you’re in a Google satellite, the building on the lower right is the proposed 21-story apartment building. It would supplant the Shell station and Pizza Hut, and would be next to Eatzi’s (which is also sorta part of the plan).

For those without long memories, this is the parcel of land that empowered the neighborhood to set out the Oak Lawn Plan and PD-193 that is rigorously overseen by the Oak Lawn Committee. On this lot once stood the Esquire Theater, built in 1931 as the Melrose Theater. Lore says the reason “Esquire” was chosen in the renaming is that it had the same number of letters and would fit on the marquee. The theater would have turned 88 this year had Lincoln Property not demolished it in February 1985, in the middle of the night (also according to lore). The demolition catalyzed the neighborhood. So as things go, this is sort of hallowed ground in Oak Lawn.

Thus, when Streetlights Residential presented their proposal for this long-neglected corner, questions naturally arose about the building’s unfortunate exterior. More than one OLC member asked why Streetlights wasn’t going all out for a “signature” building on such a highly trafficked corner.

The response was that the exterior was still being worked on. Good. Thus far, it appears to be poor company to other high-rises seen in their picture, and the many other well-done projects Streetlights is known for.

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Preston Center

Back in 2016, I took St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church to task on a bunch of things. The biggest being that while their representative was sitting silent on the Preston Center Task Force they were secretly negotiating with developers to plonk a 250,000 square foot office building on Douglas Avenue. After that scathing take-down, I was surprised when they reached out to me to review their new and improved plans for the site.

You’ve likely read the press release in the DMN from Sept. 6, but I wanted to sit down and get some additional detail. I met with the church’s team fairly quickly, so this delayed column is my fault (busy, busy).

The press release piqued my snark when I noted that in the scant two-page release the Preston Center Area Plan was mentioned eight times … eight … times. When I sat down with the team, it was one of the first things I said … eight times? Their spin was that it showed their commitment. I told them it raised my suspicion meter that there was something to hide. They were surprised at my reaction assuring me there was no hiding … but eight times.

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Lincoln’s same old-same old project. Look closely to see indented garage entrance.

I wonder if this project should be renamed Beetlejuice. It seems like Lincoln believes that by showing the same unpopular plan over and over, neighborhood approval will suddenly appear. Lincoln representative Angela Hunt whizzed through an incomplete deck of slides in record time.  I say incomplete because one Oak Lawn Committee member had the original presentation from many moons ago and wondered where all the pages had gone … you know, the detail.  Hunt said she left those pages out for brevity.

It was an excuse echoed by Lincoln’s Jeff Courtwright.  In this case he was responding to a query about why Lincoln had ignored the very specific data requested months ago concerning how shade would fall across neighboring buildings.  This time Courtwright said he made the decision not to provide what was asked for but instead give them only what he wanted.  You’ll recall, I called Lincoln out for ignoring requests, essentially disrespecting the neighbors.  Of course the reason it was ignored was because the result was bad.  I’ll even go out on a limb and say some computer whiz ran the data and saw it was bad, so it was buried.

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After a blistering first meeting with the Oak Lawn Committee (OLC) back in September, Provident returned Tuesday night with a radically different plan at McKinney and Hester Avenues.  While short on specifics, I suspect Masterplan painted in broad strokes just to see if they were on the right track. Based on the original design language, it’s still not going to win any awards, but when was the last time Dallas won an architectural award? Perhaps Rotten Tomatoes needs to expand their repertoire?

On the upside, there is a whole lot less of it. September’s 14-story, super-dense monstrosity has been pared back to just five stories. That’s about 100 feet shorter. The number of apartments dropped in line with the height haircut, down from 350 to 195 with average unit size increasing from 950 square feet to 995. Parking needs diminished from four awful above-ground levels to one full underground and one half level above ground – which will be concealed behind ground-floor apartments.

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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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Were the architects colluding with the Russians on this design?

Are you a good news first kind of person, or do you want the needle before the lollipop?  Heck, I’m jetlagged and feeling woozy, so let’s go with the needle. (From the picture above, you guessed that, right?)  

At last night’s Oak Lawn Committee meeting, there were a trio of projects presented by Masterplan for various clients.  One client appeared to have not gotten the memo and showed up, shall we say, inappropriately attired.

You know what I mean.  You send invitations for an evening boat ride with big letters, “slacks, rubber-sole shoes, and bring a coat because it gets chilly when the sun goes down.” And invariably, someone shows up in 6-inch stilettos, a mini-skirt, and a tube top, who an hour and chattering teeth later, scams a coat from some chivalrous doofus.

The proposal for an apartment building at McKinney and Hester avenues (north of Knox Street) was full-on heels, skirt, and bare midriff, however the OLC didn’t offer Masterplan’s Dallas Cothrum a coat. And in truth, he knew it would be cold. This wasn’t his first cruise on the lake.

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After a session going well past 5 p.m. last Thursday, the City Plan Commission finally heard the case for Toll Brothers’ desired residential high-rise at the corner of Welborn Street and Congress Avenue. In the end, there were fewer fireworks than most expected.

Dallas Cothrum from Masterplan set out Toll Brothers’ case. In a nutshell, it was “here’s the bad high-rise we could build within zoning” … “here’s what a shorter, equally dense building looks like” … “here’s the better high-rise resulting from work with the neighborhood and Oak Lawn Committee.”  In numbers, they could have built over 400 units within zoning, now they’re wanting 271 units.

And as is the CPC way, the opposition spoke first …

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