A good start, but where’s the rest?

Streetlights Residential is trying to redevelop the corner of Oak Lawn and Lemmon Avenues where a Shell gas station and a Pizza Hut sits next to the original Eatzi’s. Their first go-around was a blah building that didn’t have a lot going for it.

The second visit saw a much improved Oak Lawn Avenue frontage that reimagines the original Melrose Theater that once sat on the site. It was after that meeting when I spoke to StreetLights that I congratulated them on the new façade but wanted the same care taken with the rest of the 240-foot apartment tower. They said they were working on it. At last night’s third visit, they hadn’t moved a brick since last time – which is disappointing.

To review, StreetLights’ plan is for a 240-foot “T-shaped” tower containing 297 apartments with ground-floor retail space along Oak Lawn Avenue. They’ve visited the Oak Lawn Committee in May and June.

After last month’s meeting I wrote, “In my book, there are four things that still need working out. First, the already-mentioned 7-story garage. Second, the skin of the building above the new façade still needs help. Third, the orientation of the parking lot entry from Eatzi’s needs to be aligned with the road. And fourth, a bit more explanation on traffic flow for deliveries, moving vans, etc.”

The 75-foot tall podium parking garage is untouched. The skin above the façade is unchanged. The parking garage orientation is unchanged, but they did show traffic flow for deliveries – simply adding pathway arrows to existing illustrations. One question came about whether large semi-trucks can make the corner from Oak Lawn Avenue onto the alley entrance to serve Eatzi’s. StreetLights’ answer was they’d have to look into the turn radius. (In one hysterical moment, StreetLights doubted whether that large of a truck was used – then an audience member pointed out you could see the trucks in their own pictures. Oops!)

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After a show-and-tell session about the history of the lot adjacent to Eatzi’s, StreetLights Residential came back to the Oak Lawn Committee with a better plan.

For those who need a reminder about why the Oak Lawn Committee is critical to the neighborhood’s integrity, last night’s meeting was a case in point.

Last month, StreetLights Residential brought a proposal for the corner of Oak Lawn and Lemmon Avenues next to the flagship/original Eatzi’s. You may remember I called the building’s design “unfortunate” and “poor company” to its surroundings. Things have changed.

After last month’s meeting, I had a chance to sit down with Greg Coutant, the director of development for StreetLights, and share my thoughts and concerns. We talked about the movie theater originally on the plot. I also brought along a book covering a century of high-rise residential design and played show-and-tell. They listened.

StreetLights went back to the movie theater’s archive (housed in the Dallas Public Library) for inspiration from the original 1931 theater. Now the Oak Lawn Avenue façade looks like an update on that original theater – complete with sign and marquee. It creates a visual connection to the Melrose Hotel. It also begins to heal the wound this parcel has represented to the neighborhood since the theater was torn down in 1985. I was impressed with the work so far.

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Who stands to benefit if District 14’s Philip Kingston is ousted?

I used the above graphic when reporting Lincoln Property’s Katy Trail project failed to pass Dallas City Council in January (after failing City Plan Commission). It was a portend that I thought the arrogance shown by the developer throughout the process hadn’t ended. I’d heard the contract between Lincoln and the Turtle Creek Terrace condos had expired and not been renewed. I’d also heard that it hadn’t been canceled either and that the property was still actively looking to sell.

Just as District 13’s election revolved around development, it appears the District 14 runoff may have some of that same razzle-dazzle.

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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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While I’m not an Oak Lawn Committee member and can’t speak, I am certainly free to roll my eyes. Last month, a proposed apartment building on the former Old Warsaw restaurant site showed up at OLC seeking support for an “adjustment” to their alley buffer requirement of 10 feet. They didn’t get it and so they returned last night with more paper shuffling – literal paper shuffling.

The answer to their quest is painfully simple. Design a building that fits within the parameters of your zoning or file a zoning case. This mealy approach of hitting up the Board of Adjustments to backdoor your way out of a full zoning case is a “poor door” to city planning. Kairoi Residential seemingly didn’t want the closer scrutiny of the OLC on their entire project. I say that because more than one question about the overall project was brushed off with “we’ll meet the PD-193 requirements” – never exceed.

And so it went, everything was the bare minimum. As I pointed out last time, certainly the design is bare minimum.

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Crescent Court

Editor’s note: Jon Anderson is a columnist for CandysDirt.com. His opinions are his own.

It was with sadness that I saw the proposed development slated for the old Old Warsaw restaurant lot on Maple Avenue across from the Crescent Court. My sadness increased when I realized Kairoi Residential wasn’t visiting the Oak Lawn Committee to vet the building itself, but rather for a “landscape special exception.”

Architects and builders tell me that the exterior of the building is pretty easy to change in the grand scheme of things.  While it has no impact on the interior leasable space, it has a tremendous impact on everyone who walks and drives by.

Given the existing and announced components of the four-corner intersection, constructing what appears to be a low-slung chair of “blah” is an opportunity wasted.

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Across Cedar Springs Road from the Ritz-Carlton and the McKinney & Olive buildings sits a half-acre, triangular parcel anchored by Pizza Hut and Comet Cleaners in a shopworn building. Last night, the Oak Lawn Committee saw renderings for an 18-story “lifestyle” hotel crowned by a restaurant, pool, and check-in desk.  Yes, the check-in desk will be in the top floor offering a cool experience I’ve seen in Mandarin Oriental hotels in New York City and Las Vegas (since renamed).

The unnamed hotel brand at 2025 Cedar Springs Road will house guests in 230 rooms and suites with a minimum of meeting rooms. This is important because the tiny lot would make large spaces less practical not only due to space, but the ability to supply parking for large meetings and events. As it is, parking needs for the small plot, will be housed in three and a half underground levels. Large meeting or banquet functions would require a much deeper parking hole.

Today, the site is easy to identify in the middle of a rapidly rising Uptown. The 2011 Cedar Springs condos appear to be directly behind the building, but in reality, the proposed building does a good job of folding away from their windows – something the condo owners should appreciate.

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City Council took up the long in the tooth Lincoln Katy Trail project at Wednesday’s evening meeting after failing City Plan Commission in November. In an attempt to sweeten the deal to an affordable housing-hungry city council, Lincoln raised their affordable component from five percent to 15 percent (from 15 to 45 units). And many council members, including Mayor Mike Rawlings took the bait.

Mayor Rawlings was so obviously hot to pass this project, he literally asked Oak Lawn District 14 Council Member Philip Kingston if he would support the deal if Lincoln purchased a home for a blind woman living in the complex referenced by Kingston. Others wanted to know what affordable percentage would cause Kingston to support the project.

“It’s math,” they said. Why yes, it is …

The council couldn’t (or wouldn’t) figure out that the existing complex contains 115 market-rate affordable housing units. Raising the affordable housing giveback to 15 percent still leaves the neighborhood with 70 fewer affordable units. They also ignore the positive self-esteem of being able to rent or purchase a market rate affordable home versus having to qualify through an invasive application process to prove you’re poor enough.

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