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

While Thursday’s meeting fell short of the usual fireworks PD-15 brings about, the City Plan Commission asked some great questions regarding city staff’s proposed changes to PD-15.

In the lead-up to City Plan Commission’s public hearing on staff’s proposal for updating PD-15, staff briefed plan commissioners Thursday morning at Vital. Groups. Knee. Senior Planner Andrew Ruegg, who’s led the process so far, presented essentially the same slides as were shown to the community two weeks ago.

What the few who went to the meeting were most interested in were the questions and comments from the other commissioners. I give a “Hallelujah!” to CPC chair Gloria Tarpley for commenting that the 3-D images shown of the proposed changes would have been welcome at other cases. How the city can be devising “words on paper” documents reflecting 3-D realities without 3-D models has always been a mystery. It should be ante to the game.

The first questions were from District 11 appointee Janie Schultz. First, she was curious whether the requirement for a street lamp every 50-feet was adequate. While boilerplate, staff said they’d look into it. Schultz’ second question concerned the affordable housing sweeteners and whether anyone would use them. The suspicion is that along the northern side they will be unlikely to be used, while on the Northwest Highway side they may if the developer wants to get near tapping any height. It kind of goes to what I’ve been saying that if the buildable envelope doesn’t grow, it’s just cannibalizing market-rate units for affordable units.

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The attempt to get a Plan Commission re-vote on the Lincoln Katy Trail project has spectacularly failed. As reported on Dec. 4, Christopher Lewis, Plan Commissioner appointed by District 8 Council Member Tennell Atkins, filed paperwork to get the project reconsidered after it initially failed CPC on Nov. 15.

Today’s CPC session brought up the motion to reconsider with District 10 appointee Tipton Housewright seconding the motion. Almost immediately, Commissioner Deborah Carpenter motioned for discussion to be halted and a vote to re-vote simply held. That motion didn’t pass, which I’m sure caused a few white knuckles (including mine).

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Lincoln Property’s Lincoln Katy Trail project failed to gain support from City Plan Commission. However, mimicking the Oak Lawn Committee’s own waffling, Plan Commission’s vote was tighter than it might have been had the OLC been more crisp and decisive in its own votes on this project.

Several Plan Commissioners voiced concerns about the OLC’s role in moving goal posts as Lincoln representative Angela Hunt claimed. One example given of “post moving” was the opposition’s desire for the building to be split in three sections instead of the two they got. Several Plan Commissioners and Commission Chair Gloria Tarpley said this was the first time they’d heard about the three-building desire. However when Lincoln first showed the original building broken in two last month, I checked the tape from the July CPC meeting and Vine condo representative Amanda Popken listed a three-building split as one of the desires. So no post-moving on this issue.

Commissioner Margot Murphy expressed the sentiment that view corridors are not protected. While I’d agree with that for construction of by-right projects, I don’t when view encroachment is the result of doubling the allowable zoning height. Zoning has to stand for something.

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News comes to us that Lincoln Property’s bid for Oak Lawn Committee (OLC) support for their revised plan has failed. You may recall the Lincoln Katy Trail project was essentially told last month by enough Plan Commissioners return to the OLC before returning to the City Plan Commission (CPC). Sources tell me that the OLC vote was five short. This is a backwards slide for the project, which had previously enjoyed the support of the long-standing neighborhood group by a single vote.

What happens next?

So far, Lincoln is due to return to Plan Commission tomorrow to pitch this revised plan. I’m hearing that this is still the plan even without OLC support. It will be very interesting to see how CPC plays this. As I’ve written, it’s been decades since a plan unsupported by the OLC has succeeded in passing CPC – and that plan (for Victory Park) required mayoral intervention – something I don’t see happening here.

Should CPC pass this plan, it severely hurts OLC and disempowers a neighborhood comprising Oak Lawn, Uptown, West Village, and Knox. I can’t believe the city would do this.  It would encourage developers to do less for the neighborhood, banking on CPC overturning any OLC denial of support.

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Lincoln Katy Trail divided the building. Too bad it’s 75 feet of concrete instead of green space.

Lincoln Property has done some work to change their Lincoln Katy Trail project. Arguably, these changes should have been the result of the first thumbs-down from the Oak Lawn Committee (OLC) well over a year ago. Instead they come much, much later and only after having exhausted their ability to cram the project through the Oak Lawn Committee and the neighborhood before hitting a Plan Commission brick wall. This project continues to be a manifestation of hubris.

Since Plan Commission kicked the project in August, there have been changes. For example, the single, unending block-long building has been split in two.  The Katy Trail no longer faces a fire lane and the ass-end of an underground exposed parking garage and loading dock. The trail also gets a proper entry from the property to engage residents.

But the question remains – Should a 307-unit, 70-foot-tall building (not counting above ground parking garage) comprising 80 percent one-bedroom units, now with 70 percent lot coverage, rear setbacks cut in half to 15 feet, and 600,000 square feet – giving back a miserly 15 affordable units – be allowed to blowout existing MF-2 zoning? That zoning limits a building to 36 feet in height, 60 percent lot coverage, and wider setbacks. It’s also worth remembering the current complex contains 115 market-rate affordable units in a rapidly unaffordable part of Dallas. More troubling still is that this case will be used as precedent for future encroachments into this still affordable area.

Of note, city staff’s recommendation when evaluating the neighborhood and factoring in the affordable units is for 230 units – 77 fewer than Lincoln is asking for, which is “a 152 percent increase, or deviation, in the current allowable density.” Staff also recommends shaving the project to five stories or a 60-foot height limit, calling 70 feet a “detrimental effect” for the Vine Condos on Carlisle. Sixty feet would restrict but not eliminate privacy and views of existing neighbors who comply with the MF-2 zoning.

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With luck, this is the last time we will see this rendering of Lincoln Property’s Lincoln Katy Trail project. Rewinding the clock, in February, the project passed Oak Lawn Committee by a single contentious vote after multiple unsuccessful trips seeking support. This scant win was followed in July by a disastrous City Plan Commission meeting where no commissioner would second a motion my Philip Kingston’s District 14 representative Paul Ridley – and several calling for Lincoln to return with a better plan. After that meeting I saw the city filing of neighborhood support and saw that aside from those cashing out and moving on, not a single entity was in support of the project.

In the ensuing weeks, Lincoln managed to get a letter of support from the Friends of the Katy Trail (more on that later).   However, a meeting last week at the Mayfair condos for its residents plus those of the Vendome and the Claridge resulted in no change of heart from the opposed buildings.

Couple all this with a fierce, largely unsuccessful lobbying campaign around City Hall, and even Lincoln had to finally read the writing on the wall.

At the CPC meeting, Lincoln’s chief opponent stated that there was a way for a redesigned building to move forward. I wondered why, when they were given an out, did they seem too arrogant to take it?

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Two very different Oak Lawn projects hit CPC Thursday night

It’s difficult being (unpaid) on the City Plan Commission. It’s 9 p.m. and they broke for 10 minutes for a bite to eat before plowing through on another case. Following the lot replatting cases and a West Dallas mobile home park, two Oak Lawn Committee cases hit the horseshoe about the time most of you were solidly into Happy Hour.

The other difficulty must be the variety of cases you see in a given session – anything from a palace to a “solid waste disposal” project. It must be a roller coaster bouncing from the cool to the banal of city planning. In this case, the roller coaster included the well-liked 2727 Turtle Creek mixed use development and the contentious Lincoln Katy Trail project.

It’s also got to be frustrating when every protester seems to say, “I’m not opposed to development, but …”

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