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 meeting regarding PD-15 at Preston Road and Northwest Highway, it appeared that those opposed to redevelopment of the area are also opposed to facts.

When the author of a recent traffic study showed how the PD-15 traffic study was conducted and its conclusions, his reward was being peppered by non-believers in return. Color me shocked.

Last night, Steve Stoner, Director of Traffic Engineering with Pacheco Koch Consulting Engineers, presented his findings on traffic in and around PD-15 to 30-40 residents. Stoner holds a master’s degree in civil engineering and is an accredited Texas Professional Engineer (P.E.) and Professional Traffic Operations Engineer (P.T.O.E). He has been in the field for 25 years. Suffice it to say this ain’t his first traffic rodeo.

And yet, as predicted, the group of unqualified attendees (likely reading any traffic study for the first time) who disagree with redevelopment in PD-15, questioned his “veracity,” methods, and conclusions. We live in an age where facts are only facts if they support your worldview. Contradictory facts must be questioned to revalidate preconceptions – as happened last night.

There were also insinuations that his conclusions were beholden to those who paid his fee. Of course, those doing the insinuating have yet to fund their own traffic study. It’s easier and less risky to dump on someone else’s work.

Some were surprised that the traffic study wasn’t the all-encompassing, baton-twirling report with a cherry on top they’d thought it would be. That’s fair, if you’ve not seen a traffic study, you have no frame of reference on what they deliver.

The results reviewed by Stoner mirrored what I wrote previously (unsurprising since I was giving a book report on his findings). You can read them here.

But there was more to this meeting than a book report.

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If traffic is the major argument against redevelopment in PD-15, a new study could render it moot.

The traffic study, conducted by Pacheco Koch and funded by the Preston Place condos, was posted online Tuesday and makes for interesting reading. The map above shows the study area bounded by Preston Road, Northwest Highway, Walnut Hill, and Hillcrest Road. It goes well beyond just PD-15 which should be good news for the surrounding Pink Wall and Preston Hollow neighborhoods.

The report itself is 120 pages long with two 15-page sub-reports on the potential of adding traffic signals to either Edgemere Road or Tulane Boulevard at Northwest Highway. Skimpy it ain’t (so I’ll excuse you to read the first 19 pages).

What makes this report different from other traffic studies I’ve read is that it includes extensive thought and recommendations on how things currently work and could work in the future. While I’m open to nearly all its findings, I have an issue with their thoughts on opening Tulane Boulevard. But I get ahead of myself, let’s start with the traffic numbers before we visit how to shuffle it around.

Looking back to the comments from an April 24 column I wrote, a reader asked what I thought the traffic impact would be.  I answered my best armchair estimation saying we needed to wait until the professionals delivered their goods.

How’d I do?

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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…)

If traffic and density are supposedly the issues most feared by PD-15 development, we need an accurate measuring stick to insert reality into the discussion. The coming traffic study will do that, but …

In the fullness of time, I started to think about one of the tidbits from last week’s PD-15 meeting with City Plan Commission. As I reported, the chief opposition speaker was Carla Percival-Young, an architect with Alabama-based GMC and an Athena resident. She was asked if a coming traffic study revealed negligible effects on the neighborhood, would the opposition have a re-think.  The answer was no because they disagreed with every aspect of the proposed updated PD-15 draft. Later she was asked what she thought was a fair number of units per acre. After hesitation, she replied 60 units per acre compared to the draft’s recommendation of 90 units per acre – 30 units less per acre.

Some things began to gnaw at me.

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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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Note: the Dallas City Plan Commission Public Hearing for PD-15 is scheduled for Thursday, April 18

This is the real story of the Pink Wall – a little pocket of Preston Hollow tucked between two of the highest net worth zip codes in the country. It is one of the few places where women of means at some point, who suddenly find themselves with a drastically limited bank account, can live with some dignity. And safety. For years it has been the answer to the need for affordable housing skirting the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

Sometime in the 1990’s we moved my mother “Behind the Pink Wall”, into her unit at The Seville on Averill Way. My mother had moved to Dallas in her seventies to be closer to my children, to help in my husband’s medical practice (she had managed medical practices in suburban Chicago) and to escape the bitter midwestern cold. Her first home when she moved here was a townhome off Knoll Trail Drive I found while taking the kids to Toys R Us: it was being leased by the bank holding the note, brand new, bright and cheerful.

It was also seven miles away from our home.

We wanted her to be closer, especially as she aged. We lived in Old Preston Hollow at the time and the only proximite multi-family living was Behind the Pink Wall. That is why I jumped on the two bedroom, two bath first floor unit at The Seville: it was about a mile from our home on Park Lane. We could walk to her house!

I will never forget sitting with her as she closed on the only property she had ever owned “sole” by herself. My parents had been married for 42 years before they divorced, and like most women of her Depression-era generation, men handled every penny. As we turned each page after her signature, she’d whisper to me, “are you sure I’m not going to lose everything?”

When she died in 2003, I left the condo exactly as it was for months, hoping she’d walk in the door. It remains in our family as an investment property, and has always been leased by retirees, most of them single women. My mother loved living Behind the Pink Wall.

Thank God she is not here to see it turn into a Senior Slum.

I met a Realtor a few weeks ago who is moving into an apartment down the street from mine: her husband supported her with the Highland Park good life until he decided her best friend was more exciting in the boudoir. She is a woman needing a place to live with two school-aged kids as she stitches a life back together. All up and down Bandera, Averill Way, Pickwick, Edgemere are neat, tidy little homes, 1950’s and ’60’s apartments converted to condos, decorated to the hilt with furniture and antiques moved from some of the toniest addresses in town. Come dusk they walk their dogs, doting on them, chatting with neighbors, accepting the lot life has thrust their way.

But all that changed with the fire. (more…)