Recommendation carves Preston Tower separated to maintain existing commercial office space

The original, decades-old PD-15 documentation is faulted for its lack of clarity. Unfortunately, the new document reflecting city staff’s recommendations has its own issues with clarity (Draft PD and Presentation).  You will recall that last November, Council Member Jennifer Gates sent the second neighborhood committee home after being bogged down a second time by non-negotiable towers’ representatives. During the two ensuing months, city staff were to have created their own recommendations based on their research and experience. Unfortunately, given the output, I suspect work only began after the Christmas wrapping paper was cleared.

First, the document doesn’t stand on its own as an obviously understandable document. Instead, questions abound, requiring significant explanation by city staff at last night’s meeting. Hopefully as the draft tightens, these ambiguities are made clear to future readers.

For those who enjoy spoilers, the city’s recommendations call for the area between northwest Highway and Diamond Head Circle to support 240-foot heights, while from Diamond Head Circle northward to the alley could build to 96 feet in height. Overall, the PD would equalize density at 90 units per acre. The rough result would be 540-750 total units (405-615 new). Why the spread? You’ll have to read to the end.

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Sunday may be a day of rest, but it seems that journalists, politicians, and Twitter never really rest, and that was borne out yesterday when Dallas city councilmember Jennifer Gates took to Twitter to air her feelings about a recent op-ed about Preston Center traffic woes that former Mayor and Preston Hollow resident Laura Miller wrote for the Dallas Morning News.

We were, of course, sitting up for this super straight. Because over at CandysDirt.com, we’ve been writing about Pink Wall/Preston Center shenanigans for years now, and our own Jon Anderson has been doggedly covering the issues Miller wrote about — to a different conclusion, natch — for years now as he covers PD-15. And before he picked up the baton, Candy was writing about it as well. Candy has also been transparent about owning property there, as does Miller (through her husband, Steve Wolens, who inherited an Athena unit) except she was not so transparent. And we were the first media outlet to report the terrible Preston Place condo fire in which a woman lost her life.

Miller wrote in the Dallas Morning News about the prospects for the Pink Wall and Preston Center (and that interchange), and then said this:

“On the other side of Preston Center, council member Jennifer Gates and Plan Commissioner Margot Murphy have been pushing for 18 months to up-zone the 12 acres in and around the Athena and Preston Tower so developers can demolish four low-rise condo complexes and replace them with rental-apartment towers as high as 25 stories. Hal Anderson, who designed and developed the iconic Pink Wall community 60 years ago — one of the last fully owner-occupied, tree-lined, condo communities in Dallas — would be heartbroken.”

And that was news to a lot of people, including Jon (more on that in a minute), who not only lives at The Athena but has been faithfully covering the meetings surrounding the issue for years, and, apparently, to Gates, who took to Twitter to insist she hadn’t taken a position, and in fact had been seeking neighborhood input

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Pink Wall “accountants” using the latest technology

Attention developers! Forget LinkedIn — if you’re looking for accountants and financial analysts anxious to help you avoid monetary missteps, look no further than the PD-15 authorized hearing steering committee. Sure, they’re (very) long in the tooth, but last night’s meeting showcased a half hour of endless financial advice and “deep” research into how precisely PD-15 should be developed to avoid catastrophe.  After decades of unending failure, their assistance would be a comfort, no?

To reiterate, it is not the purview of the committee to make amateur stabs in the dark as to what product a developer should build (except that the buildable envelope is capable of supporting a project of reasonable profitability). It’s not up to the committee to decide the appropriate level of risk, the market timing or whether Dallas is overbuilding. The same way you don’t waltz into an operating room and bump the surgeon out of the way.

So the first half hour and untold amounts of oxygen were essentially wasted. Where was the city’s guiding hand of the last meeting?

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Tower Spacing: Through Thick and Thin, Thick Matters

There’s a bit of a special language being formulated between the Authorized Hearing committee members. For example, when the city facilitator recaps a prior discussion by saying, “We agreed on X,” a committee member or two will pipe up “We didn’t agree on that.”  What they really mean is they didn’t. And since they didn’t agree, there could be no agreement. Everyone believing they’re getting 100 percent out of this is a recipe for nothing ever being decided. Ancient children not wanting to share their toys.

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Sheesh, I can’t leave town for a minute before the woodwork erupts with another in the continuing stream of faulty logic and lies thrown against the Pink Wall to see what sticks. Last week, Athena representative Barbara Dewberry continued the towers’ unending salvo of scare tactics and misinformation targeting the other committee members and city staff.

I’m going to (again) break apart the distortions contained in her email (her words in bold, mine plain text) …

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One of the main criticisms for Pink Wall redevelopment is the fear (real or imagined) that the traffic that results from increased PD-15 density will overwhelm the neighborhood. But does it have to?

With a little creative reimagining, I think increased density could be virtually unnoticeable on the Pink Wall’s interior roads. I sense the same sneers of disbelief produced by reading studies that show traffic along Northwest Highway and Preston Road has been decreasing for nearly 20 years.

Let me explain.

The graphic above shows PD-15 (light yellow) and the major interior streets north of Northwest Highway. There is currently a traffic signal at Pickwick Lane and Northwest Highway. On the western end, the first signaled intersection is at Thackery (off the map). Edgemere Road is not signaled.

Any rejigging of the traffic pattern has to address fears and offer a solution.

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While meeting three didn’t see anything hurled through the air, that doesn’t mean all’s been quiet in the neighborhood. But you know me, I’ve saved the best juice for last.  The meeting opened with a review of the second meeting, specifically reviewing people’s thoughts on the various types of multi-family buildings presented in an exercise (here if you missed it).  The meeting also had a special guest star in David Cossum, Director of Sustainable Development and Construction for the city. Before the meat of the meeting a few (important) stray questions were asked.

Kevin Griffeth from Gas Light Manor asked about seeing developer examples and plans. This has been a key grumble from the small group opposed to the authorized hearing process. They claim only by disbanding the authorized hearing and forcing developers to open a zoning case will the neighborhood have any input.  The city stanched that claim by answering “yes” the committee will see and question the developers.

It was asked whether the Plan Commission could override any agreement by the neighborhood for development. The scary answer was “yes” they could make different recommendations to city council. However, Dallas City Council member Jennifer Gates has repeatedly said she will not support any plan that isn’t supported by the neighborhood. I take that as a stalemate that defaults to the committee’s decisions.

Ken Newberry from Royal Orleans asked about the committee’s ability to take economic data into account when creating their recommendations. The answer was a bit more nebulous. The committee can be informed by economic data as they deliberate, but the economics aren’t part of the city’s decision making purview. Newberry summed it up best, “a development plan without economics is just a hallucination.”

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At the end of the meeting, Plan Commissioner Margot Murphy thanked the committee members and audience for sticking with what may be viewed as a tedious process. She said it was like painting where 80 percent was preparation with the 20 percent at the end being when the magic happens.

Murphy was observer and host. The heavy lifting was handled by city staff from the Planning office.

The meeting kicked off with committee members being given an interesting task. They were shown four buildings of varying height and quality and asked to silently write down their gut thoughts on Post-It Notes and affix them to the wall. They were then asked to arrange them all by similar sentiment.

I’ll admit I was steeling myself for much more confrontational messages. Instead the responses were more considered. Albeit a pinch naive.

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