The morning after the Preston Place fire, the extent of the damage was revealed to be catastrophic.

By Kevin McMahon
Guest Contributor

Recently, guest writer Barbara Dewberry expressed her opposition to the City Plan Commission’s proposal for updated zoning for PD-15. I would like the opportunity to offer a counterpoint and speak to the merits of the proposal. But first, I should state something up front some may consider relevant.

I am a former resident of Preston Place.

I lived there about four years. Our unit was the first home purchase my wife and I made, and we undertook a major renovation when we moved in, doing much of the work ourselves on nights and weekends. We aren’t real estate flippers. We had no intention of buying and selling and moving on to the next project. Instead, we put a lot of care and detail into our unit because we planned to call it home for many years. And then one Friday night, we watched with our then-5-year-old son as a fire indifferently consumed all that hard work.

Now two and a half years later, I see another destructive force at work in the neighborhood. It takes the form of hyperbole and fear of change which form the basis of much of the opposition to CPC’s proposal. Ms. Dewberry’s arguments are this hyperbole at work. (more…)

preston center

PD-15 Map

In 1963, the RCA Victor Company, which manufactured televisions, ran an advertising campaign with the slogan “The Gift That Keeps On Giving.” The neighborhood adjacent to Preston Center —PD-15, where one might actually still find an RCA Victor TV today, is a lot like that old ad.

PD-15 is the neighborhood behind the Pink Wall at Northwest Highway and Preston Road where a condo fire almost three years ago killed one resident and left hundreds homeless (not to mention a charred hulk of concrete over a basement parking garage).  

I received word on Sunday that CARD (Citizens Advocating Responsible Development), non-profit association that is not happy with the way zoning changes proposed for PD-15,  has hired former WFAA investigative reporter and congressional-candidate-turned-media-consultant Brett Shipp as their spokesperson. Or, as Brett told me, “to fight out of control, irresponsible development” at Preston Place.

CARD says it is a “grass-roots force to stop development change,” claiming Dallas City Hall is not listening. As always, I add this disclaimer: I own a unit in this area, and I do have a dog in this hunt. That is one reason why our columnist, Jon Anderson, who recently sold a unit at The Athena, has been covering so much of this case from the days when Transwestern first bought Townhouse Row and an apartment complex on the very corner of Preston and Northwest Highway.

Brett Shipp told me Sunday he is taking on the cause and is planning a presser. And there’s more…

Preston Place fire, where the fire eventually spread to the chimney stack and stairwell left of the blaze.

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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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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…)

[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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Reimagined Diplomat (with author’s suggestion of a green roof)

The highlight of last night’s PD-15 meeting was seeing the developer proposals for both the Diplomat and Preston Place by A.G. Spanos and Provident Realty, respectively. No slam on city planners, but somehow platting, drainage, and residential proximity slopes don’t hold the same ooo-ah as drawings.

To give a few spoilers, A.G. Spanos’ plans for the Diplomat were much more baked than those presented by Provident for Preston Place. Where Spanos was showing the actual skin of their proposed building, Provident showed a stack of grey boxes resembling the Centrum on Oak Lawn Avenue and Cedar Springs Road. No skin, no windows, no life — a first date who shows up wearing a tent wanting to know if they look fat.

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Example of seven-story building construction and density options

A.G. Spanos has released a second, more thorough economic analysis of the feasibility of redeveloping Pink Wall parcels within the confines of the Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan (PRNHAP). Spanos has a contingent contract to redevelop the Diplomat condos within PD-15 and has financed both viability studies. While Spanos has obvious motives, any economic data supplied is certainly more than the economic nothingness contained within the $350,000 PRNHAP study. How the city adopted that Santa’s lap of a plan, containing no financial underpinnings, still astounds.

You’ll recall that in October 2017, my rough calculations exposed the then 10-month old PRNHAP as economically bogus. That was followed up in January 2018 by Spanos’ first report developed by architects Looney Ricks Kiss that backed-up my findings. Namely that the recommendations contained within the PRNHAP study’s “Zone 4” are not viable to build. This latest study offers more detailed and dire details for the PD-15 area (download here).

To be clear, “not economically viable” means that a condo unit would sell for more money as a condo than as developable land. To sell under those conditions would equate to owners taking a loss on their home. In many cases it’s good when land is worth some fraction of a structure. It helps with neighborhood stabilization, curbing gentrification, etc.

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Updated: PD-15 Authorized Hearing Committee members

UPDATE: In the immortal words of the Miss America pageant, “If for any reason Miss America is unable to fulfill her duties…” Astute readers will see that Preston Tower representative Mary Schulte has bowed out and been replaced by Robert Bowling.

Yesterday afternoon, the people selected to be part of the PD-15 authorized hearing committee were posted. Kudos to council member Jennifer Gates for keeping her promise to exclude those opposed to the authorized hearing process, who would likely seek to sabotage the proceedings from within.

You will note that the towers have two representatives on the committee. This was done in recognition of the land mass of PD-15. Roughly the towers and the four low-rises each sit on six acres and and so there are four representatives for each camp. This makes for an interesting group. Within the PD, neither side can outvote the other, so collaboration will be required. Also, the three “wild card” members from Preston Hollow East Homeowners Association and two neighboring buildings are just that, wild cards. How will they feel about the various development plans and options?  I think the pulse of the group will be taken in the first few meetings. (more…)