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…)

Packed House at Park Cities Baptist Church

If you’ve been following along in your prayer books, you know that over a year ago the Preston Place condos burned. You may also know about the failed attempt at negotiating an area redevelopment plan. I’ll even toss in bonus points if you’re aware of the Athena and Preston Tower working with former mayor Laura Miller to stymie everything.

All caught up?  Good …

Last night, Dallas City Council member Jennifer Gates assembled the neighborhood to discuss the history and next steps in the process. What was a surprise to most was that the authorized hearing, first mentioned last summer as having a two or three year waiting list, had been bumped up in the schedule and was beginning immediately. Gates made available applications for representatives on the authorized hearing committee.

But I get ahead of myself.

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In Part One, I explained how I’d put my thoughts into an envelope to be opened once the PD-15 process was complete. However, my surprise resignation opened the envelope to share now.  In that first column, I faced the hard truth of the economic viability of redevelopment and how the buildings that might be built within zoning were not profitable for buyers or sellers. I also touched on the aging demographic the area attracts and their less likely bent towards renovation and the ability to play catchup on years of deferred maintenance in some complexes. Finally, I wrote about how in real dollars, the past 15 years have been a wash (punctuated by Recession-driven ups and downs). If you missed Part One, catch up here.

The overall endpoint being that if the area wants to attract new buyers for the long-term (not just because Dallas is skint of housing), who have the money and willpower to uplift the area, PD-15 is the last hope.

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With the two antagonists from the last meeting otherwise engaged, last night’s PD-15 meeting went smoother and accomplished more than the prior meeting’s tit, tat, and tut-tutting.  Tiff-free it wasn’t, but patience, we’ll get there …

In a change of pace, the meeting was run by council member Jennifer Gates and while she mostly missed the prior meeting, she was able to guide us through a discussion sprouting from some discussion points provided by the absent Scott Polikov.  I think most felt the group accomplished more agreement and offered more of a civilized Q&A session between the members. The added clarity was welcome.

I almost groaned as we headed to the Preston Road area plan yet again, but thankfully we swiftly agreed its recommendations could guide but not limit our work … and essentially avoided being pulled into the vortex of its (in my opinion) flawed assumptions (stay tuned for that breakdown tomorrow – shameless plug).

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What makes PD-15’s gyrations different from many other upzoning cases is that there is no blueprint to follow.  The Toll Brothers building in Oak Lawn largely fits within its MF-3 zoning. Sure, some complain whether MF-3 is appropriate for the area, but it’s there. Other projects have MF-2 and want to move beyond those controls. But PD-15 has none of that to act as starting point.  The PD documents essentially state a total number of units in the PD that is derived by the number of units per acre. There’s also a bit on parking and interior street right of ways. But that’s pretty much it.

If you’re talking about traditional city zoning, there are categories for setbacks, density (units per acre and size of units), height, lot coverage, primary uses and any special standards (like a minimum lot size or proximity slopes).  Proximity slopes protect neighboring buildings from being too close to radically taller structures by forcing them to literally step back from those neighbors (think of stair steps back).

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PD-15, slightly east of Preston Road bounded by Northwest Highway, Pickwick Lane, Baltimore Drive and an alley.

Last night marked the first meeting of the newly-formed PD-15 task force, begun as a result of development pressures within the area of the Pink Wall known as PD-15. It went as most initial meetings do, trying to find its feet. The task force members from surrounding buildings were brought together by Dallas City Councilwoman Jennifer Gates and assisted by her plan commissioner Margot Murphy.

It began with a review of what had brought us there, namely the pressure to redevelop the fire-ruined Preston Place and the Diplomat.  The two are unconnected except in current timing with the Diplomat having worked on a potential sale for over a year prior to the March fire at Preston Place. Given that two out of the four buildings within PD-15 are in play, it’s safe to assume developers’ wagons are circling the rest.

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