by Jon Anderson
I’ll cut to the chase (shocking, right?). Of the speakers last night that held opinions about the prospect of development, I counted 10 that were making positive comments and five were negative. There were a couple whose position I wasn’t sure of because their comments were more “don’t forget about X, Y or Z” – perhaps they’re the “undecided” voters?
Not too shabby. The same cast were in each camp with the area low-rises being positive to the process while residents from Preston Tower and the complexes on Bandera being negative. Like politics these days, actual facts don’t shift the world views of people who “just know they’re right.”
Those seeking positive change had many of the same messages on quality, permanence, uplifting the neighborhood, and equity, punctuated by admissions that the low-rise buildings, at 50-plus years old, were simply pooped out. Of course they pointed out that the economics of the situation make increasing density a necessity (unless impoverishing the whole area is a goal).
But beyond economics, increased density done right can make the neighborhood more vibrant, benefiting all. D Magazine recently dedicated a special issue to “Dallas and the New Urbanism” and I read every word. In fact, the city should send one to every home and force citizens to pass a test. It’s that good.
A pair of speakers from the Diamond Head Condos said the word that must not be said. They said that whatever density and height everyone else gets (including a high-rise), they should get too. The word they shouldn’t have said? Height. While I believe there will be equity in density, there isn’t a snowball’s chance of a high-rise going up across the street from Athena, nor do I think the city would approve one. It would be mutually assured destruction. Spanos isn’t getting a high-rise (and isn’t asking for one) and I’d bet Provident won’t get height on their northern section either. Height isn’t winnable, density is.
The Two Faces of Laurel
The Laurel continues to do double duty being almost unanimously disliked in one breath while being held up as the paragon of future development in PD-15. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t demand setbacks, underground parking, green space, and walkability and hold up the Laurel that gives the neighborhood precious little except underground parking (that one speaker was already complaining about moments later). The neighborhood squeezed every penny out of the deal in exchange for lower height.
John Pritchett, president of the Preston Hollow South Neighborhood Association continues to point out that if the Laurel could be built at four stories, so can Preston Place and the Diplomat. Here’s the thing. Two financial analyses say it can’t. Also, the Laurel’s land price was last negotiated in 2016. My PD-15 building has seen a dramatic increase in average unit selling prices per square foot since 2016. These last two-ish years are the only time the building has been in the black in pure dollars in the past 15 years. I’m assuming other neighboring buildings have also seen prices rise quickly in recent years (our tax bills sure have). So no, the Laurel doesn’t prove four-story construction is economically viable today.
IBM a better investment than Pink Wall real estate?
That 15 year study on my building’s selling prices? Adjusted for inflation, average selling prices are almost identical in 2002 and 2018. Put in perspective, had that buyer invested the same money in IBM, they’d be sitting on an inflation adjusted $56 per share, instead of a Pink Wall goose egg. Smart development will bring real property appreciation to the neighborhood.
Pritchett said that it was false that former Dallas mayor Laura Miller hijacked the Preston Center Area Plan. I’ll say this: People who were in the room when her private meetings were held told me I was absolutely right. City staff and the consultants have told me they were not invited to the closed door sessions. Oh, and I was at the public meeting, sitting in back of Miller, when she announced she and the committee would rewrite the consultants’ report and deliver it back to Council Member Gates. If not a hijack, then what?
He spoke about the monies spent, consultant-created reports created and such. Well, none of it made it into the main part of the report, whatever scant information the consultants provided can only been seen in the appendix. None of the major recommendations on density, increasing residential in Preston Center or the Pink Wall made it into the main report.
Lastly, let’s talk money. If it’s to be believed that the Provident contract was for $18 million and that it intended 220 units (versus the bloated vision they showed), that’s $81,818 in land costs per constructed unit. Extrapolating that down to the 60 units Preston Place could build by right, that equates to $2.45 million per acre. Not only does that impoverish Preston Place owners, but the resulting building would impact area-wide values.
One speaker noted that were either Athena or Preston Tower destroyed, they’d not adhere to the Preston Center Area Plan either. She’s right. At $2.5 million per acre, each Athena unit would be valued at approximately $35,000 while Preston Tower residents and business owners would reap a pitiful $27,700 on average. They’d be whining bloody murder, and yet it’s fine for everyone else to adhere to the plan they pray to.
On The Upside
After the meeting, one high-rise resident commented that seeing Spanos’ proposed project during the prior meeting had alleviated a lot of fears (while Provident’s proposal heightened many). What that person didn’t seem to know is that last year Spanos presented their project in a closed door session with the Athena and Preston Tower representatives and volunteered to present to the towers’ residents. Both towers refused their request.
A few seemingly innocent comments focused on items, like traffic planning, the committee simply hadn’t addressed yet. There was continued scoffing at studies showing that traffic on Preston Road and Northwest Highway has been decreasing for years. During the Preston Center Area Plan meetings, I wrote about the data presented …
Preston Road and Northwest Highway Traffic DECREASING?
The imagined current state of traffic on side streets wasn’t the only figment. Turns out much to everyone’s surprise (certainly mine), actual traffic on Preston Road and Northwest Highway has been decreasing … since 2001! There was a big dip during the recession, but it’s pretty much returned to pre-recession levels which are lower than 2001. In fact, according to Patrick Kennedy, a partner at the urban design and planning firm Space.Between.Design.Studio, when comparing traffic on Northwest Highway just west of the Tollway from 2004 to 2013 traffic decreased by 17 percent! Using another metric, Northwest Highway traffic at Preston Center has vacillated between 52-57,000 cars per day for eighteen years … in spite of the fact that the City of Dallas’ population has grown by hundreds of thousands of residents during this time (over 151,000, or 6.4 percent growth in Dallas County since 2010 alone).
Who’d a thunk?
Turns out that this mythology that traffic must be getting worse over time, is just that, mythology.
Finally, one Preston Tower resident blamed Council Member Jennifer Gates for giving away money earmarked for fixing area flooding. Memory is a bitch, but Gates wasn’t in office during that bond program. Her predecessor secured the funds but didn’t spend them at the Pink Wall because that plan required University Park to help and they refused.
Finally (really), in between meetings, a PowerPoint presentation was distributed calling on the committee to adhere to the Preston Center plan while also wanting underground parking, large setbacks, and the usual green space. For the last time (probably not), an expensive wish list doesn’t get done with no money in the deal.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email email@example.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.
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