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A new high-rise could come to the affluent Preston Hollow neighborhood in North Dallas under a plan tentatively approved Thursday.
Over the objections of some neighbors who believe traffic will worsen on and around Northwest Highway, the City Plan Commission overwhelmingly approved a zoning plan that would effectively double the number of condominium units allowed on the 14-acre parcel, where a three-story condo building burned down two years ago.
The rezoning plan still needs full council approval.
The case has been one of the most contentious in the city in recent years. The parcel is part of Planned Development District 15, known as PD-15 — an area next to some of the most expensive homes in Dallas.
The zoning battle had also prompted former Mayor Laura Miller to challenge incumbent three-term City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates this spring. Miller carried precincts around PD-15, but lost to Gates by a 2-to-1 margin. She did not attend the hearing Thursday and did not respond to a request for comment.
Before the vote, commissioners said the rezoning plan was right for the area.
“Clearly, change is hard,” said Margot Murphy, Gates’ appointee to the plan commission. “The goal is maintaining a great neighborhood.”
The prime real estate in question serves as a buffer zone of sorts between the Preston Center shopping complex to the south and Preston Hollow single-family homes. The city’s proposal capped the height of new buildings at 240 feet along Northwest Highway and restricted the slope down to 96 feet adjacent to the single-family neighborhood to the north.
But a friendly amendment from Murphy, which commissioners supported, would allow for a height of up to 310 feet in exchange for a percentage of mixed-income units.
A concrete slab, all that remains of Preston Place Condominiums, which was destroyed by a fire, is seen in at 6225 West Northwest Highway on Friday, March 8, 2019, in Dallas.
The extra height could also come in exchange for added amenities, including an underground parking requirement and more green space.
"I support this because I think it’s going to make this area beautiful," Commissioner Pete Schulte said.
City staff had recommended increasing the density in the area to make the site, where Preston Place Condominiums burned down in March 2017, more economically viable for developers.
The case had previously come to the commission April 18, but commissioners decided they needed more time for staff and interested parties to review a traffic study.
City councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates, left, and Laura Miller, who were candidates for City Council District 13, participated in a debate at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas, Monday, April 22, 2019.
On May 20, the city received that traffic study, which was commissioned by the Preston Place Condominium Association — a group made up of the condo owners whose units burned down two years ago. That group has supported the city rezoning plan.
The study indicated that traffic in the PD-15 area would rise more than 70 percent if the zoning was 90 units per acre. And traffic would double if the zoning was 125 units per acre.
Opponents to the city proposal said the traffic study wasn’t comprehensive enough and believed traffic would be even worse than the document described, particularly on cut-through streets.
David Nevarez, the city’s senior transportation engineer, said he saw no reason to challenge the veracity and scope of the report. He added that the city will require another more detailed traffic study once a developer offers a specific proposed project.
“I certainly understand their concerns,” Nevarez said of opponents. “I gotta say, this is the first traffic study that I see as part of an authorized hearing. … It is a comprehensive study.”
The opponents to the city’s proposal had pushed instead to hold fast to an “area plan” approved by the council two years ago — weeks before the fire — that called for keeping redevelopment projects to a maximum of four stories to restrict density and traffic.
Steve Dawson told commissioners they ought to reject the rezoning because neighbors overwhelmingly opposed it.
Commissioner Michael Jung said he respects area plans but said he did not believe such plans are “holy writ.” The urban design elements, particularly the incentives for more open space, are important improvements, Jung said.
But Jung ended up voting against the plan after Bill Kritzer, a resident of Preston Tower for 10 years, said the city broke a “golden rule” by violating the residential proximity slope — a slope from the ground used to determine height caps — with the increased height limits.
Kritzer said he was “very disappointed” by the commissioners’ decision Thursday.
“I believe that, for the most part, they don’t know what they just passed,” he said. “Just as a citizen, I have no idea what they’ve done.”
Gloria Tarpley, the commission’s chair, told the opponents of the proposal they “have been listened to.”
“Much thought has gone into this,” Tarpley said. “We have really tried very hard to put ourselves in the shoes of each one of you. All of you have mattered in this process.”