What is the future of Preston Center? A better question might be, when is the future of Preston Center?
That’s the dilemma that has two developers at odds with vocal residents from both the Park Cities and Preston Hollow over a pair of luxury-apartment developments that both sides agree could start a trend in the area surrounding the venerable retail development.
Crosland Group hopes to secure approval from the city of Dallas for Highland House, a 22-story project on a 0.5-acre site in the 8200 block of Westchester Drive that would replace an aging three-story medical building. Next up is Transwestern, which has submitted plans for a complex on the northeast corner of Preston Road and Northwest Highway that would reach as high as six stories at its peak.
Both developers say they’re trying to meet a need for luxury apartments in the area from baby boomers and empty-nesters looking to downsize. Each has met with concerned local residents and city officials multiple times, and has scaled back their plans as a result.
Yet the opposition has continued to grow, with former Dallas mayor Laura Miller, who owns a house in nearby Bluffview, joining the battle along with high-powered attorney Lisa Blue Baron and former Dallas City Council member Mitchell Rasansky.
Miller said that while the locals welcome new development at both locations, the specific projects are too high and too dense, and would create issues with traffic and property values in a congested area.
“I think this whole thing presents a good opportunity for everyone to work together to improve the future of Preston Center,” Miller said. “Change is coming, for sure. Everybody knows that. But it would be nice to have some parameters.”
Highland House looking up
Crosland Group’s original proposal would have made Highland House the king of the Preston Center skyline at 29 stories. Now, it’s been lowered to 22 as a concession to concerned neighbors, but the desire to make a statement remains.
“This project is big. To put enough people in the building to have an impact, you have to make it big,” said Rick Williamson, Crosland executive vice president of development. “This is upscale, and it’s supposed to make an impression. People pay for a view.”
The plan calls for a maximum of 210 units over 16 stories, with a parking garage that would consume six levels both above and below ground. Apartments would average about 1,300 square feet, with rental rates of $4,000 to $5,000 per month and numerous amenities.
Anything over nine stories at that site requires rezoning approval, which led to a public hearing in front of the Dallas Plan Commission this spring. Approval of the project has been delayed in favor of a land-use study for the area that likely won't be completed until this fall.
“The current traffic is a complete nightmare,” Miller said. “The people want a better solution.”
Crosland contracted with the DeShazo Group, a Dallas consulting firm, on a traffic study that concluded the Highland House project would have a positive impact on traffic in the area compared to the existing medical complex, even if perceptions suggest otherwise.
“We’ve got as much of a stake in Preston Center as anybody,” said Crosland chairman and CEO Luke Crosland, whose company is based in an office tower only a few blocks from the proposed site.
The site is located within Highland Park ISD, which already is dealing with overcrowded campuses. The school district has not taken a stance on the project. However, Williamson said Crosland is not marketing the complex to families with school-age children.
Williamson said the company ultimately wants to help change the image of Preston Center.
“This is an incredible mixed-use development. The one thing it’s missing is a residential element,” Williamson said. “This is built for people in these neighborhoods. It gives them a place to downsize and still have all the amenities they’re used to. This is the start of the retooling of Preston Center into what we think it could be.”
Building behind the pink wall
The Transwestern case doesn’t yet have a date for rezoning consideration by the plan commission, but the company’s most recent plans have seen the original eight-story proposal cut to six stories and the total number of units reduced from 296 to about 220. Current zoning at the site calls for three stories and density of no more than 120 units.
“It’s a really important corner. We want it to present an appropriate entrance into Preston Hollow,” said Mark Culwell, Transwestern managing director for multifamily development. “It’s preserving the character of the neighborhood.”
Culwell said Transwestern’s $80 million project calls for underground parking with controlled access, ample landscaping and open space, and no exterior balconies on the side facing the adjacent townhouses.
The average apartment size would be about 1,400 square feet, according to Culwell, with rental rates starting at $2,500. There would be no efficiency units smaller than 1,000 square feet, and 60 percent coverage on the 3.5-acre lot.
Such a complex would join only a few significant multifamily developments on the north side of Northwest Highway, west of Hillcrest Road, since the 1980s.
“We don’t understand why they can’t develop a high quality project at that corner that keeps with what current zoning would allow,” said Ashley Parks, president of the Preston Hollow East Homeowners Association. “You can do luxury apartments at three stories. To say that you can’t have luxury unless you go up higher, I don’t think is accurate at all.”
However, Culwell said that if such apartments don’t become part of the landscape in the area soon, it might prompt a continued migration to the suburbs, where luxury mixed-use developments are more common.
“Over time, demands change and preferences change. A city has to continue to reinvent itself,” Culwell said. “We’re just trying to respond to the demand.”
Miller and her neighbors understand the need to bring Preston Hollow into the 21st century. After all, development there has been sparse since the creation of the Preston Center Special Purpose District in 1989.
But she suggested that before a precedent is set with the approval of a single project, perhaps a grander plan could be established — something that would create guidelines to account for traffic and infrastructure concerns.
Miller said concerns about both proposals have helped to galvanize local residents and business owners. An online petition opposing the Transwestern complex has garnered more than 1,500 supporters.
“It’s a really tight-knit community. It’s great that we have so many people who want to get involved and help shape the neighborhood,” Parks said. “We are supportive of development at that location, but it needs to be thoughtfully done with regard to what’s currently in the neighborhood.”
Miller, who has kept a low political profile since her second mayoral term ended in 2007, admits she was hesitant to become involved. But she said both proposals should be delayed at least until city leaders have a chance to look at some larger issues.
“They provide a wake-up call to the businesses and the residents in the Preston Center area,” Miller said. “What does this area want to be, and what makes sense?”
This story appears in the July issue of Park Cities People. Print Correction: The number of stories for Highland House and Transwestern were inverted in the chart that ran in print. It has been corrected in this version.