Group Aims to Shape Preston Center’s Future

It might not be quite so much fun, but members of the task force charged with steering future development around Preston Center are partying like it’s 1989.

That year is when the city of Dallas adopted recommendations from the Preston Center Area Transition Study, which focused on new zoning regulations in the area in response to new city zoning codes.

As part of that study, recommendations included a comprehensive traffic study for Preston Center every five years. In addition, the second level of the city-owned public parking garage in the aging retail center would be reserved for employees of the surrounding businesses.

But no traffic studies were ever commissioned. And nobody followed through on enforcement of the suggested parking guidelines.

Flash forward 26 years, and the 13 members of the Northwest Highway and Preston Road Area Plan Task Force are discussing — you guessed it — what to do about traffic and the parking garage.

“I don’t know why it didn’t happen. That’s disconcerting,” said Dallas council member Jennifer Gates, who is leading the development of the area plan. “But we don’t need to point fingers. We need to come together and move forward.”

The task force includes residents and business leaders from Preston Center and the surrounding areas. Their basic goal during the next several months is to develop a vision to shape the future of the area.

Their most recent meeting was held in front of an overflow crowd at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, just down the hall from where famed author Fannie Flagg was signing books. And it was quite a page-turner.

Here are some of the other highlights:

  • The skybridge proposed by Crow Holdings to link the second floor of a retail building to the top level of the garage, in order to lure a Tom Thumb supermarket to the space, is still a very contentious issue. Task-force members seem split on the idea, just like the members of the Dallas Plan Commission, who gave the concept their endorsement by a narrow 7-6 vote in March. A council vote on the special-use permit likely will be set for early June.
  • TxDOT will begin construction next year on its project to install additional left-turn lanes in both directions from Northwest Highway on to Preston. The effort will narrow the medians and involve an upgrade and replacement of the current traffic signals. It will be similar to the fledgling project at the intersection of Preston and Royal Lane, hopefully with much better execution.
  • Since no city funds are being used for the study, Gates is still soliciting $100,000 from the community to supplement the $250,000 already put forth by the North Central Texas Council of Governments. That would help to hire a consultant and cover other fees.

The task force is planning to have several more meetings focused on land use and traffic flow during the next several months, at least three of which will incorporate large community forums.

“All of these concerns about traffic and parking that have not been addressed for 30 years need to be addressed by this group,” said former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, who represents one neighborhood on the task force. “I think we can do it. We’re desperate to find solutions to make this area more livable.”

evolution of an eyesore

The 800-space, bi-level parking garage in the middle of the Preston Center development has been considered both an enhancement and a deterrent to the surrounding properties, depending upon who you ask. It certainly has an intriguing history.

Dallas acquired the land that now contains the garage through a quitclaim deed, allowing the city to license the parking lot. But the surrounding merchants retained their access rights.

A parking study was commissioned by 15 property owners in Preston Center to determine the quantity and use of available parking and suggest solutions. Among the recommendations was a re-striping of the top level for employee parking and stricter enforcement of two-hour limits.

The Preston Center Special Area Study came during a time of heavy office development as the city implemented a new zoning code. It examined traffic impact and devised a management plan that was never implemented, including another push to limit second-level parking to employees.

In an effort to sell the property, the city sued to see if it could be developed with another use without the approval of all of the surrounding property owners. But a judge ruled that the land must only be used for sidewalks, streets, and parking. The city still owns the garage, but is not responsible for maintenance.

One property owner, Crow Holdings, filed a request for a special-use permit to allow for a skybridge connecting the second level of the garage to a specific retail building on the west side of the complex. The case has not yet been considered by the Dallas City Council.

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