Get ready for Round 3 in the ongoing -- and possibly never-ending -- bout between Laura Miller and would-be Preston Road/Northwest Highway developers. A few months after helping neighbors kill two proposed apartment developments near the intersection, Miller is limbering up to fight Crow Holdings' plan to build a pedestrian skybridge from the two-story parking garage in Preston Center to a planned 50,000-square-foot Tom Thumb.
Crow doesn't need the city's blessing to put in the Tom Thumb; the zoning for that came with the building, the former Sanger-Harris department store at Westchester Drive and Berkshire Lane, that the company purchased last December. But the skybridge -- which, sources say, is a prerequisite for Tom Thumb signing a lease -- is a different matter. Crow representatives will appear before the City Plan Commission next Thursday to ask for a specific use permit.
See also: The Battle for Preston Hollow's Soul
City staff is recommending approval. "It is anticipated this additional infrastructure will facilitate a safe and efficient means of allowing patrons who utilize the garage to traverse across the street in a safe and efficient manner, as well as ensuring vehicular movements are not impacted by the proposed grocery store (allowed by right)," they write in zoning documents. And have no fear about the span's aesthetics and safety; staff notes that Crow will be required to comply with no fewer than 19 provisions of Dallas' code that apply specifically to skybridges.
Miller says she isn't against a skybridge in Preston Center per se. She was merely under the impression that the de facto Preston/Northwest Highway zoning moratorium put in place earlier this year by City Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates was supposed to forestall major changes to Preston Center pending the completion of a master plan for the area.
"She very clearly stated to all of us there that she did not support any further changes in Preston Center for the zoning process until the master plan is complete," Miller says, referencing an October 30 community meeting Gates held at University Park United Methodist Church.
Gates' position is more nuanced than that. When I asked her about the skybridge in October, some time before the community meeting, she said she wasn't going to automatically oppose all zoning changes during the master plan process, just those that include a significant change in land use, like switching a retail or office building to apartments or increasing residential density. Less dramatic zoning changes she said she'd be open to considering.
Today, she said much the same thing. The master-plan process is going to last two years. Inevitably, some property owner is going to request a specific use permit or a minor amendment to a planned development district. So long as they don't want to fundamentally reshape Preston Center, she's not going to try to shut them down.
"Everybody has the right to file [a zoning case]. I'm not going to stop them from filing. What I really don't want to do is have anything approved that will at all change or impede the study itself."
Miller is worried that the skybridge will do exactly that. She calls the parking garage the "beating heart of Preston Center West" and thinks the skybridge could permanently affect it's rhythm. The second floor of the garage, which is shared by the dozens of businesses surrounding it, would effectively be reserved for Tom Thumb shoppers. City staff estimates the grocer would add about 9,000 car trips per day to the area. More important, she thinks allowing the skybridge will prevent the desperately needed expansion and/or reimagining of the garage (developer Luke Crosland still wants to build a hotel there) the master plan could eventually recommend. If approved, the permit for the skybridge would be good for 40 years. "I don't typically find if city allows you to build a skybridge over a city road that it ever disappears," Miller says.
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Gates said she and her Plan Commissioner, Margot Murphy, are taking a close look at the proposal. If she determines that it will effectively prevent the future redevelopment of the garage, as Miller fears, Gates says she will oppose it.
Miller wants to be sure she does. She' drafting a letter she plans to send to Gates this afternoon and expects to be at Thursday's Plan Commission hearing, where she will be joined by many of the same faces who, a few months ago, stood with her in opposition to the the two apartment deals. Should be a good show.
This post has been updated with responses from Jennifer Staubach Gates
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.