Last we checked, Mark Cuban was in "no rush to do anything" with the block of five estates he's bought up over the past quarter century behind Ebby Halliday's little white house at Preston and Northwest Highway.
But something's changed in the past eight months. In September, Cuban closed on a sixth property, a 78-year-old home at 8601 Jourdan Way, and workers have recently been tearing down fences, including the one shielding the estates from Northwest Highway, and cutting down trees from the 10-acre block of land Cuban has amassed between Northwest Bible Church and the Ebby house. City of Dallas sanitation workers have spent the past two days hauling away the debris. And a real estate developer named Michael Romo has been meeting with neighbors and city officials in recent days on Cuban's behalf, shopping a new vision for the corner.[jump]
Andrew Sommerman, an attorney who lives next to the Cuban properties, says he met with Romo on Monday.
"There are two homes located in that area," Sommerman says. "Both of them [Romo] says he intends to demolish. The one closest to the bible church [5830 Averill] he intends to demolish within the next 30 to 45 days.
"His plan is to seek a zoning variance and put up office structures."
According to Sommerman, Romo detailed plans for an office high-rise on the west side of the property, with a stouter, two-story office complex planned for the east. The plans also call for putting a stoplight at Northwest Highway and Jourdan Way, a tiny, rutted street midway between Preston and Douglas, intersections that also have stoplights.
Councilwoman Jennifer Gates says Romo briefed her recently on a proposal for a "low-density commercial project" on the corner. She says she discouraged Romo from pursuing the plans, describing the single-family zoning currently in place there as "sacred."
"I don't want to be a mediator between them and a bunch of unhappy neighbors....They know I'm not going to be interested in approving anything at this point," she says.
In a voicemail, Romo said he wouldn't be available to discuss the project until this afternoon but downplayed the recent activity.
"The story is there's no story," he said. "Simply put the neighborhood will not engage in discussions, so there's no story."
Cuban is shopping his plans at an awkward time. Neighbors just shot down two proposed developments, Luke Crosland's Highland House in Preston Center and Transwestern's planned eight-story apartment complex across the street, prompting Gates to put a de facto moratorium on major rezoning cases at Preston and Northwest Highway. (She says she's willing to consider minor changes, including Trammell Crow Holdings' request for a new skybridge to the second story of the parking garage, but nothing that will significantly change land uses.)
This means either that Cuban is putting on a remarkable display of chutzpah simply because he can (always possible with Cuban) or that his hand has been forced (more likely) by the comprehensive Preston/Northwest Highway land-use study Gates is overseeing. Cuban's playing an incredibly long game, having bought his first property in 1988, but unless he can get the corner designated as some type of commercial area in the land-use study, winning the city's approval to turn it into anything profitable will difficult.
He will also have to contend with neighbors like Sommerman, who is one of several well-to-do neighbors who don't want an office tower next door.
"I'm going to fight him in planning and zoning. If I lose there, I'm going to fight him at City Council, if I lose there, I'm going to fight him in court, if I lose there, I'm going to fight him on appeal."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.