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Walking on the Moon: Is the Economy or Something Else Delaying Development on 42 Acres at Walnut Hill and Central Expressway?

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Last week, we noted that Icon Partners' dream to erect a Lil' Manhattan at the intersection of the Dallas North Tollway and LBJ Freeway is all but dead, buried beneath $18 million in debt. Which reminded us of another spectacular-spectacular heralded several months before the so-called Icon Midtown announcement: Provident Reality Group's The Glen at Preston Hollow, a mixed-use European crossroads at Walnut Hill Lane and N. Central Expressway that was supposed to be completed by 2010. Instead, it's one of the city's most infamous moonscapes -- nothing more than barren, seemingly abandoned 42-acre lot.

In '04, Provident Realty bought the site, upon which sat an apartment complex, a gas station and a strip mall that housed, among other things, a Gymboree and the Sample House. All of that was razed about two years ago to make room for "a sophisticated, euro-urban sensibility that deliberately co-mingles retail, restaurant and office space with residential living," reads the press release. Houses were to range in price from $795,000 to $1,300,000; and among the star attractions was a three-acre green space that would serve as a so-called central park.

Although the developers spent years working with nearby residents, shuffling through hundreds of designs and reworking the project's vision, only some underground utility work has been completed. Marie Fahey, a spokesperson for Provident, tells Unfair Park via e-mail that Provident no longer expects to meet the 2010 deadline -- in fact, they don't have any idea when the thing will be started, much less finished, due, of course, to the unpredictability of the real estate market and lending community.

Which means, for now, conversations with "prospective tenants and financial institutions" regarding "financing solutions during this very challenging period in the real estate market," as Fahey puts it in her e-mail. Then, studying "a wide variety of alternative designs that may be considered in the future." In other words, The Glen at Preston Hollow is still very much on the dark side of the moon.

The delay comes after two years of negotiations and discussions with a joint task force consisting of three nearby neighborhood associations: the Meadows, Glen Lakes and Windsor Park. In its most recent update, from February, the Meadows Neighborhood Association's higher-ups told residents that Provident "continues to insist it needs more zoning flexibility" to complete the project. The association had its suspicions why: "At this stage it appears that PRA is unable to commit to what it will build and they are merely seeking maximum entitlement rights to increase the value of the land for potential buyers."

Four months later, John Baker, former president of the Meadows Neighborhood Association, still believes that's the case.

"The economy has affected the start of these projects, but I think the intent was to give a portion of the property to a private developer [to] let somebody else, I think, build those houses," he tells Unfair Park. "Leave it to somebody who is, I guess, more an expert, has more expertise in the field. Build houses, make money, market them. The developers want to build the shopping part of things."

When asked whether Provident will need further rezoning to finally move on the project, Fahey, Provident's spokesperson, says the company has worked on "numerous site plans in the recent months that do not require any zoning changes from the currently approved zoning for the site." However, she says, "some adjustments ... are possibly going to be requested."

Mari Henry -- the vice president for business development at WDG Architecture, which is designing the project's master plan -- says that WDG has been working with the community to perfect the plans. But when asked if the surrounding neighborhoods are aware of  the delays, she says, "I don't know...I'm not the one having those conversations. .. Anybody reading the paper or listening to the news knows that the economy is affecting everything."

According to Fahey, WDG's master plans are subject to change. Although "no decisions have been made relating to design changes," she says, the slow market is decidedly raising questions about "the viability of the current project site plan." Interestingly, Provident lists among its "recent acquisitions" 25 acres near the "NE quadrant of Josey Ln. and LBJ Freeway along frontage road," where the plan is to transform a stagnant area into a hot spot for business and retail at the Farmers Branch gateway. The project is supposed to be done this year, which also seems highly unlikely.

But there has been one good thing to come from the desolation at Walnut Hill and Central, in the shadow of the now-former AIG building across the expressway. Ever since the demolition of the apartment complex, residents say the area has been quieter, with far fewer instances of crime. Crimes associated with graffiti, for instance, have "come to an abrupt halt," says John Baker. Then, it's always quiet on the moon.

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