Lake Highlands podcast: The Lake Highlands MUD edition

Should it be called the Lake Highlands Town Center or the Lake Highlands Mixed-Use District (which, as Back Talk blog readers have already pointed out, would be the Lake Highlands MUD)? A consultant hired by the City of Dallas has proposed the latter, and we discuss that critique along with others on today’s podcast.

Another consultant critique was that the Town Center streets should be ripped up and redesigned. The money spent on those streets is eligible for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) reimbursement, and last week the Skillman Corridor TIF Board approved a change that would make Lake Highlands Town Center developer Prescott Realty eligible for $40 million in tax dollar reimbursements, $17 million more than the original $23 million approved. TIF dollars are usually reimbursed over time as a development increases a property’s value and, thereby, its city tax revenues. However, in the case of the Town Center, the city will reimburse Prescott for $1.37 million this month.

Did knocking down the former apartments on the current Town Center land increase the property values enough to produce that kind of reimbursement? And will the $17 million increase in the TIF reimbursement allowance cover a street redo? These are just a couple of the questions we discuss.

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  • Peggy

    The City of Dallas could solve the problem of shoddy, run down apartments by putting stronger building codes in place for apartment construction and using a deed restriction that says when they are 20 years old, then have to be renovated and brought up to current city code or torn down. I understand the Caruth Family had Lincoln Property set up a trust that a certain percentage of rents had to go into over the years. That trust funds the beautiful landscape we see in the medians there and their ability to renovate, or tear down and rebuild a complex as they are doing now. A system like that would certainly calm some of our fears about massive apartment developments. The City put the zoning for all these apartments here; it is time for them to fix the problem.

  • Ellen Raff

    As a regular on the podcast, I want to respond to lh newbie about my unconventional remarks regarding the investment at Town Center. I go ahead and make those remarks because the best and the brightest, and market forces, have gotten us where we are today. I also believe that homeowners here are also stakeholders, and we are correct to be skeptical about some of our development that may be good for investors in the short term, but bad for us in the long term. When the conventional wisdom (possibly from consultants like StreetWorks) keeps getting us into jam after jam in LH, I think it is healthy to question that mentality. What scares me more than anything about the Town Center plans is the idea that increasing the density of the apartments — seven stories, in Lake Highlands, of high rent apartments– yep, I raise my hand and say — on paper a full building will yield a lot of rent – but it might behoove us all to step back and reflect what could happen if seven stories of dense units do not yield the rent the developers hope. Who will end up holding the bag? Yet again? So yes, it’s true, I try to give voice to the other stakeholders, the residents. We also have made an investment here, and ours is long term.

  • lh_newbie

    “We are dealing with a lot of fear and mistrust here among homeowners, because people think that nice new multifamily communities will go up and then turn to crap a decade or two from now. This, because it has already happened here. It is a valid concern.”

    Very much agree. If the proposed apartments are 8′ ceiling, stick built, garden style apartments, we could be having this very same debate in 20 years – it is a very valid concern. I hope that Prescott takes this to heart – as I feel this is the greatest risk to Lake Highlands. We need to create the right product on the LHTC property to drive up values North and South on Skillman to make it too costly for the landlords to run their aging apartments the same poor way they have the last decade and to make it economically desirable to begin driving additional redevelopment all up and down Skillman.

    My concern if this is done right? That my property value will go up too much. I hate paying taxes. LOL! But I guess that’d be a great problem to have – my house doubling in value. 🙂


  • Christina Hughes Babb

    Brian — good points and i agree. There are many many unheard voices in Lake Highlands, and a vast gap between the two major socioeconomic groups.

    We are dealing with a lot of fear and mistrust here among homeowners, because people think that nice new multifamily communities will go up and then turn to crap a decade or two from now. This, because it has already happened here. It is a valid concern.

    I am glad I don’t have to design the plans myself and I too am hoping for the developers to make good decisions.

  • lh_newbie

    Christina –

    You are correct, the blog posts themselves are not where my comments were directed. I appreciate factual based reporting. Sorry for coming across that way – they really are directed to some of the folks making comments, though I’ve heard that mentality by some of the regulars on the podcasts. I’m just trying to make sure that the folks vocally advocating what they want have an equally vocal counter point.

    Lake Highlands is a great place to live. My basic belief is that we have people on two ends of the spectrum – low income and high income – with the former generally in the old apartments and the latter generally in single family homes. I think a little more well rounded Lake Highlands would benefit the area – an area where nice, high quality apartments in a more urban setting could fill. I truly believe that this increase in density of middle-class or semi-affluent folks, including (and preferably) families, around the LHTC property would be greatly beneficial to Lake Highlands and would help fill the retail gaps with quality retail/restaurants.


  • Christina Hughes Babb

    LH Newbie — I don’t think we’ve wasted any space here on the Advocate blog reporting that ““Lake Highlands” is dying to get high quality retail and more restaurants and that we need Prescott to listen to “us” and give “us” what “we” want.”

    I’ve seen that attitude in the comments section and on other web sites, but I dare say we’ve spent a lot of time reporting the actual developments and changes at the town center and — while we may have mused a time or two about what we might like — the reporters at the Advocate don’t spend a lot of time with opinion, wishes and pipe dreams. Instead we focus our energies on gathering as much information about the town center as possible and delivering it to our readers. Here:
    you’ll find the vast majority of what we’ve written about the town center — for the most part I think you will find intelligent and unbiased reporting of the situation.

  • LH/Prestonwood

    don’t understand why the moms in in LH need a giant gas guzzling Tahoe/suburban with one kid in preschool or all away in college.stop sucking all our gas ladies!

  • lh_newbie

    The young urban hipsters are already catered to very well with Uptown, I’m not suggesting we compete with Uptown’s strength. I don’t think the proposal from the consultant out of NY was necessarily saying we need to cater to the same crowd and/or feel -in fact, based on what they said I suspect they wouldn’t be overly thrilled with West Village since it feels so non-genuine and “created” rather than organic. Higher density doesn’t automatically mean just young single people. Look at New York City and Chicago. Are there not urban areas with “young families” as opposed to young single professionals? Maybe I’m reading into things, but I think this is absolutely the niche that isn’t well served in Dallas – and the LHTC property is really perfectly situated to fill such a void. I think some of the northern portion of Uptown, near Knox street, may scratch the surface of getting into this market, but the LHTC could do a much better job considering the high quality of schools serving the area which would be a huge differentiator.

    I hear your point that there are existing homeowners that should get catered to, but I guess disagree that Lake Highlands has “money to spend”. I think the existing retail is about all that can be supported. Maybe we could support one more quality restaurant, but I did cringe when you mentioned chains. I’m just not that thrilled with chains – Mi Cocina included. Now the Crossroads Cafe on Walnut Hill – that’s a different story… LOVE that place – and it’s locally owned and has unique food options.


  • Triple Wildcat

    Excellent talking points, Brian, but it’s a huge financial gamble to put an urban center geared toward young professionals in essentially a bedroom community. That’s a big “if” hoping that a hipper, more urban crowd would want to live out in the Lake Highlands boonies.

    What about the people who want to live in a suburban setting but don’t want to spend half their lives sitting in traffic? That’s the great draw to Lake Highlands – your kids can go to quality public schools (or at least be close to the best private schools) and not have to spend two hours – or more – every day fighting traffic on 75 or the Tollway.

    It’s long been said that it’s not economically feasible to replace our empty shopping centers with single family homes. But you yourself point out that is happening at Walnut Hill/Audelia. In the older parts of Lake Highlands, if they’re not doing teardowns then people are adding second floors to their houses. There’s even some new construction along White Rock Trail as you near Flagpole Hill. This is a highly desirable neighborhood and home prices may have reached the point where it IS economically viable to replace empty parking lots with homes. At least some people think so.

    As for the restaurants that have opened and closed, how many of them were high quality or established chains? In my experience, most were mom-and-pop operations that had constantly changing hours and inconsistent quality. That’s not going to cut it with LH families who can drive another 10 minutes to get quality food and service. But look how crowded the Lake Highlands Mi Cocina is every day. Name the last restaurant to open in Lake Highlands that is up to Mi Cocina’s standards? How many “fitness centers” have opened and closed while the major chain LA Fitness is crowded every night?

    No, I don’t think LH could support all its shopping centers if all of them were suddenly filled with tenants. That era is gone. But LH could certainly support one or two high-quality centers geared toward the suburban lifestyle, i.e. what they have in Allen and Plano. If the Town Center is built with young professionals in mind and we get great shops and restaurants that everyone can enjoy, great! But if the young professionals don’t come to Lake Highlands – and there’s no guarantee they will – what will we be stuck with?

    We KNOW there’s a large group of single family home dwellers in LH with money to spend. Why not play to that strength?

  • lh_newbie

    I see lots of posts on these blog posts and hear it in the podcasts that “Lake Highlands” is dying to get high quality retail and more restaurants and that we need Prescott to listen to “us” and give “us” what “we” want.

    I would challenge you to look at the shopping centers around Lake Highlands. @ Walnut Hill and Audelia, there are two. The one on the East side has <50% vacancy. The one on the West side is going to have lots of retail converted to residential. @ Ferndale and Northwest, there are lots of vacancies on the West side and some on the East. @Skillman and Abrams, there are pawn shops and dollar stores + some big boxes + a decent amount of vacancies. @ Royal and Skillman the development is struggling with vacancies. Of course, we then have Walnut Hill @ Skillman – that center is always bustling with activity, but I fear this is the exception in LH, not the norm.

    How many restaurants have opened in the last 5 years that lasted less than a year? How many of them were restaurants? I think there are some folks within the community that are very vocal that want what they want and really believe there is a sufficient number of affluent households to support them, but I would argue that the current state of many of our shopping centers and local businesses would argue that we have too much retail square footage and (as much as this hurts to say), the right mix to be supported by our current demographics. These same folks sometimes talk about how they would like the apartments to be torn down and more single family homes put in. From an investor perspective, that simply isn't economically feasible. It isn't going to happen. I think the city understands that – and doesn't have the budget to help make it so. Neither does the planning commission want that to happen.

    Lake Highlands has a great amount of single family homes filled with great families. It also has some poorly built and poorly managed apartments that has allowed a crime element to come in, which has hurt our area. I do think Lake Highlands would attract a good number of young professionals, probably the crowd that doesn't want to give up the Uptown/Knox/Hendersen/Downtown type lifestyle completely, yet move to an area that isn't completely suburban. If they wanted to life fully suburban, they'de move north of I-635. The single family homes are not going anywhere. That piece of surbia is here to stay, as it should. But the opportunity to make the LHTC property something that is more urban I think is a huge attraction. Having my single family home that close to an urban oasis without having to drive to Knox/Hendersen or Mockingbird station (which, by the way, we drive our Explorer SUV to and always come in the back way to park in the structure – I hate dealing with even trying to park in the street parking) to me would fill the one gap that I feel Lake Highlands has. It would also bring in some additional rooftops with a higher average household income than the outgoing apartments had, which only further strengthens the business case for "quality" retail/restaurants.

    Anyhow, I've tried to talk to this point in the blogs to help present a different view than the suburban, single-family only mindset some folks seem to have. Hopefully it provides a different perspective and can help to look at the LHTC property as an investment, not a pipe dream, because that's exactly what it is to Prescott… an investment. Nothing more, nothing less. At the end of the day, they have to do what will work in a neighborhood to make them money. Time will tell, but whatever happens to the LHTC property, I pray to God that it is wildly successful in whatever it's final form.


  • Christina Hughes Babb

    Regarding the name of Lake Highlands Town Center: I think that when the consultant suggested changing the name to Lake Highlands Mixed Use District, he wasn’t strongly suggesting a name change as much as a change in the way we PERCEIVE the project. I think he’s suggesting that we see it as a larger, long-term, multi-phase project as opposed to a “shopping center” that can be haphazardly planned. I think he’s trying to get across the magnitude of the project the importance of getting the organization, planning and fundamentals right in order to build a foundation for success.

    Love the editor/article metaphor!