By now, you may have heard that plans to build Lake Highlands Town Center hit a major snag when the proposed developer backed out in early January. Not only that, but the reason the deal fell apart is because it was too expensive.
I must be a masochist to revisit this issue after the vitriolic response to a previous column in which I voiced skepticism that the development, as proposed, would ever be built.
The pointed letters from readers, many of which were published in the subsequent issue of the Advocate, basically accused me of being a Preston Hollow carpetbagger and, worse, someone who didn’t believe in Lake Highlands.
Sorry folks, but I don’t think faith plays much of a role in real estate. Neither, evidently, does Fort Worth-based Trademark Realty, which “dropped their contract” on the multi-family property at Skillman and Kingsley, according to a statement released by City Councilman Bill Blaydes.
“Many reasons were given but cost of land designated for the residential project was apparently the main culprit!” Blaydes wrote in a letter to neighborhood groups in early January.
To his credit, Blaydes pledged to keep trying to find suitors for the development, which was pitched to area residents earlier this year as a future hub of the neighborhood. As described at a town hall meeting last fall, the site would feature a new park, a DART station, commercial areas with restaurants and shops, as well as a combination of pricey town homes and other residential development.
No one will ever accuse Blaydes of aiming too low, that’s for sure. And, to set the record straight, I agree Lake Highlands deserves all that commerce and recreation. I just don’t think it’s likely given the realities of the city we live in.
For starters, Dallas itself barely has a hub. Downtown has been struggling for years to generate the kind of synergistic energy promised for the Lake Highlands Town Center, and I think many would agree that it has mixed record of success – even with some advantages that Lake Highlands doesn’t have.
For one thing, downtown property owners levied an extra tax on themselves when they made the area an “improvement district” years ago with the hope of spending the extra money on amenities to keep people there after business hours. I don’t see Lake Highlanders voting themselves an extra tax.
Also, downtown property owners have political clout that far exceeds Blaydes’, no matter how hard he works. That’s because downtown property owners are some of the city’s biggest employers and revenue generators.
Finally, Lake Highlands is not Addison or Plano. It’s also not Uptown or the West Village. It’s a suburban Dallas neighborhood. A lot of folks live here because they have roots in the area, and others of us moved in because we like the suburban lifestyle without being stuck in traffic outside I-635.
The area has an impressive history of producing thoughtful, centrist leaders such as Dean Vanderbilt. Donna Halstead and Alan Walne. They remain engaged in civic affairs long after they’ve left elected office.
It’s a tough job to be both visionary and yet realistic about what is achievable. But that’s the legacy Blaydes inherited, and that’s what I think it will take to spur development in Lake Highlands.