Bill Rafkin of Cypress updating McGough town hall meeting on Town Center

Bill Rafkin of Cypress updating McGough town hall meeting on Town Center

About 60 people gathered at Lake Highlands Freshman Center auditorium Tuesday night to hear from Councilman Adam McGough and Bill Rafkin, local Dallas resident and Managing Director of Cypress Real Estate Advisors, the owner/developer of Lake Highlands Town Center,

McGough opened the meeting saying he hoped to accomplish three things: 1) Have Rafkin provide an update on status, 2) Given that Cypress had terminated their participation in the TIF and Plan Development (PD) 758 is now the governing document, open a discussion of what changes to PD 758 should be considered and 3) Get some public input on what the area north of Walnut Hill might look like as the canvas is fully painted on the south side of Walnut Hill but blank to the north.

After calling the relationship with Cypress “sometimes very frustrating and sometimes very workable” McGough asked Rafkin to give the state of the union on  Town Center.

Rafkin identified three projects that should start construction this summer:

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  • The Shops at Lake Highlands Town Center will be a 64,000 sf retail center built in six separate buildings. A smaller 6,000 s.f. second phase will be built at the immediate southeast corner of Skillman and Walnut Hill so the center will eventually reach 70,000 s.f. The center will be anchored by a 30,000 s.f. Sprouts grocery. Rafkin called it “the nicest Sprouts built in their system.” He estimated the remaining buildings will be occupied 2/3 by restaurants and 1/3 by soft goods retailers. Although understandably reluctant to reveal the names of the potential tenants, he did disclose that discussions are underway with a “high-end taco” concept, an Italian restaurant, a Mediterranean restaurant and a “fishhouse”. Rafkin did confirm one new tenant–Starbucks. C’mon, what’s a neighborhood retail center without a Starbucks?
  • The Outlook at Town Center will be a 257 unit multi-family project between Wildcat Way and the Watercrest Park. It will be a “wrap-style” project, with residential units “wrapped” around a parking garage mostly hidden from street view. A focus of McGough and Housewright has been the “walkability” of Wildcat Way and Rafkin’s design of The Outlook acknowledges that attention. The ground level units facing Wildcat Way will have stoops leading from the front door down to the street for some “vitality and energy”. The ground level portion of the project at the southwest corner that faces The Haven and Wildcat Way will have units that can either be residential or commercial in nature. The southeast corner of the project that faces Watercrest Park will have a green area to gather that is triangular in shape. On top of that, the retail that faces Skillman will also have entrances and exits to and from Wildcat Way.
  • A townhome community developed by David Weekley Homes featuring 52 single family homes between 1750 s.f. and 2750 s.f. will be built on the southernmost five acre parcel of Town Center. Rafkin estimates the sales prices will be around $200 per s.f. There is an existing request into the Plan Commission for this development and McGough supports it. Here is a previous Advocate piece on the Weekley request.

Rafkin briefly commented on the north side of Walnut Hill identifying senior housing and additional multi-family and retail as possible uses.

Bobby Abtahi took center stage next. Abtahi is Vice-Chairman of the Plan Commission and a colleague of Housewright’s on that panel. In Housewright’s absence, Abtahi explained how a PD is amended and encouraged a collaborative effort to consider changes as his experience is that contentious debates amending existing PD’s can take years.

Questions from the crowd ensued. A summary follows.

Q: Where is the gathering place promised us?

Rafkin: Emphasized the “village green” concept and noted the 10 acre Watercrest Park, the gathering point of the Clock Tower and a 6,000 s.f plaza built around the Tower and two pocket parks at the retail center, each approximately 3,000 s.f with landscaping and movable furniture.

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Q: Why aren’t any of the restaurants and other retail facing the pond and the park?

Rafkin: Shared that every retailer, with no exception, wanted Skillman frontage.

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Q: Will the re-opening of the PD allow any changes to the projects currently contemplated south of Walnut Hill?

McGough: No.

Q: What are the changes from this plan presented and the original vision?

Rafkin: Much lower density of both residential and retail.

Q: Why still more multi-family?

Rafkin: Noted there will be much less multi-family density than originally envisioned but maintained there remains demand for high quality multi-family in Lake Highlands.

Q: What exactly were Tip Housewright’s concerns at the meeting for Plan Commission approval of the retail and the ensuing comments about the PD?

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McGough: Mostly around maintaining Wildcat Way as a place of energy and activity. Here is an Advocate report on that Plan Commission meeting in January.

Q: What portion of the Town Center multi-family are affordable units?

McGough:  The Haven is 20% affordable per the requirements of the TIF. With Cypress out of the TIF, there will no longer be affordability rules for Cypress to follow.

Q: What about traffic implications coming from a potential new elementary school at the corner of White Rock Trail and Walnut Hill?

McGough: Also concerned about the traffic and not currently supportive of that location for a new elementary.

Q: Why so little office space contemplated north of Walnut Hill?

Rafkin: Market analysis found very little demand for office uses, somewhere around 10,000 s.f.  Noted that 1.7 miles west of the site at Walnut Hill and Central are millions of s.f. of office space.

Q: Why did Cypress terminate the TIF?

Rafkin: “Reasonable people have reasonable disagreements” and the City of Dallas and the City Design Studio couldn’t find middle ground with Cypress on density and design.

Q: Why so much concrete surface parking?

Rafkin: Generally in agreement but noted they are right on top of the City parking requirements. What “dominated their design” was Sprouts’ wants and needs. Sprouts wanted “this corner” and wanted “this much parking in front of their store”. Have tried to compensate with pocket parks, clock tower, access to Watercrest Park.

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Q: What about a movie theater?

Rafkin: Would “love to have a movie theater”. Fighting restrictions that studios place on theater’s geography to limit cannibalization and a potential need for “a public subsidy or other outside funding to make the economics work.”

Q: What will be the pricing on the multi-family?

Rafkin: $1.60-$1.70 per s.f. per month, so 1,000 s.f. apartment will be $1600-$1700 per month.

The public input concluded with a commentary from Councilman Bill Blaydes. Blaydes believes that a denser project drew DART to build the first in-line station and putting the retail in first, before a denser multi-family in the shape of what is happening at Knox and Cole, doesn’t give the retailers the necessary info about what type of customers will shop and dine at Town Center. Either lamenting or praising,  probably the former, Blaydes said they got “about 2/3 of what they asked for” when originally planning the project.

McGough brought the meeting to a close by encouraging community participation in the Sundays in the Park at the Town Center sponsored the Lake Highlands Public Improvement District. The scheduled dates are April 10, May 15th and June 12th.

Read our story about the history of Lake Highlands Town Center here.