A handful of developers and landowners are waiting patiently while the Preston Road and Northwest Highway Area Plan task force works on its recommendations for future project guidelines in and around Preston Center.
Count the leaders of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church among those standing in line. The church hopes to contract with a developer on an office tower and parking garage on the northeast corner of its property on Douglas Avenue.
According to a request for proposals sent to prospective developers last summer, the church hopes to lease the land for an office project of up to 250,000 square feet, perhaps with retail on the ground floor, as well as a parking garage that would be shared by the church, and be connected to the main church building by an air-conditioned skybridge.
The land under consideration currently houses parking lots and a playground, but given the popularity of office space in the Preston Center area, church officials are looking at more lucrative opportunities.
“We are exploring options that will allow us to improve our existing church campus in tandem with new and compatible uses of portions of our land to the north,” said Matthew Waller, the church’s senior warden.
The concept would require rezoning from the city of Dallas. It currently is zoned for multifamily development.
But such a request won’t be filed until after the task force completes its recommendations, said Jay Grogan, a real-estate attorney and church member who has been helping to solicit potential developers while also serving on the task force.
“We are in discussions with a developer. However, no agreement has been finalized and nothing has been approved by the church,” Grogan said. “The only timeline we have now is to see what the task force concludes in May or June.”
Councilwoman Jennifer Gates said that until that happens, she will recommend postponing any rezoning cases in the 1,600-acre area being studied by the task force, which she oversees.
“I’m not interested in entertaining any zoning case at this point,” Gates said. “The church will listen to what the task force says, and then they’ll decide what they want to do. If they file something that doesn’t meet that vision, then it’s probably going to fail.”
Former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, who also sits on the task force, said an office building at that location would eliminate a buffer between the bulk of Preston Center and the adjacent residential area. The property is almost directly across the street from single-family houses in both Dallas and University Park.
Miller also questioned whether Grogan had a conflict of interest by negotiating a project without disclosing it fully to other task-force members. Grogan denied that claim.
“If task-force members have gigantic real-estate deals under their arms that they’re not sharing with the group, then it’s a little bit disingenuous,” Miller said. “I don’t understand his role.”
The proposal stems from an extensive study by the church’s campus planning committee that studied, among other issues, ways to replace some of the lease revenue after ESD announced plans to move its lower school from SMAA to its Merrell Road campus in 2020.
Waller said that although several options are still being explored, the office project could have several other benefits, such as parking and traffic solutions for the church and more modern amenities for its 7,000 members. It also could house the church’s popular farmers market and the St. Michael’s Women’s Exchange, a retail shop that might move from Highland Park Village if the project is approved.
“We look forward to working with our neighbors and the city, at the appropriate time, to discuss the options and their benefits,” Waller said.