Condo Fire Rekindles Density Debate

DSC_9203As cleanup efforts continue at the site of a Northwest Highway condo fire that left one dead and approximately 100 displaced, attention is now focused on the future of the prime real estate.
The Preston Place Condominiums were nestled between two of the neighborhood’s tallest buildings. Owners have vowed to rebuild. What exactly they plan to construct remains a mystery.

In 1947, the Dallas City Council created a special district called PD-15 to regulate development in the 14.2-acre area bordered by Northwest highway, Pickwick Lane, and Baltimore Avenue. This area includes the 29-story Preston Tower Condominiums, the 22-story Athena Condominiums, and several smaller residential buildings.

The Preston Place condos were built in 1979 in a section designated as “tract 3” of the special district. Developers originally intended to make it a high-rise as well. Neighborhood opposition eventually convinced them to reduce the height to three stories.

Under the guidelines of PD-15, which was last updated in 1980, development density of the area is limited to “present-day density plus the density of a proposed tower on tract 3.” With property demand in the area near all-time highs, owners may be motivated to build something larger.

Any new construction would be subject to a public hearing and a traffic study. PD-15 also mandates a rate of 1.22 parking spaces per unit as well as additional parking options if the total number of units reaches 318.

“I don’t know what I want them to do with the place,” said Mable Davis, who lives about four blocks away from the towers. “The buildings may have looked a little dated, but I thought it added some charm and character to the neighborhood.”

Davis said she heard a commotion the night of the fire, but didn’t appreciate the sheer extent of the damage until the following morning.

“Lord have mercy,” she said. “I feel so bad for all of those people.”

Nearly 200 firefighters fought the seven-alarm blaze that started shortly before midnight March 3. Crews remained on the scene for nearly a week battling hot spots and occasional flare-ups.
Firefighters found a body early March 6, and the medical examiner later confirmed it to be the remains of Jacqueline McDonald, an 89-year-old resident who was reported missing after the fire started, according Dallas Fire-Rescue.

Due to fire-code regulations at the time it was constructed, the building was not equipped with a modern sprinkler system.

“The cause of the fire is still undetermined, and will most likely stay as such due to the limited access investigators will have as a result of the extensive damage left behind,” Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesperson Jason Evans said.

Included in the damage are a number of cars in a garage under the building. Water used to fight the fire flooded much of that area. The instability of the building may prevent many if not most of them from being salvaged.

American Red Cross of North Texas spokesperson Taelor Duckworth said the fire was the biggest incident she has worked during her time with the organization.

When she first arrived on the scene, there were only around 20 people standing on the curb as firefighters worked to control the blaze. One hour later, fire consumed all of the units.
While some Preston Place residents were families with small children, many were elderly. Consequently, some of the biggest initial needs on the scene were for medications, glasses, and mobility devices and wheelchairs and walkers.

“Luckily most of them had family or friends in the area so there was no need to open a shelter.” Duckworth said.

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