The Dallas City Plan Commission voted to delay a vote on a proposed conversion of the former Dallas Independent School District administrative headquarters to a 365-unit multifamily complex until Feb. 15.
At its Feb. 1 meeting, the commission considered a request by developer Leon Capital Group that would involve demolishing most of the revered structure at 3700 Ross Avenue in the Bryan Place neighborhood just north of Deep Ellum. The commissioners were hesitant about approving the project, while representatives of the Bryan Place Neighborhood Association, the city’s Landmark Commission and Preservation Dallas spoke in favor.
It is likely, however, the Leon Capital will be able to resolve the commissioners’ concern before next week. An issue was the lack of an exhibit document in the record that would ensure future development would preserve the original 1940s-era Art Deco building presently on the site.
That controversy had its genesis last May when the DISD legally obtained a demolition permit on behalf of Leon Capital, which had the property under contract to build The Academic, a multifamily complex expected to reach the construction stage this summer. Katherine Seale, chair of the Landmark Commission, told the CPC on Thursday that this led to a public hearing to initiate a historic designation for the building.
More than a thousand signatures were collected for that designation, but it was not successful. Still, Leon Capital worked with the community to come up with an architectural design that would preserve a small portion of the structure.
“We’re thrilled to be at this point,” Seale said. “It’s not often you get everybody together on the same page in agreement.”
Rob Baldwin of Baldwin Associates, the agent for Leon Capital, told commissioners the developer had agreed to architectural controls with Preservation Dallas. But city staff did not consider that agreement enforceable, “so they’re not a part of this record.” Prior to the next meeting, Baldwin said the architect, Architecture Demarest, will prepare and submit a façade plan showing how the preservation requirements will be met.
The façade elevation will give building inspectors an official exhibit with which to compare against future construction documents and ensure they fit within the realm of the exhibit, a staff spokesperson said. The specific request is the creation of a planned subdistrict that would diverge from ordinance regulations on setbacks to save numerous heritage trees on site. It would also change the balance the height requirements.
“There’s a tree in the (existing) courtyard, and we’ve pushed out and lost some units, but we’ve protected the tree and the tree canopy. It’s going be very striking. As you pull in there and you see the old administration building and the transparency through the building into the courtyard showing the trees,” Baldwin said.
On the height issue, the block is divided, with most of it allowing up to 120 feet and a portion limiting height to 39 feet.
“What we’re doing is asking for a PD subdistrict to balance to balance the height to five stories all around,” Baldwin said.
Leon Capital closed on the 4-acre site in late 2017 for $9 million. The original intent was for a 380-unit complex, but concessions to neighbors in the design reduced the total by 15 units. The developer formally unveiled its plans at the start of the year.
David Cocanougher, director of Leon Capital’s multifamily division, said, “We’re planning to incorporate the interior core of the original building into our leasing office and amenity area. The balance of the architecture of the new construction will be setback from the existing structure to increase the prominence of the preserved component.”
“It also incorporates design that blends the style of the existing structure with the ongoing transformation occurring along Ross Avenue,” he added.
The old DISD headquarters is one of several properties that has attracted the interest of developers. Matthews Southwest recently renovated the old Dallas High School in the Arts District to offices. Saeed Mahboubi is redeveloping the Mirabeau B. Lamar School in the Cedars. And in the south end of the Central Business District, KDC and Hoque Global are planning a massive nine-block development called Dallas Smart District that would swallow up, among others, the Barbara Mann High School.