The wheels are turning on the Preston Center land-use study, spurred by recent zoning battles in the neighborhood.

Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates presented the plan to form a stakeholder task force of representatives from seven sections in and around the commercial center.

“We really need to take a step back and decide what’s best for the community,” Gates says. “We can at least solve the traffic problems.”

Traffic was the main concern surrounding the recently proposed residential projects, so the study centers largely on transportation. Half of the funding will come from the North Texas Council of Governments, the other half matched by private (but transparent) donors. It could cost around $300,000.

Northwest Highway is no longer a highway; it’s a car-clogged neighborhood street. Michael Morris, COG’s director of transportation, likens this study to those done in other areas such as East Dallas’ State Highway 78, better known as Garland Road now serving more local traffic than through-traffic. Other examples include State Highway 26, soon to be reconstructed as Colleyville Boulevard.

“Is there a breakdown somewhere else that is causing people to use Northwest Highway? It needs to look more like a neighborhood street,” Morris says.

The imbalance happens over time, he says, because, “The transportation people and the land-use people aren’t talking to each other.”

The study won’t result in any zoning change at City Hall but rather a guide for how to handle future zoning cases. It still relies on the power of the council.

“That will kind of stabilize things, and people won’t be bringing unrealistic zoning proposals to the table,” Gates says.

Although no official moratorium can be placed on new zoning applications in the area, they are unlikely to gain momentum while the study is in progress. One area of concern is the residential-zoned northwest corner of Preston and Northwest Highway, where owner Mark Cuban wants to build an office complex.

“I have a pretty strong bias that single-family remain single-family,” Gates says. “It’s kind of sacred ground in this district.”

After selecting the study’s task force, which will include neighbors and business owners as well as city planners and traffic engineers, the city will hire an outside consultant to conduct it. After more meetings and community workshops, all the pieces should be in place by the summer, which is when the year-long study will officially begin.

At the meeting, Gates was pressed about any underlying agenda she might have — whether to promote more development or to retain the status quo.

“There’s redevelopment potential, but we’re not looking at that,” she says. “You have to understand what’s there. We wont’ know until it’s studied. We need planners and experts — beyond politicians deciding what’s best for the neighborhood.”

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