03/22/17 11:00am

HOUSTON BIKE PLAN UP FOR A VOTE AGAIN THIS MORNING AMID MORE CALIFORNIA-IZATION FEARS Existing High Comfort Bike Lanes, Houston Bike Plan ca. March 2017This morning’s city council meeting has the Houston Bike Plan back on the docket, following the most recent round of public-input-based tweaking to the plan (as well as a delay of the vote, which was initially scheduled for earlier this month). Over in the Chronicle Dug Begley recaps some of the arguments being made for and against the years-in-development guidance plan, which have a bit of a chicken-vs-egg flavor: do only 0.5% of Houstonians bike to work because safe-feeling bike paths are scarce outside of certain Inner Loop neighborhoods? Or are those areas where the active bikers are already clustered the only ones where bike path improvements are warranted? Councilman Greg Travis, one of the folks who pushed back the vote at the last council meeting, told Begley he does see a need for some kind of bike safety improvement plan, but adds that he’s “not sure this is the plan for Houston. We’re not Amsterdam or San Francisco, and we don’t know what’s needed here, really needed.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of existing ‘high-comfort’ bike paths: Houston Bike Plan Interactive Map

03/06/17 5:15pm

Site Plan of Katy Asian Town, 23119 Colonial Pkwy., Houston, 77449

The long-vacant lot above, near the northeast corner of I-10 and the Grand Parkway, is now being cleared and flattened to make room for the Houston area’s third Super H Mart, according to leasing materials a larger retail development being marketed as Katy Asian Town. Plans for the 16-acre site look to including a pair of smaller strip-style buildings and 2 pad sites, in addition to a long string of retail spots flanking the grocery store:

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Latest Grand Plans
02/07/17 12:45pm

HOUSTON-TO-DALLAS BULLET TRAIN PUTTING THE BRAKES ON ALL THOSE LAWSUITS Map of Proposed Route of Proposed Texas Central RailwayThe company planning to build a bullet train between Houston and Dallas appears to be altering the legal strategy it had been using to try to get landowners to allow crews on their land to survey property along the proposed 240-mile route. Texas Tribune reporter Brandon Formby says Texas Central Partners has withdrawn 17 lawsuits across the state (including one in Harris County that had a trial scheduled for July) and settled 21 others that had sought court-ordered access. Officials of the private company now say they will seek an “open dialogue” with property owners about letting crews in. The company tells Formby it has already reached land-purchase options with more than 3,000 landowners, accounting for 30 percent of the total number of parcels it needs, and 50 percent in the 2 counties along the route adjacent to Harris County: Grimes and Waller. The company announced last week that the train is now expected to begin operating in 2023. [Texas Tribune; Houston Business Journal; previously on SwamplotMap of proposed high-speed rail routes: Texas Central Railway

02/06/17 4:30pm

memorial-heights-gate

The peculiar scene pictured above, of a freestanding but fenceless gate, greeted residents of the Memorial Heights Apartments near the corner of Washington Ave and Studewood late last week. Demolition of buildings 1 through 6 of the complex, on the northwest corner of the complex, for a planned new 5-story apartment complex atop a new H-E-B market, appears imminent.

In anticipation, workers have been constructing fencing (now attached to the above gate) that appears to be intended to surround a portion of the remaining parking lot of the remaining complex. There’s also this construction going up at the corner of Studewood and Washington Ave.:

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Approaching Buffalo Heights
01/05/17 4:30pm

Construction site at 1540 W. Alabama, WAMM, Houston, 77006Proposed Alabama Row Shopping Center, 1518 W. Alabama St., Montrose, HoustonA little brown box is now in place about where the gray and blue boxes of the Alabama Row retail strip are supposed to go, a reader notes. The construction trailer recently popped up inside the newish construction fencing now framing the long-empty lot along Mandell St. (across W. Alabama from the block holding the Menil Collection’s parking lot, and part of its bungalow herd). The new strip would sit just west of the 2-story brick house now holding cat spa and boarding facility Fat Cat Flats.

So far Alabama Row looks like it may be bookended by Vietnamese and burger joints, with room for some non-food offerings in the middle — that’s W. Alabama toward the bottom in the preliminary site plan below, with the strip’s parking tucked in back:

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Menil Munchies
01/04/17 12:15pm

1801 Richmond Ave. Demo, Richwood Place, Houston, 77098
1801 Richmond Ave., Richwood Place, Houston, 77098From beneath yesterday’s sunset glare off the new Big Tex Storage midrise on Richmond Ave, a reader captured the splintery wreckage of long-empty Cierra Interiors at the corner with Woodhead St. Plans to stick a new Starbucks in its place were submitted back in early November by an entity connected to experienced Starbucks constructor Vaquero Ventures, and the knockout of the building was officially sanctioned just before Christmas. Next door, the land opened up by Vaquero’s teardown of the pair of 2-story brick 4-plexes at 1823 and 1827 Richmond back in August looks to be marked for another Inner Loop outpost of oil change chain Take 5.

And one more door eastward, the former Ruthie’s Place on Richmond looks to be headed for new use by strip-center gelato shop Sweetcup, per some early-stage permits issued in November that note a bar-to-ice-cream-shop conversion. Sweetcup bought the building at 1829 Richmond in September after the bar’s early 2016 shutdown (in the wake of the passing of long-time former owner Ruth Vardilos). Here’s a shot of the whole corner taken in August, shortly after the apartment removal, showing Ruthie’s tucked next to Ely’s Beauty Salon on the far right:

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Richwood Place Replacements
12/20/16 10:45am

Montrose Management District marker, W. Dallas at Montrose

Montrose Management District marker, W. Dallas at MontroseThe Montrose Management District reports that the first of its shiny new neighborhood marker signs went up over the weekend at Montrose Blvd. and Dallas St., despite the recent movement in the ongoing lawsuit between the organization and the group of property owners petitioning to dissolve it. The case, which was filed in 2012, is still open, though the judge recently filed a handful of findings and judgment documents stating that not all of the signatures that went into forming the district were valid, and that the agency must pay back the $6.5 million it’s collected since then. The district has said it has no plans to do that any time soon, and intends to keep on keepin’ on until any appeals wrap up, which could be years from now.

The signage is part of the sundry prettification projects the district has planned for the neighborhood, which include redoing the colored lighting on the bridges over US 59 — thanks to a funding assist from the city, TxDOT, and the Houston Galveston Area Council:

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Sightings on W. Dallas
12/09/16 12:15pm

ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE SAYS IT’LL OPEN 4 MORE HOUSTON SPOTS NOW THAT VINTAGE PARK IS OFF ITS HANDS Imperial Market, Sugar Land, TX  77478Alamo Drafthouse followed up this week’s confirmation that its Vintage Park theater is becoming a Star Cinema Grill by announcing that it plans to open 4 more Houston area locations. Details on where and when are still murky (other than a reiteration that plans for the Imperial Market spot in Sugar Land are still on), but a rep told Kyle Hagerty earlier this week that the company has already signed 3 leases. That may or may not include the 10-year lease signed back in 2013 for a spot in the long-stalled Regent Square development — which did get some permits this fall, as somebody at Morris Architects previously claimed would happen. [Previously on Swamplot] Rendering of proposed Alamo Drafthouse in Sugar Land: Imperial Market

11/29/16 1:45pm

7710 Long Point Rd., Spring Branch, Houston, 77055

7710 Long Point Rd., Spring Branch, Houston, 77055The new lessees of 7710 Long Point Rd. — formerly home to all-Mex-no-Tex Otilia’s Mexican Restaurantannounced last week that they’ll be filling the spot with a craft beer bar and restaurant called The Branch. The folks in charge appear to be former Hay Merchant-slash-Underbelly catering head Madeline Cabezut, current Hay Merchant bar manager Kyle Pierson (though Hay Merchant itself is not involved in the project), and former Miller/Coors spokesmodel Amanda Mixon. An entity linked to serial redeveloper Braun Enterprises bought the place last year, after Otilia’s 2014 for-real-this-time shutdown. The trio formally leased the space around the end of September, and plan to have the place open early next year.

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Branching Out to Long Point Rd.
11/22/16 5:15pm

Rendering of Heights Mercantile Building 4

Expanding organic Rice Village fast-casual chain Local Foods will fill in one of the tenant holes in the biggest structure of under-construction Heights Mercantile, judging from the permits issued earlier this month for a buildout at 714 Yale St. The joint is supposed to share the double-decker structure with a fitness studio, per current marketing materials, though that tenant hasn’t been formally announced yet either. The leasing listing for the various subsections of the retail development is still active on LoopNet, indicating a handful of retail spaces potentially still up for grabs in the 2 buildings across 7th St.:

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More Mercantile Merchants
11/07/16 2:45pm

Proposed Heights H-E-B with 10 ft. building setbackProposed Heights H-E-B with 25 ft. building setback

The final go-ahead on H-E-B’s planned store on the former N. Shepherd Fiesta spot at W. 24th St. is still purportedly dependent on whether or not the Heights-Dry-Zone-moistening ballot initiative it’s been backing passes tomorrow — but 2 designs for the proposed structure (depicted above) are already queued up on the agenda for November’s first city planning commission meeting next week. A variance request submitted by the company asks for permission to put the proposed 2-story parking-garage-and-store combo just 10 feet back from the property line on the N. Shepherd side of the block (as shown at the top), instead of the 25 feet that would normally be required (as depicted on the 2nd rendering).

What difference would that make? Documentation submitted with the request says that if the parking structure can’t stick out closer to the street, the company will add an extra row of surface parking spaces between the edge of the garage and the curb, which will cut into space otherwise planned for benches and landscaping. From the looks of the included drawings above, the developers will also ditch a planned bike rack, as well as something labeled as an Art Wall — below are the side-view perspectives on the proposed scene, with those 2 rendered ladies in white and blue stuck roughly in the same spot each time as a reference:

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Hedging Against Setbacks
10/31/16 5:30pm

POLAROID NOW HIRING FOR FAKE FILM PHOTO STORES IN THE GALLERIA, WOODLANDS MALL The Woodlands Mall, 1201 Lake Woodlands Dr., The Woodlands, TXIn the apparent leadup to setting up shop in several major Texas cities, a few job postings are up this month for Polaroid Store positions at locations in the Galleria and Woodlands Mall. The stores’ raison d’être: to pull photos from customers’ electronic devices and social media accounts to turn them into pseudo-Polaroids of various sizes. The Polaroid company launched its Fotobar stores in Florida earlier this decade; after a few years of interstate spread and subsequent shutdowns, a 2014 variation on the business model shifted focus onto 300-sq.-ft. mall kiosks, before the store’s founders announced a rebranding last year. No word yet on opening dates for the 2 Houston-area shops, though they appear to be hiring under the wing of Austin-based toy and calendar outfit Calendar Holdings; the postings mention that locations are also in the works in Austin, Frisco, and San Antonio.  Photo of Woodlands Mall: GGP

10/18/16 11:00am

Worcester's Annex site, 1433 N. Shepherd Dr., Houston Heights, 77008

The Kirby Group folks (behind Midtown beer and cocktail bar Wooster’s Garden and those since-demolished converted funeral home bars in Upper Kirby) look to be setting up for their Worcester’s Annex cocktail project south of N. Shepherd and 15th St.  The new bar (which is taking off the linguistic gloves and using the full-on British spelling of the name) is being built on the far southern end of the former Longhorn Motor Company lot at 1433 N. Shepherd, previously tapped as the intended site of the Heights Bier Garten; Greg Morago reported this summer that the 2 developments would be near one another. The bar is going up across the street from legally-tangled tortilla factory La Espiga De Oro (which was infiltrated and raided by ICE officers last year, after which the company’s owners were indicted for allegedly hiring undocumented immigrants).

Photo: Worcester’s Annex

Seeding the Heights
08/29/16 12:15pm

2-story H-E-B proposed at 5106 Bissonnet St., Bellaire, TX 77401

H-E-B Bellaire Market, 5130 Cedar St., Bellaire, TexasDrawings submitted this month to the city of Bellaire for approval outline how H-E-B plans to fit 6-acres of parking and replacement store onto its 3-acre lot at the intersection of Bissonnet and Cedar streets. The renderings and accompanying documentation show a roughly 75,000-sq.-ft. single-story store footprint sitting on the upper level of the planned structure, with an acre-plus of parking out front atop the all-parking lower level. The drawing at the top shows the would-be view of the design from Bissonnet (near the late-50’s supermarket building currently occupied by Randall’s); below are the proposed layouts of the upper and lower story once the existing H-E-B (also pictured above) and its retail strip friends are cleared of the way:

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Building Up on Bissonnet
08/26/16 5:45pm

Rendering of Tianqing Group/DC Partners Allen Pwky. Mixed Use Site, Allen Pkwy. at Gillette St., Fourth Ward, Houston, 77019

A look at what could be headed for the rest of that 10.5-acre Gillette St. former city park-slash-brownfield property comes from Tianqing Group, the Chinese firm involved with DC Partners’ recently announced mixed-use development at the site (to be funded via the EB-5 investment-for-greencards program). The northern 6 acres of the property (which at various points in its storied history has housed San Felipe Park, a SWAT substation, and the Gillette St. garbage incinerator) were sold to a then-unnamed investor last year, and DC Partners snagged the land in May.

The view above, displayed on Tianqing’s description page for the project, shows 3 highrises and 2 midrises in place at the edge of Fourth Ward, with the Downtown skyline visible in the distance to the right. Another of the renderings includes slightly clipped logo marks from both DC Partners and architecture firm Gensler; that rendering (below) provides a closer look at the towers from the west, as well as some green rooftop terraces:

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West of Downtown