Comment of the Day: A Little 411 on that 2010 $6 Million 380 South of I-10

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A LITTLE 411 ON THAT 2010 $6 MILLION 380 SOUTH OF I-10 “For the record, the Ainbinder 380 Agreement did not include drainage detention, they simply tied into existing storm sewer systems — there were no ‘improvements.’ The road was widened at the expense of a tree-lined sidewalk. The sidewalk was ‘abandoned,’ which means ‘is no longer in existence.’ There are no street tree wells and/or no ROW accounted for to plant shade-bearing street trees. The removal of $250K worth of mature Live Oaks resulted in a transfer of this public amenity to Walmart’s parking lot. Yes, that’s right. Public trees were allowed to be replanted on Walmart’s parking lot. And, oh yeah, the four-sided intersection has just two pedestrian signalized crossings. Yes, you can’t actually safely cross on two sides because there are no lights and markings. Why? Because PW&E missed it and the developer didn’t end up having to pay for it. The ‘bridge improvement’ is the biggest boondoggle of them all. Ainbinder wanted to pave it and area civic orgs fought them. Turns out, after coring was performed on the bridge, that the dead load was far greater than known AS A RESULT OF previous paving. That was the second load limit drop. So, Ainbinder window-dressed and spent 380 monies for cosmetic treatments — changing out balustrades and painting A BRIDGE THAT WILL BE TORN DOWN. That is an absurd waste of taxpayer money. Unlike other 380s, the Ainbinder 380 had next to no specifications that ensured deliverables. There were no clawback provisions to ensure public return on the investment. Once the money is awarded to the developer, they can strike or change line items and they still get full payment. The development doesn’t even have to perform to produce new taxes (not just poached taxes), it can be a miserable failure and they still get paid. The folks that were championing this development are now trying to pretend the public infrastructure results were worth $6,000,000 of public money. Guess what? You were wrong then and you’re still wrong now. The proof is right there for everyone to see. Own it.” [TexasSpiral, commenting on Headlines: Getting to the Washington Heights Walmart; Learning Lessons from Hurricane Ike]

36 Comment

  • This is surprising and irresponsible. Generally, opposition to this development has been little more than personal prejudice grasping at unpersuasive arguments. Neutral parties, such as myself, have shrugged it off and figured that infrastructure improvements from the 380 Agreement will add value to an area that was previously barren. But it looks like things are headed in an opposite direction. Quite alarming.

  • The Walmart + the adjacent strip centers + the apartments across the street = a MASSIVE improvement over the previous use of this property.

    The City of Houston is still going to collect its $0.64 per $100 value property tax on all this new development. It’s not a total loss.

    I love how the Heights peeps were just fine and dandy living across the freeway from all the HEAVY INDUSTRIAL uses that filled the Washington corridor for DECADES, but somehow thing a retail center is some sort of disaster.

    Maybe in 25 years, this site will be ripe for the mixed use development the Heights termite-shack lovers are Jones-ing for. Right now, it’s not.

    Let’s just call the Katy Freeway the 38th Parallel. Heights peeps stay north!!!!!

  • This city misses almost every possible opportunity to improve quality of life when the public sector is involved. It takes private groups to accomplish anything of worth around here. Left to the red tape guys, any project will most likely become a boondoggle. The only inner city area that has any hope of being a somewhat functioning area is the East End. So many private groups are working on a full comprehensive plan for its development. While not perfect, let’s hope the best for that up and coming area. My beloved Heights area and adjoining hoods are doomed to choke on their own success while the city stands idly by allowing massive amounts of development with little to no accountability on infrastructure improvements.

  • Did the Chronicle expose any of this? Just curious.

  • “Mature Live Oaks”…”tree-lined sidewalks”? I went to Street View to see this natural wonder that The Wal-Mart ruined and I was underwhelmed.

  • Who is responsible for this and can we get rid if whoever it is. This should make everyone take notice and not let this happen again.
    This is shameful and I hope this isn’t just forgotten.
    This needs to become a story for everyone to see. Not just the Swamplot group.
    I hope the city remembers the next time Ainbinder asks for a special deal. Has the Chronicle or Television picked this up?

  • Opposition to the Wal Mart plus development was and is based on more than personal prejudice. It’s turned Yale, once a quiet residentail street into a roadway overrun with traffic. The development has created more development pressures, which resulted in the loss of San Jacinto Stone and every single tree on that property–looks like desolation. More development pressure is going north of I-10 and the development is national chain driven; it goes against the character of the neighborhood. There’s nothing wrong with neighborhoods trying to protect their identities.

  • Walmart, always a good neighbor.

  • Goes against the character of WHAT neighborhood? The West End was a ramshackle area and even the new townhomes look crappy and I am sorry but I-10 and the noise and pollution are more of a detriment to the vaunted Heights than any strip mall or shopping center built over an abandoned industrial site and some apartments that had seen better days. If San Jacinto did not own their property, that is their issue and if they did and sold it, go run screaming into the night at them. I do not patronize any of the stores or travel extensively
    through the area as I recently moved from Rice Military but it looks a helluva lot better and blah blah blah about the oak trees. For God sakes this isn’t the Mojave Desert–trees grow quickly here.
    If you want to go ballistic over the 380–start with Councilman Ed Gonzales and of course, our esteemed Mayor Parker.
    Otherwise, STFU about the damned Wal-Mart and move on.

  • @Bunson: Rotate your streetview and look at the strip of thirteen Live Oaks that lined Yale Street on the West. They were planted by Trees for Houston 12 years ago and maintained by the public. Those trees alone completely canopied the public sidewalk. One was so large that it was required to be preserved and was tagged to ensure that. That tree was bulldozed with the others. The cost to replace those street trees with a similar caliper and species, not even including the other Live Oaks is in excess of $250,000. If you truly want to be underwhelmed, drive up there now and check what has been returned to the public realm.
    As for property tax revenues, this primarily tarmac site will draw more from public services than the public will gain from taxes. If it were a mixed-use development, the reverse would be true. This was a bad use for the site and a bad investment for taxpayers.

  • “Who is responsible for this and can we get rid if whoever it is. This should make everyone take notice and not let this happen again.”

    Who? Who do you think? But everyone will go to the polls and develop amnesia and be “politically correct” and vote for her again.

  • @ Greg- To say the Walmart development, “turned Yale, once a quiet residentail street,” seems to be a bit of a stretch. To say little old Yale, passing the Height Armature was a residential street, please! Don’t forget is passed the little leather bar tucked quietly next to the bayou and it did have a residential component passing the back side of the fleabag apartments that fronted on Height Blvd.

  • I really don’t get the nastiness that accompanies comments about the Heights area on Swamplot. Get a little civility please. You can express your disagreement without calling people names, labling them, or treating them with disrespect just because you disagree with their opinions and views. Do we have to be like certain unnamed talk show hosts even on a local website?

  • am i the only one that thinks yale being lined with large live oaks directly in front of commercial strips presents an unnecessary safety hazard on an a busy street full of narcissistic and egotistical drivers. is it really worth the loss of visibility to commercial properties, potential safety hazards and detrimental impact to the commercial value of the property just to retain trees for a handful of walkers?

    sorry guys, but to me it’s definitely not a clear cut case that the city would be better off if we had retained the trees. look at Richmond, those trees create safety risks all up and down the street and would certainly be removed in any city concerned about pedestrian safety. the loss of the sideswalks is a big bummer though, but it’s not like the heights area is actually wanting to be a dense walkable neighborhood from what i read.

  • “National chain driven” is definitely the issue. Losing the character of the neighborhood to blind development would be awful.

  • @Matt Mystery, if our mayor deserves blame for this, have at it. But let’s not forget that there are a host of issues that go into decisions about who we vote for. The mayor has fans and she has critics but nobody can charge her with being a drag on the local economy. We’re not getting glowing write-ups in major publications across the country for nothing, and if you’re going to pin the bad on her, be big enough to give her credit where it’s due.

  • yale a quiet residential street? maybe a quiet industrial street because all the industry abandoned it a while ago.
    unless you’re talking about north of i10, then you can thank the feeder roads for that congestion.
    I guess though the question is, would you rather more traffic on yale to gain access to the freeway, or as it was before when people who live in the heights would use other REAL residential streets to cut through to 11th and over to shepherd?

  • Just another reason, among many, to fire Parker. Worst. Mayor. Well at least in a long time.

  • Personally, I think we’re confusing two separate issues: (a) whether the overall development was an improvement or an evil travesty destined to destroy the unique character of the Heights and (b) the Ainbinder 380 Agreement, how it was designed, and whether the city/neighborhood got a fair deal. I live in the Heights and deal with the traffic on Yale at least twice a day. It’s not great, but it’s not the gridlock some people make it out to be (though the residential developments being planned now might send it over the edge). Without functional public transportation, traffic will continue to increase in Houston–we all either need to get used to it or try to do something about the public transit options, you can’t have it both ways. I think statements that this section of Yale used to be (a) a quiet residential street or (b) something beautiful to look at are sort of nuts, and they give the opposition fodder to ignore the real issues about drainage, sidewalks/crosswalks, the bridge, etc.

  • For what it its worth – my own experiences living just a few blocks north of I-10 across from Wal-Mart:
    For the record, I was not a part of the anti-Wal-Mart crusade. We bought our home just about a year ago, long after Wal-Mart was a done deal.
    That being said I must admit that what really attracted my wife & I to the Heights was the prospect of returning to a life-style which included being able to walk to stores & restaurants within the neighborhood and not having to jump into the car for any & everything we wanted to do. We approached these memories from opposite directions – my wife grew up in New York City and was able to walk and/or take public transportation anywhere she needed to go, I was raised in a small town and could walk to all the local stores.
    When we met & married we bought a fine new home in one of Houston’s suburban master-planned communities. Nice schools to raise the kids, low crime, but you have to jump in the car to do anything! Once the kids were raised and we were empty nesters we realized how much we missed living in a real community – so we moved to the Heights. WE love it here! It is exactly what we missed. It’s great to be able to walk to a neighborhood restaurant if we don’t feel like cooking one night. It’s great having local stores we can walk to.
    Which brings us to Wal-Mart. I guess according to the prevailing stereotypes I should be a hardened Wal-Mart hater and never want to shop there. Guess I’m just more pragmatic than that – Wal-Mart is the local store for me – only 7-8 blocks away, easy walking distance…umm, should be. In reality walking to Wal-Mart from just north of I-10 means taking your life into your own hands. The walk down Yale to the I-10 access roads is easy enough – okay sidewalks & some nice shade from the smattering of surviving oaks from previous public plantings. All pretenses to being walk-friendly end at I-10. The pedestrian walk signals at both access roads are still trash-bagged even though these intersections have been open for over a year. Soon after you cross I-10 the sidewalks go away, no more shade – trees are gone. There is a narrow strip of bare dirt between the busy traffic on Yale and the raised terrace on the former San Jacinto Stone property – you walk on praying that no inattentive driver jumps the curb while you cross over to finally get to the edge of the massive Wal-Mart parking lot.
    So, the point to my story is not that Wal-Mart is good or bad – it is what it is. The point is that we shouldn’t have to jump into the car for everything we need in life. We’ve turned into a nation of lard-asses because we won’t walk anywhere. I try to walk anywhere I can, because its good for me & my community. But when a developer and/or city just ignores or is too stupid to realize easy, cheap solutions to this problem, doing things the way the always have just because that’s the way they’ve always done it then people can & definitely should rise up & protest. Otherwise things will never change – never improve. From what I can see I’ll agree, Wal-Mart, seems to be a far better use of this area than what was there before. But, with a little thought this area could have been much better off – and it would be better for Wal-Mart and the other stores too – truly a win, win situation. Traffic here is a nightmare, pedestrian utilization is nonexistant. This isn’t just some freak of natural evolution – obviously very short-sighted decisions were made by those involved. They should definitely be made to account for these decisions.

  • Ambinder got exactly what it wanted. The PRO-development set,so pervasive in Houston allowed,Ambinder to basically dictate the EXTREMELY favorable terms in its 380 agreement.Mayor Annise was the Pied Piper.

  • Really, people?

    If you are walking to Wal-Mart, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!!!

  • I actually live on Koehler Street, and have for awhile. The development is a huge improvement. Since its gone up, several of the shadier properties close to the wal Mart have been torn down, and new homes are replacing the drugs.

    Nothing irks me more than Heights residents complaining about this. It has made our neighborhood safer and better. They can’t see that because they don’t actually live here. Heights residents are just worried about perceived aesthetics rate than reality.

  • The point that some folks seem to be missing is that the public infrastructure surrounding the development is substandard and, in some cases, illegal (ADA). Aesthetics are hardly the point when the shortlist includes ADA violations, no sidewalks, no pedestrian crossings and no street trees to reduce resonant heat. These issues create safety hazards that undermine the public realm, reduce pedestrian walk-ability and damage property values for every area resident, regardless of whether they like or don’t like Walmart. This site is directly in the middle of a neighborhood. There are new retail and residential developments adjacent to this site and one block away on Heights Blvd. People should be able to walk to a coffee shop on safe, well engineered streets– particularly given the fact that the developer was awarded $6,000,000 to deliver just that.

  • @TheNiche: “If you are walking to Wal-Mart, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!!!”
    umm… maybe you missed my comment: “The point is that we shouldn’t have to jump into the car for everything we need in life. We’ve turned into a nation of lard-asses because we won’t walk anywhere”
    I completely disagree with this mindset – if you feel you need to rely on your car to go anywhere beyond the end of your driveway you’re a lard-ass that needs to be quickly removed from the gene-pool.

  • @smellyhoustonian:
    did you read my post???? I agree that this development is an improvement over what used to be there. The problem is that the developer was apparently paid a lot of money to make it even better. We shouldn’t be fighting amongst ourselves over whether the little bone some developer tossed us is better than what we had before. The big question is did the developer live up to the promise of what they said they would deliver when they were trying to win the okay for their project? The real incredulity from my standpoint is that Wal-Mart/Houston Public Works/TexDOT/etc have completely screwed up their public obligations to provide safe pedestrian access to this area. It’s great that you live on Koehler and don’t have to cross I-10 to get to this area. Unfortunately for those of us who live in the Heights our access to this area has been greatly restricted despite this massive gift from the public coffers. It’s great that you’ve received a benefit that didn’t cost the developer a penny but we should all have enough civic pride to hold developers to actually provide a benefit to the whole community when they have been paid to do so.

  • Mako, there was no massive gift from public coffers. The developers fronted the City $6 million for work specified by the City. If there’s a problem here, it’s the City of Houston that owns it.

  • Wait… I am totally confused now. People in The Heights are now bitching because they can’t saunter under the freeway and on to all of the chain eateries and the despised Wal-Mart? I thought this development was the antithesis of everything The Heights stands for?

  • I have a question. Is your life better now that you can purchase cheap Chinese plastic and processed food for a few pennies less? How much many pennies did you save at Walmart over the increase in gasoline you had to pay while waiting at the light at I-10? How many pennies is your life worth when the Yale Street bridge collapses? Surely not six million.

  • @ mako: I saw your point and made my assertion with you specifically in mind.

    I’ve been known to walk to and from restaurants and bars that are several miles from my residence or workplace. (And maybe that’s why I’m so desensitized to the wuss pedestrians that apparently infest the Heights, is because I walked through unfashionable neighborhoods to do so.) When I lived in Eastwood, I would walk up to a half-mile to go to a Kroger for two or three days worth of groceries. (More than that, and cold stuff isn’t cold when I get back home.) I did these things not for lack of faster and safer transport, but for fun. That said, I can’t recall EVER having walked to a Wal-Mart for any reason whatsoever. Wal-Mart is not a convenience store. It is inherently inconvenient to pedestrians; that’s just how its business model works. If you walk there, you’re doing it wrong.

  • Yale was a quiet residential street? When? 1930?

  • No, John. Not even then. Yale has always been the embarrassment of the Heights. For decades, even the mention of Yale St turned up the noses of the Heights Cult. Even admitting you lived close to Yale risked banishment from the Club. Now it’s:

    “Yale, a once a quiet residentail street into a roadway overrun with traffic.”


    The funny (or sad) thing is that all these folks who chime in about how “the City” or “the Mayor” or “someone” should have done something about Ainbinder or Walmart are only exposing their own ignorance about how and why Houston is booming and being rebuilt from the ground up.

    They want us to emulate NYC, or Chicago or San Francisco. Of course if these people lived in any of these metro areas they’d be bitching about the fact that they can only afford to live in Newark, Skokie, or Gilroy.

  • @jgbiggs, yes. pennies in my pocket are better than in someone else’s pocket.

  • #32: So our working theory is that Houston is booming because of its compliant attitude toward a retailer like Wal-mart?
    My Wal-mart: was an old-school, not very large, poorly-lit Wal-mart, the goods arrayed like in a five-and-dime.
    Wal-mart announced they were going to close it and build a new one with a grocery a couple miles away, in a more lightly-developed area, recharge-wise.
    There was opposition.
    Wal-mart relented (possibly this was brinksmanship on the part of their local representatives all along) and in return the city granted some waiver or other for them to greatly expand the old store, provided they reduce impervious cover overall.
    (It helped that there was something to waive, something to negotiate, in the first place…)
    The result is a rather beautifully landscaped Wal-mart, instead of an empty big box, with ample strips of vegetation (and walkways through them!) between rows of parking, and quite a few sizeable trees where there were none before. In fact, the trees along the access road practically obscure the Wal-mart logo, which may be a first.
    (Note: people still know that it’s there, it turns out they may be trusted to grasp that.)
    Have no illusions. My city was like a little kid hurling himself at a huge linebacker, Wal-mart. The hoops the company had to go through were no deterrent: almost nothing, certainly, to them, but something to the people who live here.
    And all because our elected representatives paid attention, and went to bat for us.

  • JT- why are you confused that someone who lives in the Heights tried to walk to walmart? What is so confusing about that? Perhaps you are confused that there is more than one person who lives in the Heights, and thus more than one opinion about whether that Walmart is appropriate for its location and whether its development is as promised. Moreover, as the guy who attempted to walk to Walmart states in his post, he only recently moved to the Heights from the burbs and missed the entire debate. Me, I despise Walmart’s labor and employment practices. I’ll never shop Walmart, but that just makes the line a little shorter for you to save $.05 on toilet paper. So, I guess I am confused by your confusion.

  • So, HeightsGuy, I guess you were wrong and the “personal prejudice grasping at unpersuasive arguments” crowd was right?