Comment of the Day: Parking in the Front, Business in the Back

COMMENT OF THE DAY: PARKING IN THE FRONT, BUSINESS IN THE BACK “It’s not BS. Local independent businesses may be relatively willing to provide their parking on the side / back / top / below or wherever. But I’ve heard from several retail developers that convincing a ‘credit tenant’ to lease in a structure that doesn’t have off-street front-door parking can be a major challenge, even if there’s an oversupply of parking elsewhere on site. The developer of BLVD place wanted to put the development right up along the Post Oak Boulevard sidewalk –– and at the time there was the expectation there would be a light rail station right there. This was going to be done, I believe, without seeking a setback variance (and the Transit Corridor Ordinance in 2009 obviated the need for one anyway). But the tenants that were sought refused to come unless a parking lot was put in front –– the internal parking structure wasn’t enough for them. And so, the plan was redesigned with off-street parking in front, and the tenants came. I don’t mean to imply support for the setback requirement –– I think in most cases it hurts way more than it helps and should be eliminated, or at least modified to not require a variance for more sidewalk-friendly development. Did you know that Kirby from Westheimer to US 59 is a Major Thoroughfare, therefore requiring a 25 foot setback from the right of way for new development? Same with Montrose from W. Dallas to US 59. Is this what we want for the primary streets of some of Houston’s most ‘urban’ neighborhoods, the very center of our city? In my opinion, this is ridiculous.” [Local Planner, commenting on Comment of the Day: When Houston Buildings Weren’t So Shy of the Street] Illustration: Lulu

14 Comment

  • Anyone who spends money at the Whole Foods at BLVD Place is a traitor if they favor urban style development. You are giving money to the enemy!

  • @ local planner

    True storey.

  • If Wulfe & Co. were to build a football stadium, it would be Lame-bo Field. Seriously, you’re trying to create a marquee shopping center, perhaps the nicest in the city, and you can’t even build up to the street?

  • Still calling BS. What is so special about Houston and not other sunbelt cities like ATX, DFW, ATL, Phoenix, etc. that makes tenants “require” parking in front of mixed use in large employment and retail center? Give me a break.

  • Simply put, we allow developers to be cheap and tacky and they oblige. Texas’s other cities don’t seem to have them same tenant problem we have, yet we are outpacing them by just about every metric economically and demographically in 2013. What gives, oh libertarians?

  • @ dom: Libertarians would likely suggest that question you pose in Post #6 answers itself to some extent if you reverse the order of the first two sentences. It’s sort of obvious. Make it easier to do business and more people will do business.

    But I’m not so preachy. Houston enjoys a golden age when commodity prices support it. It has very little to do with local politics or quality of life issues. If there were hard-and-fast policy that all new high-end retail in the urban core had to be crammed up against a sidewalk, then that is what would get built.

    But yeah, Local Planner is perfectly correct that given the choice (they have many) and a competitive market (it certainly is), retailers prefer to situate themselves in front of a parking lot.

  • Real estate development in Houston suffers from some pretty awful groupthink. For a city that is attracting so many innovative minds in industry, medicine and the culinary arts, it is sad that a “don’t rock the boat” mentality permeates every new development. If the energy industry operated in the same way, there wouldn’t be a single well in Eagle Ford.

  • Niche,

    Houston is enjoying a golden age, but why are we acting like we have to bend over backwards for developers? Our neighbors ATX and DFW aren’t having ANY trouble in this “competitive market” with getting retailers and developers to abide by their city zoning and ordinances. Nor are there any stories about developers shunning these cities for their regulations… Again, the developers are more than happy to oblige we cheap and tacky form and architecture when we gave them a free pass.

  • Tenants aren’t entirely wrong. There IS a psychological difference between parking in front of a store and driving into a multi-story garage and taking stairs/elevator down to the place you want to go.
    Highland Village, for example, has lots of parking in a multi-story garage, yet still people circle for spots in the surface lots. Same at Shepherd & W Gray.
    We seem to be programmed to think that a surface spot is somehow “better”. Either that or we associate parking structures with having to pay.

  • It’s clear that given the choice between leasing with or without a parking lot out front, with all else being equal, the retailer will choose the development with parking. To the retailer it’s an amenity–why would they want to pay the same amount for less? The further the distance the potential customer has to walk, the less likely they will shop at that location.
    Perhaps instead of a minimum setback requirement, along TND or TOD roadways we need a maximum setback guideline. Make it so 50% of the building must be within X feet of the roadway. When all developers are “unable” to build more street side parking, retailers will have no better option to choose. If we want the retailer’s perceived amenity to go away, we have to level the playing field.

  • For those of us that would like to see more sidewalk-adjacent retail, it would help if we allowed on-street parking. Many retail experts say that in most places (places that are not NYC or old European-type cities), on-street parking is essentially a must if you want sidewalk-fronting retail. Unfortunately in Houston, we have something against allowing on-street parking on most of our commercial thoroughfares.

    By the way, on-street parking makes pedestrians feel safer too.

  • who shops there, anyway?

  • @ dom: Austin and Dallas do a pretty good job at accommodating developers’ desires. They each have a few sensitive neighborhoods where it’s more difficult, but in general, their political leadership is highly susceptible to direct or indirect monetary influence. That, and I think that Dallas will support any developer that promises to displace poor people into the next municipality over.

    @ Local Planner: I can’t speak for Houston’s powers-that-be or for ‘the people’, but my impression as a driver is that on-street parking is okay when streets are wide and one-way, for instance in the downtown grid. Where it is aggravating is when it is on a major thoroughfare like Washington Avenue, where sloppy acts of parallel parking can raise tensions and slow traffic. I know that it’s not politically popular, but I’d rather that on-street parking take place on side streets behind major thoroughfares; and yes, even in urban neighborhoods. Parking cars there does not adversely impact mobility along major thoroughfares. And since, for the most part, we’re stuck with the thoroughfares we have, I think that we should protect their use as thoroughfares rather than as parking lots. If they do get used as parking lots, then retailers will benefit for a while, become complacent, and then throw a fit if and when traffic becomes so unbearable that we change our minds and make them back into thoroughfares.