Comment of the Day: What Katyville Could Have Been

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT KATYVILLE COULD HAVE BEEN Adjacent Uses“From Yale St. and I-10 all the way through the First Ward to I-45, there are so many large commercial tracts that are on the market or coming on the market that you could build a whole new city. The Mahatma Rice plant is huge. The tract from Detering to Grocer’s Supply is huge. There are tons of other lots ready for redevelopment all along the Washington Corridor east of Yale St. We all know that traffic will get much worse as thousands more residents come into the area to live, shop, work and play. But the idea that traffic is just going to happen no matter what is silly. Smart development and infrastructure improvements can make a huge difference. When retail, residential and office are placed in the same development, you always reduce car trips. I used to work just outside the loop in a typical spec office building with no retail nearby. Worst traffic in the garage was at noon as everyone was scurrying out of the building to go get lunch. I now work downtown in a building that is in Houston Center. Hardly any traffic going out of the building, despite being many times bigger, during lunch as there are ample places to eat in the food court. The problem with redevelopment along Washington Ave is that everyone is just doing their own thing without any regard for trying to make the area conducive to work/shop/live/play without being reliant on cars. And the City still suffers from low self esteem and is happy to give out tax gifts without requiring any sort of return benefit. The result is that there is no connection between the retail development (largely single story title wall strip malls), residential (mostly disconnected pencil boxes) and office (an odd tower at Waugh and not much other new development). Had a single developer had control over all the available property, we could see a transformative development like a giant City Centre meets West Ave meets Post Oak Midtown. Instead, we get an odd mish mash of retail, office, and residential with little infrastructure improvements to mitigate the impacts (not even a right turn lane on Yale St. SB at I-10, which would make a huge difference). So much could be done, but so little will get done to maximize the benefits of incoming density and minimize the burdens.” [Old School, commenting on Comment of the Day: Admiral Linen and the Way of Katyville] Illustration: Lulu

14 Comment

  • Do you have a proposed solution? Zoning? If you don’t have a solution, this is just whining.

  • Very eloquently stated, and I agree completely about the wasted opportunities here. But rather than developers doing huge mixed-use developments on large blocks, the ideal solution would be if we could somehow break up all these large land parcels into a traditional rectangular street grid, continuing the 1st Ward grid to the east, and then keep ample right of way for large sidewalks. Then you can either take the route most cities take and zone Washington Ave., Heights Blvd, and maybe Studemont as retail/office Gateway Corridors with maximum setbacks, landscaping requirements, and tax breaks for good design, or let the free market sort it out and hope that within 50 years and 2 or 3 generations of wasted buildings, we get something like a rich urban community.

  • I’m with Mike. Expanding the grid while maintaining the free market would be the best scenario. Any chance the Planning Commission would have any variances that must be approved in order for this big box planning to continue? More streets with more sidewalks will lead to a more complete community.

  • “had a single developer had control over all available land” …….are you kidding? Really, bring that oppressiveness to the neighborhood? this is an incredible opportunity and Mike has the right drection in mind. Cut new streets between these previous large tracts and the traffic will filter throughout the more numerous streets than only Yale, Heights, Studemont and Sawyer. Let small business owners buy land, open stores, convert these warehouses into retail areas, etc…. No single dream, which you might not like, but many small ones for us to choose from. Your form of centralized planning would be a disaster for the area. The dynamic of a growing, evelving neighborhood is a joy to experience.

  • I’m sure we’d have no problem deciding which single developer we should put in charge…

    Not that it a real solution anyway. The one-developer model brought is Friendswood, The Woodlands, BridgeLand, Cinco Ranch, etc. I’ll take Houston mishmash any day over that master planned garbage.

    Also, can we name on single development that the City had a hand in that didn’t suck??? Putting politicians in charge got us Mercado Del Sol, Houston Pavilions, and whatever they call the old Albert Thomas Convention Center.

  • this sort of desirable development pattern can be achieved without a master-planned, top-down approach. in fact it is preferable to achieve it without a master planned, top-down approach because it allows for experimentation, success, failure, and rebirth.

    if you ever walk around houston, the problem becomes evident: the developments are disconnected from the street. apartment buildings are surrounded by wrought-iron gates. commercial properties and retail properties are surrounded by a sea of cement. these “mixed-use” developments are often no better – they face inward and cannot be accessed by a pedestrian walking down the street, only from the parking garage.

    small changes in city code could accomplish this: reduce setbacks, increase sidewalks, allow for on-street parking, reduce the size of the street grid. small incremental changes that will encourage the development pattern we all want without demanding it from the top down, either by city zoning or master planning.

  • “The problem with redevelopment along Washington Ave is that everyone is just doing their own thing without any regard for trying to make the area conducive to work/shop/live/play without being reliant on cars. ”

    This is Houston in a nutshell, just about every developer only cares about their own tract with complete disregard to the surrounding context. Even so much so that, as @jesse points out, just about every development is disconnected from the very street that it is on.

    Expanding the grid would be a great idea but since this area already meets the substandard intersection spacing requirements put forth by CH. 42 (Sec. 42-128.) there really isn’t much incentive on the developers end to do so (from a financial standpoint). Just about every large tract of land remaining in the city will never see any more street dedications because developers would rather develop an internal network of privates streets that they can gate off or construct with lax standards. Ch. 42 even states as one of its goals that through traffic should be discouraged within all subdivisions. It’s hard to reestablish a grid with that mentality. It would be great if the city would move forward with some type of intersection density standard like this

  • Exactly – the most important planning policy the city should be doing is requiring completion of and densification of the street network – it is justified by public mobility concerns. Also, its street standards are slowly moving in a direction that friendlier to pedestrians but still have a ways to go IMHO. Existing Chapter 42 requirements for maximum intersection distance are ridiculously insufficient for densifying urban locations.

  • This post is basically an argument for zoning…

    Although, nobody has mentioned the huge site Archstone owns on Washington between Heights & Studemont. They have a large enough land position to create a mixed used development there. But it’s unrealistic to think that large tracts of land like that can easily be found or put together by developers on a regular basis.

  • I think you’re missing the most important point here, the OPPORTUNITY. Those islands of free land including Mahatma rice place are preserved from today’s mediocre’s development and will become very valuable and will become tomorrow Premium developments.

  • Okay, so how do we do it? How do we divide up these large tracts when they are private land owned by developers, and any Houston developer faced with a huge tract of land imagines a big ethereal sea of parking with a box on the side, as his pulse races and he licks his lips?

  • I think that the OP is ignoring that developers frickin’ HATE doing mixed use because it complicates the underwriting of the next buyers. For instance, a REIT that specializes in apartments wants to have only apartments and a fee simple property. It is easy to understand why. A multifamily specialist doesn’t want to have to own something that they need to have multiple management companies to handle and that presents difficulties in terms of the security and separation of common areas; they especially don’t want to have to underwrite it at an exit cap that is one iota higher than it needs to be. Another problem is that accommodating multiple uses will necessarily impact the efficiency of the development in terms of the percentage of rentable space by floor area. The bottom line ends up that either both the residential and retail rents have to go higher (not a something that should be encouraged or subsidized) or the land value has to drop compared to what might’ve been. And let me tell you, cities that rely so much on property tax revenue and that still have a lot of developable land in inventory won’t be falling all over themselves to undermine their own tax base.

  • @Niche: You are just talking about one class of developer. There are plenty of developers out there who can do mixed use, do it well and make bank at it. In fact the purchaser of the Grocer Supply property is talking about doing a significant mixed use development. Also, rental rates for retail in Houston have been headed skyward for the past three years, mainly do to the inability of new sq footage coming on the market to meet demand. If the REITs pencil box up all of the Washington corridor and provide no retail sq footage, retail rental rates will be off the wall expensive.

  • Ah such logic…