Headlines: Getting to the Washington Heights Walmart; Learning Lessons from Hurricane Ike

Photo of missing signage at the old Harold’s in the Heights on 19th St.: Molly Block via Swamplot Flickr Pool

19 Comment

  • Has the $6 MM already gone to the developer? Is there a way to recoup the money / levy a penalty for not holding up their end? What systems are in place to hold the developer accountable for installing the improvements that were promised. Was there even an approval process for the ‘improvements’?
    This 380 agreement stinks.

  • – Don’t really disagree about the lack of visible 380 funding from Ainbinder. I’m not familiar with 380 agreements but I’d assume there is a scope of planned work that totals $6M before it was apporved.

    – A couple of observations: Pedistrain walkways need to be addressed especially pedestrian traffic going east or west. TONS of WalMart shoppers and employees use the bus stop on Heights Blvd. Sit and eat at Smashburger and you will usually see a couple of Walmart customers walking to the stop. Cars are also using this as a short cut to Heigths Blvd since the outgress from Walmart is there as well. This makes it hard to turn from Smashburger’s parking lot and dangerous for people who are headed north on Yale b/c of limited visibility coming from the underpass.
    – All large commercial trucks cannot use the decaying Yale St bridge. Add this on top of the continued development of San Jacinto Stone’s old site and I think you can make a strong argument for some of the 380 money to be used to towards repairing the bridge.

    Both of these suggestions are true infrastructure issues that not only affect the neighborhood but also the big box tenant.

  • I love that the video’s discussion of the danger of crossing Yale/Heights was accompanied by a clip of a man dangerously jaywalking with a huge, red hand signal plainly visible.

  • Ainbinder gets reimbursed out of collected sales and property taxes, not a big check from the City.

  • @Jason C. – Half of the time the walk signals don’t even respond properly. They’re either broken outright or they won’t respond to the light-cycle unless you press the button, of that even works. I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that in this town structures designed for pedestrians get overlooked.

  • It makes me wonder why they fought so hard to build in the Heights when they went out of their way to make it hard to get there on foot. Crossing signals on Yale & I-10 are still bagged up & useless, no sidewalk along the old SJ Stone site & a long stroll across that massive parking lot.
    Maybe they were worried somebody’d fire up an angry mob at a Heights Association meeting and march down to burn ’em out?

  • Those sidewalks are a joke, built like they were being forced on the developer by “walkabillies” for whom it is only eye candy and feelgood finger foods. Besides, everyone knows that WalMartians are so misshapen that walking on a 200 yards of sidewalk is impossible anyway. So why not leave the hydrant…stray dogs are the only living things who will ever use it.

  • Moral of the story: Don’t walk in Houston. We all are well aware that pedestrians are considered second class citizens.

  • I once saw a guy get shot down at the planning commission trying to renovate his little taco stand because the City was requiring him to put a sidewalk through his parking lot. Everything around him had been built up without sidewalks or was undeveloped. He would have had to get rid of his front parking in order to put in a sidewalk that did not connect to any other sidewalk and would then run afoul of the parking space requirement. Then, the City gives a big developer (and indirectly to Walmart) a 6 mil tax deal to pay off infrastructure work and just looks the other way when they cannot put in a sidewalk because the road expansion pushed them into the part of the ROW with the giant utility poles. No variance. No red tag. Just look the other way and hope that no one notices.

  • People shopping at Wal-Mart will not walk to/from the store. The big box store sells big cheap items, and in big quantities. Have you ever tried to walk half a mile carrying a 24 pack of Diet Coke, a 12 pack of paper towels, and a 10 pound sack of onions?

    Wal-Mart has no interest in pedestrians as they represent less than 1 percent of their customer base.

  • Go onto Google Earth, look at the Washington Heights project (which is more than just a Wal-Mart, if anybody wasn’t previously aware of that, because I know that saying so confuses people).

    Turn on historical imagery. Look at the aerial from 10/28/2012. Look at the aerial from 3/11/2011. Look at the new sidewalks. Look at the wider, re-paved new roads. Look at the new intersections. Look at the extension of the Heights Blvd. jogging trail. There are also things that you cannot see, but that were included in the construction and the 380 Agreement. These include improvements to water/sewer/stormwater lines, as well as to the bridges and the bayou itself.

    You will see that it is easy to walk from the Heights to the Ainbinder development should one be so inclined — although I think that doing so is a pretty stupid idea. I frankly do not understand why the Heights takes political ownership of a property opposite a freeway and a bayou from it.

    (The other thing that you might note in the process is that the parking lot is pretty durn’ full. They appear to be doing good business, contrary to the previous claims of many of the neighborhood activists.)

    Now, here’s a link to the 380 Agreement. (http://www.houstontx.gov/ecodev/380/ainbinder.pdf) You should read it before deciding to make an ass of yourself when you respond to me. Let it be known that I don’t like 380 Agreements in principle, that some of them are just outright scandalous…but that this was actually, somehow, one of the better ones IMO. (If you want to get really super-pissed-off, go read the one given for the Gulfgate HEB.)

    In the Agreement, you may notice that there were a total of 1,280 square feet of sidewalk that were re-imbursable by the 380 Agreement, all of which were off-site. (Ainbinder sidewalks being six feet wide, exceeding code, this accounts for only about 213 linear feet of sidewalk.) The projected cost of all sidewalks subject to the Agreement was $4,480, such a small percentage of the total 380 Agreement that my little desktop calculator goes into scientific notation.) That means that, just like the owner of the taco shack, Ainbinder was paying for its own on-site sidewalks. And as you can see from the aerial photography, what they built was nice and wide and curvy.

    If you are concerned regarding the sidewalks on the San Jacinto Stone site, it is worth noting that that parcel will likely be redeveloped soon enough. When they do, they will be required to build on-site sidewalks. It is a problem that solves itself.

  • Might I add, Peter Brown is smarter than to interject himself so baselessly into an issue such as this on principle. He’s trying to manipulate people into respecting him again. It’s quite pathetic — and even moreso that local “journalists” lend him any credibility at all.

  • @Niche: You have to do more than sit on the internet to understand what is wrong with the 380 agreement and how it played out with this development. First, the wider sidewalks are BS. They just paved over where there would usually be a planting strip next to the curb. That planting strip is a safety measure to keep people from walking too close to traffic. Not worth giving away 6 mil. Also, the sidewalk by SJS will not be built unless the City takes part of the old SJS property by eminent domain. The decided that widening the street was more important that connecting sidewalks. The main selling point of the 380 agreement was that it would give the City control over the development to make it more user friendly than had the developer just had to do the minimum required to meet City requirements. It turns out that the City avoided making the developer do anything that was too expensive (eminent domain for sidewalk, promised right turn lane on Yale SB, Yale St. bridge rehab) even after dedicating 6 mil in tax reimbursements. So, instead of getting a properly constructed development and infrastructure, we got a half assed development that cut corners to make sure the developer did not have to actually pony up any real money that would not be reimbursed. And enough of the BS argument that people in the Heights should just go on about their business because the development is not technically in the Heights. Someone living outside beltway 8 should be just as outraged as the people living on Koehler who now have truck and car traffic cutting through their neighborhood on 18′ streets with open drainage ditches.

  • Niche, until you see the receipts, you don’t know what the City is reimbursing Ainbinder for on the sidewalks. The text of the 380 says wider sidewalks are reimbursable.

    The itemized list has changed quite a lot – no detention, no signal at Heights and Koehler. That’s a half a million right there.

    Ainbinder spent all the money. Where did all the money go? I hope Isiah Carey keeps after this and finds out the whole story.

  • 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.

  • SuperDave- Don’t you know it’s apparently perfectly fine to steal a shopping cart to take home and then just leave it on a sidewalk somewhere?

  • @ Old School: Dude, if that aerial was taken in October then there’s every possibility that my car is depicted in the parking lot. I’m familiar with this development, and…it’s just not that difficult to get around or through it.

    @EVERYONE: Substantial changes to the work that was authorized would have required an approval from the city. The developer could not have done it unilaterally.

    It’d be really super-duper easy for a reporter or for community activists to make an open records request and obtain the documentation that details all expenditures.

    I’d be willing to bet that that’s already been done, but that nobody is talking about it because it just wasn’t that interesting after all.

  • Andy Icken distributed the original Request for Council Action that misrepresented the content of the Ainbinder 380 to council before the vote. The same Andy Icken approves any changes to deliverables within 380. None of those “substantial changes” reduce the money distributed to the developer. The developer simply transfers money earmarked for a specific line item to something else and they ensure that they leave no money on the table. They can do that by building something worthless to the public and billing the City for it plus interest and contingencies. (Exhibit A: the sidewalk to nowhere behind Walmart.) Anyone who thinks the City is providing some kind of accounting or procedural oversight to stop the misuse of funds is kidding themselves.

  • The City does not have all the receipts yet, just a list of money spent.

    And yes, they spent all the money despite half-a-million being stricken right off the bat – a signal at Koehler and Heights for $200K and they decided not to do any on-site detention – 300K.

    I’m very interested to see how much Ainbinder actually paid for the land that turned into the Koehler Street Extension. The 380 estimates $58/square foot – I have no idea if this is what they paid or not.

    The Request for Council Action states: “At no time will the City’s rebates exceed the recipients’ actual costs.” Of course, that thing is already so chuck-full of lies what does one more matter?