Recapping the Market Square Tower Foundation Pour; ‘Time Capsule’ Homes


Photo of Old Sixth Ward: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool


18 Comment

  • So what exactly is the opposition to the city hall expansion? I don’t get it. They touched on the library issue, but I don’t think the report said anything on why the people didn’t like the proposal…..

  • I often see Brown and Crossley from Houston tomorrow, and other new urbanist planning types, argue for govt. incentives to encourage more compact urbanism. Has anyone ever seen them argue for removing the govt. regulations (e.g. parking mins, excessive setbacks) that make more compact urbanism illegal?

  • “The Walmart style auto-dependent commercial development happening along the bayou is a sad misuse of prime real estate, which will lead to even more traffic congestion, a weak tax base, loss of our quality of life, flooding, and dirty air,” he said. “It’s like the developers run the city and the elected officials do what they are told. This wouldn’t happen in Dallas. It wouldn’t even happen in Sugar Land.”

    Another concern from some is the lack of quality first tier stores in the area near the Yale Walmart. “All we have are pretty weak sisters,” said Houston historian and author Anne Sloan, who did note she is excited about the Sprouts at Yale Street Market.
    i’m sorry, but if writing articles on reasons why the city should be altering its development codes for specific neartown parcels of land then you have to make a really big/good case as to why. self-serving and baseless accusations such as those thrown around above will not bring any new folks to the table to hear your concerns.

    make no mistake, the entire heights is still very much auto dependent (note constant complaining in the heights about public street parking) and even with all the mutlifamily properties in the washington corridor there’s still not sufficient pedestrian use or nearby density to lessen the parking requirements. I admittedly only go down washington during rush hour or weekend mornings, but I rarely see any pedestrians in this area and the parking lots are all still full. I’ll admit this walmarts parking lot is probably the worst one in the entire inner loop and is designed as if everyone is driving a chevy suburban or F-350 (gotta love parking 4 spaces deep and feeling like you’re already in the middle of the parking lot), but it still fills up and is very much used/needed. the alternative requirement of a parking garage (this is what he’s getting at, right?) would certainly not work with a major retailer to build and anchor such a development. in that case you end up with a reduced land appraisal as it would have to be broken up into several parcels for separate residential/commercial developments. there is not nearly enough demand in this area for large first-tier shopping centers such as citycentre and that new highland village development.

    as for the last comment there, if you want access to first-tier stores then you stop being cheap and move to uptown or river oaks, but that’s not a city issue and certainly not something houstonians should care about. as it should, the market will decide what is and isn’t in demand for these parcels. if there’s enough big spenders in this area in the future, then yes, those stores will follow but the city has no say and absolutely shouldn’t in such matters.

    the fact that Houston has different development codes than Dallas or Sugarland is not a negative statement and serves no purpose in furthering any argument here.

    as a nearby resident this development has indeed improved my quality of life by eliminating trips out to Silber St. and by providing commercial options that otherwise would not have been placed here if not for walmart anchoring the space. nothing on this section of Yale had provided anything of utility for me previously. you need to address the concerns that would benefit all parties involved, both those that utilize this area and those that think it should be something different/better. may have missed it but certainly not seeing that being done yet.

  • I oppose the government city hall expansion. Any expansion of government square footage, is a loss for freedom. That land will be contaminated with government ‘rules’ and ‘laws’. Every time I fly abroad and return to the states, I pick up the soil and eat it, just so that I can taste the liberty of this free country. mmm

  • @ awp: Yes, Crossley has mentioned the codes many many times often using rather extreme language. But you are correct, the codes do discourage compact urbanism, to no real advantage of the city.

    @ joel: I agree that it’s not any of the city’s business to decide the quality of the retailers, leave that to the market. Many areas in and around Houston would kill to have what’s gone in along Yale and Heights; the complainer is just another in a long, long list of complainers from the Heights and nearby areas about their retail situation, going back decades. Actually, Heights residents seem really good about complaining about virtually anything and everything.

    All this said, the City should relax or preferably do away with the on-site parking regulations and let Walmart decide how much parking they need on their own. Given Houston’s car dependency, the vast vast majority will choose to provide it anyway, because their lenders will require it and common sense dictates that they will need it to thrive. They shouldn’t be forced to provide it in the front setback, however, so removing the setback requirement is also needed, provided this action is attached to some good basic urban design requirements for the pedestrian realm along the street.

    The statement about the tax base regarding one-story retail with surface parking is pretty true, unfortunately. Strip malls are notoriously low property tax generators in terms of improvement value, only partially offset with sales tax. (And grocery sales are mostly exempt from sales tax.)

  • @Joel… agreed

    I don’t understand how this area could even become ‘walkable’ unless the city made some major improvements on walking paths over the bayou and under the freeway. Getting to it from the south even as close as Washington is pretty bad as well.

    The bridges over the Bayou at Studemont and Taylor are not walkable, you can take the Heights bike path over to the Target area, but you have to walk 5 blocks west of studemont to even get to the bike path..

    Anyone coming to from the Heights north of this development will be coming by car, as there is no alternative.

  • @awp: The new urbanism folks hate the 25′ setback because 1) the planning commission always rolls over with a variance without requiring any real pedestrian friendly amenities and 2) most developers deal with the requirement by putting parking in front of retail (i.e. strip mall). And they have argued extensively before city council against the parking minimums (See the work of Okra on behalf of small restaurant and bar entrepreneurs) and have gained some concessions like counting bicycle racks towards parking minimums.
    @joel: How did you ever survive having to drive an extra six minutes to get to Walmart on Silber Road? And get real, the other tenants in that development are there in spite of Walmart. I really do not think that Bradley Ogden was looking for a Walmart anchor when he was doing site selection for a high end restaurant.

    Your argument is basically that because past development favored the automobile, new development should also favor the automobile. That is also known in urban planning development circles as “when will dummy learn”. Houston can stand around and wait for the chicken or the egg to magically appear or it can become part of the solution. All Peter Brown is really asking for is some incentives to do the right thing. Walmart got 6 mil from the City to do the wrong thing.

    You are also absolutely wrong about land appraisals. Nothing draws a lower appraisal value than a big box store. The Height Walmart is currently appraised at @34 mil for a 152k sq ft building on a 15-16 acre lot. The apartment complex across the street is a 295k sq ft building on a 3-4 acre lot. It appraised out at @31 mil. If you made Walmart build a parking garage and do a 2-3 story building on 5 acres, you would have enough room for three more apartment complexes and an additional 90 mil in property tax appraisals. Or better yet, keep Walmart out of the city center and fill the entire property with mixed use and see tax appraisals 10x Walmart.

    The problem is that the current market makes it very easy for developers to maximize their profits by doing just enough, but not one bit more. The land prices along I-10 are expensive, but not so much so that they require building up and doing mixed use. But just wait five years. Then we will sorely regret again stripmalling up this area. Even now, 20/20 hindsight on the Walmart development shows that multifamily was needed WAY more than Walmart. Multifamily rents in Houston are too high. That development could have had 1000 units and, instead, is only a net gain of about 150 units. That is because the majority of the land use is for parking. That is a big waste in a city that is basically adding the population of Canton, Ohio every year.

  • The funniest thing about Heights people screaming that they’re better than Wlamart is the fact that Walmart spends millions on demographic studies, feasibility studies, long term demographic projections … and the SCIENCE of statistic has show that Heights YOU ARE people of Wlamart.

  • @ Old School: If the City were to attempt to preclude more land-intensive development in order to try to force improvement-intensive taxable density onto urban land, then what is a whole lot more likely to happen is that it takes a lot longer for the city’s stock of urban land to get infilled. Given that there’s still a heck of a lot of land out there to get infilled, I don’t really see that as a priority; and if there weren’t that much land out there, then Walmart couldn’t have built a store in that location economically. (You’ll notice that they shunned Post Oak Blvd. for the edge of Gulfton, for one example. It’s not any wonder as to why.)

    It’s the sort of problem that sorts itself out without policy intervention. Perhaps one day the Greater-Greater Heights area (a label that I use to distinguish the Washington Heights project from an area that is actually considered the Heights by most people, which is different still from what is the actual Houston Heights) will be uniformly affluent enough and a sufficiently popular regional destination that Walmart and its ilk will all be priced out. But it isn’t right now. It has a very long ways to go before it gets to that point; and some of that really big land area will get there before all the other parts get there.

  • I’m convinced that Walmart is the US’ punishment for what we did to the Indians.

    That is all.

  • What $200K buys you around Houston these days, it’s still all location location location as it always has been. Inner loop, not much or nothing, naturally. Due to labor shortages and demand exceeding supply I still believe it’s a bubble that has yet to pop, if history has taught anything. Buying in the burbs and commuting in if you must is probably where the smart money is these days, condos are a niche market as they always have been. Let them have their high density communities, just stay off of the sidewalks and have a few bucks in the bank when Black Friday comes…

  • The “time capsule” slideshow doesn’t mention that the old part of the Tall Oaks house was originally built in the mid-50s and designed by some guy named Frank Lloyd Wright. Seems like a curious omission.

  • @commonsense: Walmart has failed to improve same store sales for years. Their science sucks.
    @Niche: All it takes is the right incentives. Just look at downtown. Before the downtown living initiative, no one would touch downtown with a ten foot pole. But now there are 7,500 units in the pipeline. Give developers the same sort of carrots for combining multifamily with retail/office instead of stripmalling or doing pencil box apartments and everyone would be happy.
    Walmart got a 6 mil tax gift that went a long way towards making the land affordable. And the development was born in the ashes of the great recession when you could have your pick of cute bungalows in the Heights for $250-300k. Now, there are over 1,000 multifamily units under construction in the Heights (TC + Greystar + JLB), a few hundred new town homes in the Greater Greater Heights going up and lots of house and multifamily flipping. Retail rental rates inside the loop are through the roof. And anyone in the real estate game will tell you that there is not a heck of a lot of land to get infilled, which is why the City should incentivize developers to maximize the use of every square foot that is left. Failing to do so only makes Houston more expensive and adversely affects our ability to compete with places that do not have a 7 month long summer and have things like mountains, rivers and history.

  • Development in Houston is why we need Parker and her ilk out of office. She is all talk and has done nothing to improve this city during a great boom. Instead she is just about her own personal agenda. If I wanted a good ol boy in would have voted for a Republican. At least you know what you are getting that way.

  • Old School, I certainly agree with your break down there and didn’t have time to really expand on anything in that long winding post, but my viewpoint is similar to TheNiche’s. For as much space as that Walmart is wasting and impacting lower land appraisals, you can’t just discount the demand it pulls for the surrounding businesses which in turn helps this commercial development go that much further in encouraging density all around it. wasn’t that multifamily complex across the street announced only after the build-out of the walmart? similar circumstance with the Target, it helped drive density and a large complex beside it as well. now i’m not familiar with Ogden or his restaurant here, but based on what you’re hinting at there it sounds like he is the odd man out, but that’s just one on a long list of generic stores all pulling and driving demand from one another. at the end of the day, regardless of city-wide demand, you’re not going to get multi-family complexes without neighboring commercial/business corridors to ensure viability for the developers (with perhaps that TC Jester development being a lone exception).
    perhaps there’s code restrictions over there i’m not aware of, but i think of shady acres as it’s undergone an entirely new build out in the past decade. more townhomes only begets more townhomes and complexes will not follow. we can incentivize development, i’m not in disagreement on that, but i don’t think that alone will get you where you hope. even with incentives here, it still would have been walmart winning the bid and there’s no way it would agree to a parking garage. as you stated, there’s many more options all just minutes away and people can just go to target 1, target 2, walmart 2 or costco (i’m going north to the heights, not south from it) to save themselves the time or effort. unfortunately that’s why we’re not going to see large mixed use development in this area for a long time still, there’s just so many other options nearby and not enough demand for people to succumb to the extra time and effort of going through a garage. they could also do more to incentivize pedestrian use, but they don’t have the ability to create it. there’s lots of parts of this town that are much much less pedestrian friendly, yet still see much higher traffic counts and utilization without being incentivized.

  • @ Old School: The problems with providing incentives are that 1) they’re no free lunch, so the money spent on incentives comes from somewhere else in the budget, for instance from parks or streetscape improvements which benefit all constituents immediately and also can induce development, and that 2) incentives for housing in specific neighborhoods comprising a fairly large urban core tend not to increase the overall level of demand for the urban core but rather to merely shift the pattern of development by a few miles. This is the same reason that it’s usually ill-advised for a big city to subsidize retail, that they’re just cannibalizing from demand within their own tax base.

    So if you’re going to do something like that as a matter of public policy, you really want to make sure that there is a strategic interest in putting all this multifamily in one place. That argument works well in the Downtown area, which has a well-funded TIRZ and Management Disrict and a huge pre-existing employment base and plenty of transportation infrastructure. It’s the perfect place to build densely if density is a public sector goal at all; and all that Downtown needs to create a self-sustaining cycle of market-driven development is a critical mass of residents to give rise to a base of neighborhood retailers. They’ve executed the Downtown subsidies especially well by making them very temporary; if they made the subsidies a permanent program, then the benefits would’ve just been built into the price of downtown land.

    Okay, so we know from observation that the Greater-Greater Heights is already desirable for retailers. Obviously. So what makes the Greater-Greater-Heights the sort of area where the City should desire to promote density, especially if ends up cannibalizing demand from developments in Regent Square or Midtown or even Downtown itself? (I have similar concerns about having too many TIRZs around the City.)

    Two more things need be said: 1) There’s plenty of land left. Its inexhaustible as a matter of course. Commercial land has a way of getting freed-up or pieced together when economic incentives line up — meaning, when the land price goes up. That is EXACTLY what is has been happening along Yale, Heights, Studemont, and Taylor and it will happen again and again. 2) If the cost of living rises too high in the Greater-Greater Heights, that’s okay. It may surprise you to learn that there are other neighborhoods nearby, plenty of land and housing there, and even more neighborhoods beyond them.

    I don’t care to close my reply by insulting you personally, so I’ll put it politely: this Ptolemaic view of the Heights as being the neighborhood around which Houston revolves is, ummm…inelegant. Yes, I’ll stick with that adjective, although others came to mind.

  • In San Antonio, Wal Mart was told that in order to build near Hardberger Park they had to open at 7am close at 11pm, build in a style that blended with the Hill Country, give the back part of the property as a greenway to the park, have special lighting in the parking lot that didn’t effect wildlife, have no gas station, and guess what?…Wal Mart met every demand and then some. What it shows is that Wal Mart can build a great store, that’s stylish and fits the area, but only if forced to. Let to its own devices, it’s a cheap, miserly company that treats its employees poorly and only cares that the Wal Mart heirs someday each eclipse Bill Gates as the richest man in the world. If there is Karma, all Sam’s kids will come back as sewer rats.

  • WalMart sucks. Shop at Sears on Main Street or N. Shepherd.