CITY-WIDE DRAINAGE SWAT TEAM POSSIBLY BANKROLLED BY HEIGHTS WATERWORKS SALE Mayor Turner announced plans for a dramatically monikered Storm Water Action Team at this week’s council meeting, along with 22 projects at the top the program’s initial list, based on metrics of urgency like frequency of 311 calls. The goal of the program is to deal with non-bayou-centric flooding issues like collapsed culverts and junk-clogged drainage ditches; flood czar Steve Costello said after the council meeting that the city wants to resolve the fixable issues at each site within 90 days of a site visit and initial drainage triage. Meagan Flynn writes this week that the $10 million currently budgeted for the program comes mostly from a one-time sale of city land; that land might well be the Heights Waterworks properties at W. 20th and Nicholson streets, which were sold to apartmenteer Alliance in mid-December for a reported $15.2 million. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Draft map of 22 SWAT project locations: City of Houston SWAT program materials
STRAY CAT ADOPTION CAFE TO BE TAKEN IN BY KINDLY HEIGHTS DANCE STUDIO Jack Witthaus writes that cat lady and CPA Renée Reed has finally found a home for El Gato Coffeehouse, a long-planned cafe intended to double as a venue for playing with up-for-adoption cats. Reed has been looking for a space since at least June, when she announced a partnership with the Houston Humane Society to help socialize and find homes for the organization’s rescue animals, à la Austin’s Blue Cat Cafe. Witthaus reports that Reed is signing a lease with yoga and dance studio NiaMoves on Pecore St., which will be leasing part of its property — that’ll include enough space for both a cat lounge and the 53-ft.-long shipping container where food and drink prep will be sequestered, for reasons of city health code. [Houston Business Journal] Photo of NiaMoves at 508 Pecore St.: Nia M.
Cafe Finds a Home
Austin-based Shiner-wielding Bird’s Barbershop opened up its first Houston location last week in the remodeled 1955 retail strip at 420 E. 20th St., on the end of the building formerly home to J & R Boudin and Frenchy’s Sausage Co. The bubblegum pink parking stripes were joined by the spots above over the summer, as well as the circular window now floating in the middle of a wall where the facade’s westernmost door used to be.
A rep from the company says the Houston store was designed with community swimming pools in mind, which explains the interior tile scheme and watery motifs:
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420 in the Heights
APARTMENT DEVELOPER ALLIANCE READY TO BUY LANDMARKED HEIGHTS WATERWORKS LAND Turns out serial multifamily developer Alliance Residential is the previously unnamed entity planning to buy the Heights waterworks properties the city put on the market earlier this year (after awarding parts of the reservoir complex protected landmark status 6 months prior). A notice from the city planning department today says Alliance beat out 18 other bidders on the 2 parcels (catty-corner from one another across Nicholson and W. 20th streets), and also mentions that the city has to accept the highest offer for the sale. A public meeting about the plans for the land, including what role those tax-relevant historic structures might have in any proposed new development, is scheduled for the 29th (that’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving) at the restored fire station on W. 12th St. [Houston Planning Commission] Map of Heights Reservoir properties: City of Houston
A pair of electorally-minded readers send in 2 separate claims that Prop. 1 — the H-E-B-backed Heights alcohol sales one, not the provoke-Texas-into-reforming-education-funding-by-messing-with-the-system one — didn’t show up on their ballots yesterday, even though they were each registered to vote in what the Tax Assessor’s office calls the boundaries of the historic dry zone. Hector DeLeon of the Harris County Clerk’s outreach department told Swamplot earlier today that in the 1 case of a missing ballot option they’d heard about and looked into — in the context of around a 25 percent and thousands-of-voters margin of victory for the pro-beer-and-wine-sales folks — the problem appeared to be a voter not seeing where on the ballot the proposition was listed, rather than an actual missing option.
DeLeon does say, however, that while it’s extraordinarily rare, it’s not impossible that the local option election could have be left off of a few ballots. An election worker has to select some location info by hand in the process of generating the 4-digit voting machine access codes that voters get upon signing the polling place ledger; DeLeon says that can (and occasionally, does) leave room for a who-votes-on-what mistake, especially in the case of certain unusual election zones (like, say, the Lost City of Houston Heights). One reader claims a poll worker at the Helms Community Learning Center on W. 21st St. told him that this sort of input error had been made on some ballots shortly after the polls opened, and had been corrected for the voters who stuck around to sort it out and get a new code issued. (The reader, who had already cast their ballot and came back later to learn more about what had happened, says they didn’t get to cast a new one.) DeLeon also says that the county clerk’s office doesn’t keep any records of access code issues if they’re caused by human error and considered resolved at the site — so there would be no official documentation to check against the reader’s story.
Photo: Ed T [license]
Not Rigged, Just Human
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE CHICKEN, THE EGG, AND THE HOUSTON SPRAWLSCAPE “I do usually avoid stores with no bike parking or unfriendly pedestrian/bike access, so I see the other side of [the parking lot] coin. Stores need to cater to their customers; it’s customer demand that’s ultimately at fault for hideous parking lots and runoff and heat islands and sprawl and all the rest. But one way to drive demand is creating feedback loops, and one way to start that is stores building less parking.” [Sid, commenting on H-E-B’s Plan and Backup Plan for the Double Decker Heights Dry Zone Store] Rendering of preliminary parking garage plans for N. Shepherd H-E-B: Houston Planning Commission
The final go-ahead on H-E-B’s planned store on the former N. Shepherd Fiesta spot at W. 24th St. is still purportedly dependent on whether or not the Heights-Dry-Zone-moistening ballot initiative it’s been backing passes tomorrow — but 2 designs for the proposed structure (depicted above) are already queued up on the agenda for November’s first city planning commission meeting next week. A variance request submitted by the company asks for permission to put the proposed 2-story parking-garage-and-store combo just 10 feet back from the property line on the N. Shepherd side of the block (as shown at the top), instead of the 25 feet that would normally be required (as depicted on the 2nd rendering).
What difference would that make? Documentation submitted with the request says that if the parking structure can’t stick out closer to the street, the company will add an extra row of surface parking spaces between the edge of the garage and the curb, which will cut into space otherwise planned for benches and landscaping. From the looks of the included drawings above, the developers will also ditch a planned bike rack, as well as something labeled as an Art Wall — below are the side-view perspectives on the proposed scene, with those 2 rendered ladies in white and blue stuck roughly in the same spot each time as a reference:
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Hedging Against Setbacks
The Kirby Group folks (behind Midtown beer and cocktail bar Wooster’s Garden and those since-demolished converted funeral home bars in Upper Kirby) look to be setting up for their Worcester’s Annex cocktail project south of N. Shepherd and 15th St. The new bar (which is taking off the linguistic gloves and using the full-on British spelling of the name) is being built on the far southern end of the former Longhorn Motor Company lot at 1433 N. Shepherd, previously tapped as the intended site of the Heights Bier Garten; Greg Morago reported this summer that the 2 developments would be near one another. The bar is going up across the street from legally-tangled tortilla factory La Espiga De Oro (which was infiltrated and raided by ICE officers last year, after which the company’s owners were indicted for allegedly hiring undocumented immigrants).
Photo: Worcester’s Annex
Seeding the Heights
Across W. 24th St. from the currently-grocerless former N. Shepherd Fiesta lot, a reader notes that MFT’s makeover of the former Texas Cafeteria building seems to be shaping up roughly as previously planned — the building’s previous overhangs and high elevation roof decor have now been fully flattened out, and the spot’s 6,125 sq. ft. are currently listed for lease in 2 pieces on LoopNet. Per the listing and the previous rendering labeling of the spot as BURGERS, the 3,250-sq.-ft. space intended for a restaurant tenant appears to be on the potentially-H-E-B-facing southern end of the development:
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Future Food by Former Fiesta
H-E-B WILL DOUBLE DOWN ON A HEIGHTS DRY ZONE STORE OR NOT BUILD AT ALL The H-E-B proposed for the former N. Shepherd Fiesta site at W. 24th St. would be another 2-story store, Houston H-E-B president Scott McClelland tells Jack Witthaus. The grocery chain is backing the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition’s dry-zone dampening campaign and showed up for the press conference last week on the now-cleared 4-ish-acre site. The company has already been planning its first double-decker Houston location (rendered above) on the 3-acre site of the existing H-E-B in Bellaire; plans for that development show about 75,000 sq. ft. of store stacked on top of an all-parking ground level. McClelland tells Witthaus that the proposed H-E-B in the dry area of the Heights would be about 80,000 sq. ft. and come with a 2018 expected completion date, but that H-E-B won’t build in the zone at all if the upcoming election doesn’t go their way. [Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot] Rendering of proposed 2-story H-E-B in Bellaire: Terra Associates
The marker above (showing a now-officially-proposed H-E-B on N. Shepherd Dr.) is a little out of place, if it’s aiming for the former Fiesta site on N. Shepherd between W. 23rd and W. 24th streets as H-E-B says — but you get the idea, and the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition held a press conference on the site this morning to drive the point home. The red line on the map also only roughly shows the boundary of the nominal dry zone that the H-E-B-backed PAC is hoping to get loosened up a bit via that upcoming local election on take-home beer and wine sales. But you can find out for sure whether or not you’re close enough to be eligible to vote in the Houston-Heights-only election by checking your ballot at at HarrisVotes.com — and also check whether or not you’re registered, which you’ve only got until Tuesday to do. (If printing out a form is too much of a hassle, maybe try your nearest taco truck.)
Map of proposed H-E-B in Heights Dry Zone: Houston Heights Beverage Coalition
Recognize any of the images above? They’re each depictions of actual houses in the Heights area (yes, even that really skinny one in the top right corner) as drawn by local designer Dalia Rihani, who tells Swamplot she’s long been fascinated by her neighborhood’s architectural landscape. Rihani started out planning to draw 1 home per week as an outside-of-the-9-to-5 creative outlet — but says she’s found herself doing it much more frequently than that, and has since been taking commissions to illustrate specific houses as requests started to pour in. She’s also been turning the graphics into post cards that she’s sent to some of the home’s owners, as a reader showed Swamplot:
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The crown sigil of El Rey Cuban & Mexican Cuisine has been sighted by a reader along the south side of the North Loop, just west of Yale St. and of the Burger King that has long reigned on that corner. The official address of the new spot (per the permits issued over the summer) looks to be 219 W. 28th St., and the property appears to have frontage on both W. 28th and the 610 feeder.
The new 2-story building appears to keep some stylistic elements of the Oak Forest spot up on Ella Blvd. at 34th St. (shown in the 2nd photo for comparison); that Oak Forest location looks to be getting knocked down after the business’s lease expires to make room for food truck parking, per current plans for a new shopping center at the corner [that one that — disclosure — sponsored Swamplot a few times this year].
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