COMMENT OF THE DAY: COMES WITH THE LAND “If you take the Houston blinders off for a minute, you’ll realize that ‘deed restrictions protect property values’ and ‘zoning distorts property values’ are the same statement.
Other things that ‘distort’ property values are: having a functioning police force so you have a reasonable certainty that a band of pirates won’t come steal everything you own; having roads to connect your property to other things; being located in a country with a functioning economy; public support of decent schools; a public health system that prevents outbreaks of Ebola; lack of a brutal murderous dictatorial regime; and not living downwind of a sewage treatment plant.
Which of these are ‘evil planning’ vs ‘sensible government’ is, of course, determined by the political views of the speaker.” [John (another one), commenting on Comment of the Day: Keep Houston Cheap]
PAYING THE ASHBY HIGHRISE AWAY Former apartment manager and accountant Randy Locke, who’s running for city council in the district that includes the site of the Ashby Highrise, has a plan to stop the proposed 23-story development at 1717 Bissonnet St. — but it’ll cost: “I don’t believe that the monies offered these builders were sufficient enough to get them to go away,” he tells reporter Chris Moran. “[Locke] did not identify the private interests he said offered the developers money, but pledged that, if elected, he would convene a meeting between the developers and those private interests within 30 days, and, “‘I’ll convince the other people that were chipping in the money to give them a little bit more and we’ll make the whole thing go away.’” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot; Ashby Highrise coverage]
RIG VOTE IN LEAGUE CITY League City’s city council voted last night to double the minimum distance oil and gas rigs must keep back from most buildings, including homes. The new requirement is 600 ft., though some residents of the Magnolia Creek subdivision — right next door to one of 2 proposed new drilling sites in the city — had hoped to get a 1000-ft. buffer approved. [abc13; more info; previously on Swamplot] Photo: abc13
A new draft ordinance prepared by the city’s planning department aims to make it tougher to build tall buildings next to single-family homes. The proposal is called the High Density Ordinance, but many of its restrictions would apply to any structure more than 75 feet tall, no matter how tightly packed or slow-witted the folks are inside. Well, with some exceptions: The restrictions wouldn’t apply to buildings in “major activity centers” of the city. Districts could apply for that designation, but the planning department includes maps of 8 of them right off the bat: Downtown, Greenway Plaza, the Galleria area, the Med Center, Greenspoint, the Energy Corridor, Westchase, and the stretch of I-10 between Memorial City Mall and CityCentre. Also exempted from most of the proposed rules: Any tall building where all the adjacent streets are designated major thoroughfares. (In other words, a new office tower built on property in the middle of a Westheimer block apparently wouldn’t have to meet the new restrictions, but one at the corner of Westheimer and a smaller street like Woodway would.)
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: DOWN IN FRONT “Actually, ground floor retail is an uphill struggle. Apartment managers want to manage apartments. Shopping center managers want to manage retail tenants. Plus, with the slim profile of this lot…where 10 extra feet is needed for the parking…putting 50 or 100 foot deep retailers in the garage would be even worse.
And, despite the claims of the poster several spots up, mixed use retail space is a very hard sell. Dallas pushed several developers to include ground floor retail in new complexes, and most of them sit idle.
The fact is, Houston is capable of separating the two, so developers and retailers prefer to do so. Only in dense urban areas do retailers attempt to carve out space wherever they can find it. Despite the love affair with mixed use retail, it is still a very rare bird . . . especially in new development. . . .” [Dave, commenting on Apartment Building Replacing Tavern on Gray Won’t Have Any Retail, But Really Wants To Hug the Street Anyway]
Houston’s own Hanover Company wants to build this 5-story apartment complex on the current site of the Tavern on Gray, just east of the shopping district that extends along West Gray to Shepherd. And it’s hoping to get a variance from the planning commission that would allow the buildings to have smaller setbacks than current regulations allow: 15 ft. along Waugh (where 25 would otherwise be required) and just 5 ft. along West Gray (otherwise they’d need 15). Sure, the Hanover West Gray project would have 2 floors of parking (one of them underground) underneath 4 residential floors — but the extremely persuasive variance request kinda makes it hard not to wish the place had conditions that were less — you know, tough and urban:
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In an email to the West University city council, public works director Chris Peifer sounds the alarm about the steel-frame home with metal siding currently under construction at 2723 Centenary St., a couple blocks west of Kirby: “As the street view of this structure will deviate greatly from the typical street view/appearance of the neighborhood I wanted to give you notification,” Peifer writes, after noting that the city doesn’t prohibit the use of the materials on the home or regulate “personal taste or esthetics.” And then he adds this: “FYI…Heads up. There are high value properties directly adjacent to this property that may take exception.”
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Yesterday’s city council vote makes the status of 4 more historic districts much clearer. Avondale West, Norhill, Boulevard Oaks, and First Montrose Commons will now officially join 10 other existing districts under the protection of new preservation restrictions that don’t allow owners to do whatever they want if they just wait 90 days. The new preservation ordinance described a multi-step “reconsideration” process that might have led to the dissolution of any of the districts or redrawn their boundaries. But that didn’t happen here: These 14 districts will stay the same — well, almost. There is one property that got away.
It’s this 1929 building, home to Salon Stefano and an adjacent parking lot, at 3802 Roseland St. Last year, the property was included in the new First Montrose Commons Historic District. And now it’s out, scot-free. How did it manage to escape?
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Yesterday Swamplot reported that planning director Marlene Gafrick had signaled to city council that 5 of the 7 historic districts being “reconsidered” had not met the threshold that would have triggered dissolving them (the return of surveys representing owners of 51 percent of the properties in a district). The survey processes in the 2 remaining districts, Norhill and First Montrose Commons, are a little behind the others: Neighborhood meetings required by the revised preservation ordinance have been scheduled, but owners there haven’t received their survey forms yet.
But even if those last 2 districts don’t make the 51 percent cut either, the process spelled out by the new ordinance won’t come to an immediate halt. Once the votes have been tallied for all 7 districts, Gafrick will be required to send a report to city council recommending one of 3 options for each of them. For Heights East, Heights West, Heights South, Boulevard Oaks, and Avondale West, the first option — dissolving the district entirely — is out. But Gafrick can still recommend adjusting the boundaries of a district — even if the returned surveys didn’t reach the 51 percent threshold. (Her third option: recommend city council do nothing — and keep the district as it is.)
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: YOU WOULD CRY TOO IF IT HAPPENED TO YOU “ALAIISEBY: pronounced ‘Alayzbee’. As Long As It’s In Someone Else’s Back Yard. This is the principle of land use in Houston. No one gives a crap that a builder/developer is going to do something that adversely affects a homeowner as long as it is in someone else’s back yard. Homeowners think that no zoning is great because their back yard is just fine. And when something happens to someone else’s back yard, it doesn’t matter. Thus, instead of coming together around attrocities like the Ashby High Rise and the Heights Walmart, homeowners cast scorn on those who are affected by bad land use decisions because it is someone else’s back yard and doesn’t matter. Let the West End take one for the team so people can [buy] bb guns at 3 am at Walmart. Southhampton should have to live next to a highrise because they make too much money and deserve a little taste of how much Houston sucks. Homeowners who do not live within the protective confines of deed restricted developments should come together and support some sort of land use restrictions in Houston. But they don’t because it doesn’t matter as long as it is in someone else’s back yard.” [ALAIISEBY, commenting on Riverside Terrace Assisted Living: Whatever It Is, You Should Be Against It]
The dangling 2x4s on the ceiling and the photomurals of giant oaks inside just aren’t enough. And umbrellas on the patio just blow over. So Claire Smith and Russell Murrell of Canopy, the restaurant at the southern end of the strip center at 3939 Montrose, now want to build an actual wooden canopy outside on the side patio. One small problem: any extension from the building to Branard St. will cross into the neighborhood’s 10-ft. building line, which means they need a variance. Can’t they just say, “hey, it’s in our name?” Naah — variances aren’t granted as the result of “a hardship created or imposed by the applicant,” says the planning department. So part of the restaurant’s application reads, “The limitations on the use of outdoor space are the result of the Houston climate.” A neighbor who’s “fine with it” whispers to Swamplot about the submission: “My boyfriend and I think it’s funny how The Sun is taking all the heat here.” The issue goes before the planning commission on December 2nd.
Photo: Swamplot inbox
8 OUT OF 16 HOUSTON HISTORIC DISTRICTS ARE NOW UP FOR “RECONSIDERATION” Planning department spokesperson Suzy Hartgrove tells Swamplot the city has received petitions from 8 of the city’s designated historic districts: Avondale West, Boulevard Oaks, First Montrose Commons, Houston Heights East, Houston Heights South, Houston Heights West, Norhill, and Westmoreland. The department is currently verifying them. Do they all meet the 10-percent threshold that’ll trigger balloting and possible dissolution? “Our initial glance tells us that they probably do but we must conduct a thorough check,” writes Hartgrove. Okay, who’s left? Audubon Place, Avondale East, Broadacres, Courtlandt Place, Freeland, Shadow Lawn, and West Eleventh Place, carry on: You may continue to live in the past. [previously on Swamplot]
TIME’S UP! Yesterday at 5 pm was the deadline for opponents of 14 of the city’s 16 designated historic districts (there’s no going back for the Old Sixth Ward or Main St./Market Square) to submit petitions calling for their oldish neighborhoods to return to the good ol’ days of unrestricted demolition and less-restrictive development. The threshold to trigger actual balloting in any of the districts is pretty low: All they need are the signatures of owners representing 10 percent or more of a district’s total tracts. So who’s in — er, heading for an out? [previously on Swamplot] Update: We’ve got the answer!
TEXAS SUPREME COURT: PRIVATE PROPERTIES CAN ERODE PUBLIC BEACHES The state’s high court ruled today in favor of Californian Carol Severance, whose rent house on Kennedy Dr. in West Galveston found itself in front of the vegetation line after Hurricane Rita hit in 2006. The Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state can’t claim an easement on her property — but if the same topography had resulted over a longer period of time, the easement would be okay: “Texas law allows anyone to place a blanket on the beach, right up to the vegetation line, even if it’s an intrusion on the privacy of a seaside home. But in a split decision, the court found that the state’s policy of ‘rolling easements’ — the ever-shifting border between public and private land — does not apply when it’s moved by a storm. At the same time, the court held that policy is justifiable in cases of erosion, which is gradual.” [Houston Chronicle; decision; previously on Swamplot]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: LUCK OF THE DRAW “Houston lucked out in that it held on to the oil industry, even after a major bust that had the Houston real estate landscape looking much like what we are seeing in parts of FL, NV and CA. The energy industry is now king again, and we are all lucky that the City did not hedge its bets on dot coms, financials or casino gambling. And the energy industry did not [choose] Houston because there was no zoning or because their executives could knock down bungalows in the Heights. The energy industry chose Houston because it was where the oil was. Refineries were built in Houston because it was a good location for them, not because it was cheap to do a strip mall on FM 1960. Yet, Houston’s good fortune has been warped into a specious argument that Houston is successful because it shuns anything that might be good for citizens quality of life, but that would impede a developer’s bottom line. Thus, instead of using our oil riches to construct a better and more liveable city, we think that any attempt to keep a developer from dropping a highrise or big box retailer in a residential neighborhood would send the energy industry packing . . .” [Oh please, commenting on Comment of the Day: Here for the Money]