SUNNYSIDE PASSED OVER FOR LIST OF HOUSTON PLACES THAT ALWAYS GET PASSED OVER The Texas Low Income Housing Information Service released a statement right after Mayor Turner’s Monday announcement on the Complete Communities program questioning why Sunnyside didn’t make the cut, Steve Jansen reports this week for the Houston Press. Despite the neighborhood’s oft-heralded blight resume (it made the LARA team during Mayor White’s time in office, and even got rolled into its very own tax increment reinvestment zone last year, a distinction theoretically reserved for “unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted” areas), Sunnyside didn’t make the list of the first 5 pilot neighborhoods for the new program, which so far looks like it might shuffle existing development money toward the targeted areas without adding any new cash. The statement, coauthored by a Sunnyside-area civic association leader, notes that the neighborhood even has a ready-to-go redevelopment plan that’s been in the work for the past few years. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Map of pilot areas for Complete Communities program: City of Houston
YOU MAY YET HAVE YOUR CHANCE TO LIVE ON TOP OF THE SUR LA TABLE BY THE RIVER OAKS THEATER
Senior Leasing VP Gerald Crump of Weingarten Realty Investors told Nancy Sarnoff of the Chronicle last week that even bigger changes are likely on their way to the River Oaks Shopping Center section on the north side of W. Gray between McDuffie and Driscoll, currently housing Sur La Table, Brasserie 19, and Cafe Ginger, among others (shown here from above, facing a distant Kroger’s). Still-nebulous plans for revamping the space include incorporating residential units, more retail or more parking. Any changes to the center, which is designated a historic landmark by the City, would need the nominal thumbs-up of the Houston Architectural and Historic Commission — though need for that approval can be bypassed by letting a 90-day waiting period expire, David Bush of Preservation Houston told Sarnoff. Crump says that the company will work to communicate plans to the surrounding community as they develop, but also tells Sarnoff that “as an owner and developer, you have to remain relevant”. The redo, whatever shape it eventually takes, could take that shape as early as 2019. [Houston Chronicle, previously on Swamplot] Photo: bjoelio via Swamplot Flickr pool
Now we know why the Morgan Group, the developer that applied for a variance last year to allow for a Pearl on Smith apartment complex to fit onto the block surrounded by Elgin, Smith, Brazos, and Rosalie streets, later withdrew the request: To expand the project so that it could include a 40,000-sq.-ft. Whole Foods Market on its ground floor. And here’s a rendering of the design of the whole thing by Houston’s Ziegler Cooper Architects.
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Pearl on Smith on Elgin
Other apartment developers have been rushing to complete their latest construction projects. But not Camden Property Trust. Not only has the company put 2 Downtown projects on hold, CEO Ric Campo tells the Houston Business Journal‘s Paul Takahashi, it’s also dawdling as best it can on its planned 8-story, 315-unit apartment complex on the Midtown Superblock.
Writes Takahashi: “Camden has deliberately slowed work on Camden McGowen Station in hopes that construction costs will come down, Campo said. Camden plans to begin vertical construction on the apartment this fall, he said. ‘We’re going really slow on our buyout on the job,’ Campo said. ‘Hopefully we’ll be in a favorable pricing later this fall.’”
Photo of Midtown Superblock, between Main and Travis, south of McGowen: Adam Brackman
Camden McGowen Station
Katherine Feser has the inside scoop on how the $7 million strip center portrayed above — but loaded with a Dunkin’ Donuts, a dry cleaner, and — yes, a mattress store — is coming to land in its rightful place along the south side of Memorial Dr. just east of Westcott, 2 doors down from the MFAH’s Bayou Bend Collection. Developer Amir Taghdisi tells Feser he and his brother Alan chose not to build a 3- or 4-story office building with below-grade parking on the site “because it would have been an outdated format from the beginning.” Instead, the 10,000-sq.-ft. strip center is now under construction at the back of the three-quarters-of-an-acre lot, with rows of parking facing Memorial Dr. and Knox St.
Why think so small? “I had all the big names wanting to do a 30-story high-rise for lease,” Taghdisi tells Feser. But he says the homeowners association of Bayou Bend Towers, directly to the south, wouldn’t let him.
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The Towers and the Strip
HOUSTON PLANNING DEPT. LAUNCHES WEBSITE TO LAUNCH PLAN FOR HOUSTON Efforts to create an actual “general plan” for the city of Houston have revved into high internet gear with last week’s launch of the Plan Houston website. There, the planning department has floated its mission-statement-like Draft Vision for the city and is requesting public input before an April 17th deadline. In addition to the draft (shown here in full), there’s an only slightly meatier draft list of goals posted on the site (in this PDF) to mull over. (Later, the site is intended to host a mapping tool meant to allow users to look up all the plans on file for an area — capital improvement projects, parks, or TIRZ efforts, for example.) Can’t stand the phrase “resilient communities”? Think we should set our sights higher than “dynamic partnerships”? Now’s the chance to express yourself, before it gets down to the neighborhood nitty-gritty. A complete General Plan is expected to be completed by late summer. [City of Houston]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: DON’T LET THE LOCALS GET IN THE WAY OF YOUR PROJECT “Good idea, let the Peasants with Pitchforks have an Illusion of Choice. Let them pretend to participate, let them vent some hot air, and then throw them a bone to the side so while they bark over that, you build what you were going to build in the first place. Don’t forget, they don’t have any legal standing in this matter, they’re merely a construction nuisance like graffiti or defecating raccoons, just to be handled as a normal course of business.” [commonsense, commenting on A New Sign of Future Development Appears on Heights Hike-and-Bike Trail Site] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: ISN’T NEARBY RETAIL ENOUGH? “I don’t understand the ground floor retail ‘litmus test’ that is applied to every new building proposed for downtown/midtown. That is, it is not a ‘good’ building if it does not have a retail component. I understand the desirability of having nearby retail and a more ‘walkable’ downtown, but why do we have to have retail in the same building as the apartments as long as the retail is nearby? Here, there is retail right across the street, and the Main street corridor is only a few blocks away! Doesn’t it make sense sometimes to build a single-use building that is more conducive to its purpose as long as the other elements of a ‘walkable’ city (like retail, offices, services) are within walking distance?” [SH, commenting on The Best Views Yet of Hines’s Market Square Apartment Tower and Its Downtown Headlight] Illustration: Lulu
The city has extracted $225,000 from the owners and contractors of a Bellaire developer who extracted two 100-year-old Live Oak trees from public property adjacent to 2 separate Inner Loop redevelopment sites over the summer. That’s a little less than half of the amount the city originally sought. The settlement ends the lawsuit it filed in October against Signature City Homes owner Barry Gomel and the demo contractor he hired to remove the 36-inch-diameter specimen pictured above at 1704 Blodgett St. (the home was torn down in July); it’ll also allow the developer to proceed with construction of the 4-townhome development it had planned for that location. The second tree was next to a bungalow Signature demolished at 801 Bomar.
Photo: Allyn West
When Trees Get in the Way
This was the scene yesterday on the southeast corner of Richmond Ave and Cummins St. near Greenway Plaza, where the Redstone Companies and Hansen Partners are planning to build a new 11-story office building and 5-level parking garage with — if a Planning Dept. staff report describing the project is correct — an attached 5-story retail center. The development received planning commission approval last week for a reduced setback along the 2 streets that meets with planned but not-yet-approved standards for transit corridors; if Metro’s stalled University Line ever gets built, it’ll make its get-off-of-Richmond turn at this same corner. Accordingly, in documents submitted to the city, the developers appear to be holding out the undescribed retail portion for some later date: [Only] “the office building and related parking garage to be built on this site are nearing the time that a building permit will be required,” the variance application reads.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: READING BETWEEN THE LINES OF A LEASES-NOT-UP-YET STORY “Translation: current tenants have murderously cheap rents and would not leave for a million bucks. Buyer is trying to play hard ball by threatening to let the property sit until the leases are up unless tenants take a crappy buyout offer.
Prediction: Buyer will eventually pay what it takes to get tenants out once they realize that no one will want to pay market rate to be in that old dog of a strip mall.” [Old School, commenting on Apartments and Retail for Westheimer and Montrose Corner? Not Until Half Price Books and Spec’s Scoot] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE DILUTED CENTER CITY “. . . Maybe Houston’s growth seems slower . . . compared to other similar sized cities because Houston is almost unique in that our growth spreads out radially from the downtown core. There’s not a socially defined ‘good’ side of town where 98% of development takes place. In Atlanta, most of the growth is north, with a little bit to the east. In Dallas, the only ‘right’ place to live is north. LA favors its Westside, and most of the high dollar real estate in Chicago marches north up the Lakefront. Houston has long had a bias toward the west side of town, but the Museum District/Med Center to the south has grown, EaDo is moving ahead, and The Heights and The Woodlands are doing just fine. So instead of concentrating the development dollars in only one favored area of the city, growth here happens in all quadrants.” [ShadyHeightster, commenting on Stadium-Side Apartments in EaDo a No-Go] Illustration: Lulu
That retail task force that Mayor Parker put together about the same time that Macy’s announced it was closing the Downtown store came through with its first report yesterday, recommending that Dallas St. between Milam and La Branch — or between the hotels on the west side of Downtown and the hotels, Discovery Green, and George R. Brown Convention Center on the east — be prettied up into a kind of retail promenade. And the task force recommends that it happen sooner rather than later, in time to capitalize on the disposable incomes of the hordes coming to town for the NCAA Final Four in 2016 and the Super Bowl in 2017.
The rendering above, included in the report, shows a Kardashian body double strolling through the intersection of Main St. and Dallas; the Sakowitz building,
catty-corner across from the to-be-demolished-in-a-week Macy’s, would pair with GreenStreet to anchor the linear district and provide similar photo opportunities. It appears that the task force hopes to lure national retailers and rally existing tenants and landowers, like Hilcorp, to the cause with tax breaks and other incentives, including waiving the city ordinance requiring that signage Downtown be no taller than 42.5 ft.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON’S MASTER PLANNERS “. . . I’ve talked a lot about the bad way some developers approach growth in Houston. But neighborhoods are addressing it wrong, too. They’re too reactionary. They sit around doing nothing until a developer proposes something they don’t like, then they mobilize to try to kill it. They need to ask themselves ‘what do we really want in and around our neighborhood,’ and then create master plans to communicate it. (The master plans wouldn’t be enforced — that would be zoning — but they could be used by developers to get a sense of what the neighbors would oppose.)
The Super Neighborhoods were supposed to be a venue where this could happen — they were originally under the auspices of the Houston Planning Department. But I’ve found that it’s actually the Management Districts that are doing master plans. It’s great that they’re happening, but Management Districts are paid for by and primarily serve businesses; and single family neighborhoods aren’t even trying to get in on the efforts.” [ZAW, commenting on Dogging the Morrison Heights Midrise with Doggerel] Illustration: Lulu