The Dead Ends of Wilshire Village: No Montrose H-E-B Without a Variance?

Courtesy of Planning and Development Dept. public affairs manager Suzy Hartgrove, Swamplot now has a copy of the variance application submitted by the new owners of the vacant 7.68-acre site at the southwest corner of West Alabama and Dunlavy — where H-E-B has announced plans to build a new Montrose grocery store. At the property’s western border, Sul Ross and Branard streets used to lead directly into driveway entrances to the Wilshire Village apartments on the site. Under current development regulations, those streets would have to be connected to other streets (or perhaps each other) or turned into proper cul-de-sacs.

The variance would allow the property’s new owners to bypass this requirement and leave Sul Ross and Branard as they are — minus the driveway access.

Oh — the property’s new owners! Who are they?


Conveniently listed on the drawing:

Texas Abercrombie Family Interests, Ltd.
c/o Haden Abercrombie, Trustee
Haden Abercrombie Family Trust
4821 E. NASA Parkway, #8 SE
Pasadena, TX 77586

The drawing submitted on behalf of the Abercrombie Family shows a 10-ft. building line surrounding the end of Sul Ross and Branard, along with a note that “vehicular access . . . is hereby denied.”

The application argues that the variance would allow the new commercial development, called Lancaster Center, “to maintain separation of commercial vehicular traffic from existing single-family residential streets” and “[preserve] the quality of the residential neighborhood.” All cars and trucks would have to arrive and leave from West Alabama or Dunlavy. For that reason, residents of Sul Ross and Branard might want to support the variance.

But what do the developers of the property plan to construct just beyond the 10-ft. setbacks at the ends of those dead-end streets? And would the neighbors prefer that to the “large right-of-way bulbs” (as the application puts it) that would otherwise be required?

That’s hard to say, because drawings of the proposed development haven’t been made public. Hartgrove says, “We don’t have any further drawings for this property. They are not required to submit any site plans or drawings at this stage of the development.”

More to the point: The application states that being held to existing standards would “limit the practical development of this site.”

Here’s the complete text of the variance request:

Variance Request Information Form
Plat Name: Lancaster Center Subdivision
Company Name: Bury Partners
Date: 04/16/2010
Submitted: 47 and 81

Specific variance is being sought and extent of variance:

A variance to the cul-de-sac standards is hereby requested such that no terminus design is proposed for the existing east ends of Sul Ross and Branard Streets, each approximately 300 feet east of Woodhead Drive.

Chapter 42 Reference: Sec. 42-131(b).

Statement of Facts:

(1a) The imposition of the terms, rules, conditions, policies and standards of this chapter would create an undue hardship by depriving the applicant of the reasonable use of the land;

(1b) Strict application would make this project infeasible due to the existence of unusual physical characteristics that affect the property in question, or would create an impractical development or one otherwise contrary to sound public policy;
Strict application of the cul-de-sac standards would create an impractical development that is contrary to sound public policy. The Section 42-131(b) cul-de-sac standards would require the dedication of large right-of-way bulbs at the ends of Sul Ross and Branard Streets that if strictly applied would potentially increase non-residential traffic through these established residential streets and would also limit the practical development of this site at the intersection of the two major collector streets, Alabama and Dunlavy.

(2) The circumstances supporting the granting of the variance are not the result of a hardship created or imposed by the applicant;
When the adjacent Lancaster Place Subdivision was platted decades ago the plan included only a tight
grid of streets with single-family residential lots and did not anticipate later commercial development in the area. The existing site was never platted but was also developed decades ago. The previous site development did not alter the stub ends of Sul Ross and Branard but still took access from them in a way that would not be allowed by current standards. The circumstances of the existing site existed well before passage of Chapter 42 and are not the result of hardships created by the applicant.

(3) The intent and general purposes of this chapter will be preserved and maintained;
Placement of this proposed commercial area at the intersection of the two major collector streets,
Alabama and Dunlavy, and separating commercial traffic from adjacent portions of the residential streets, Sul Ross and Branard preserves the quality of the residential neighborhood. Promoting the safe, orderly development of this subdivsion is consistent with the purposes of Chapter 42. The short existing length and proposed restriction of access to the ends of Sul Ross and Branard Streets preserves the general purpose of the Section 42-131(b) cul-de-sac standards.

(4) The granting of the variance will not be injurious to the public health, safety or welfare; and
Sul Ross and Branard Streets end only 300 feet from their intersections with Woodhead Drive and serve
only 10 residential lots each, so the granting of the variance will not be injurious to the public.

(5) Economic hardship is not the sole justification of the variance.
This variance is based on a desire to maintain separation of commercial vehicular traffic from existing single-family residential streets, so this variance request is not based on economic hardship.

25 Comment

  • I would think that the residents would prefer the turning bulbs at the end of each street. This would give them a deeper setback whilst not increasing traffic as the bulbs would still be dead ends. Unless I’m not understanding properly what the bulb is?

  • The residents never had the bulbs to begin with so why would they need it.

    If they went into the Wilshire parking lot to turn around, then they were trespassing.

    The only people that would need for the bulb would be larger delivery trucks. This isn’t a big occurrence to single family homes.

  • The other issue that may arrive is fire access. Not sure how long the roads are that dead-in at the property, but fire marshall starts to get a little critical if they would have to back up more than 150 feet. So the turn around may be required for that purpose. They could build a “hammer” turn around instead of cul-de-sac. That configuration would save some land.

  • I think its’ clear that thay want to develop the buildings along that side of the property and a “bulb” will force them to push the building another 30 feet too far into the parking lot. So while the residents may not get through traffic, they will have the back of a supermarket to look at. And really, is there anything more attractive and inspiring than the backsides of supermarkets?

  • I think the residents should get bulb cul-de-sacs to keep HEB from building a brick wall 10′ off the end of their street. It doesn’t take a huge imagination to conjure the image of a tree-filled apartment parking lot turning into a concrete covered back wall of a grocery store.

    I don’t know why I give a crap? We all know what’s going to happen here and it is another strip center with a grocery as anchor.

  • The cul de sacs will be 300ft long each. I wasn’t necessarily saying that the residents would need the bulbs kjb, just that if I was a resident I would try and get them. That or the “hammer” turn. Either would by them a little more separation from the side wall of a supermarket.

  • By the way, is it me or is 1738 Sul Ross on a triple lot?

  • Back walls of groceries are ugly, with dusk-to-dawn lighting & stored junk…

    Residents should *insist* on joining Branard & Sul Ross with a sweeping 350′ arc of new street! which would create a new home site, then, reluctantly accept a modest, squared-off connector, before finally settling for the two ‘bubs.’

    (none of which’ll never happen)

    Worst thing would be if the property owner was allowed dumpster-access on either of these residential streets. I’ve seen that before.

  • Residents should support the variance provided HEB installs a soundwall type structure which will help block a lot of the light and other activities that go on in the back of the store.

    Look at the soundwall behind the IKEA on I-10. Although TxDOT installed it, the concept is pretty similar.

  • I lived in an apartment behind an HEB once. It wasn’t the lights or sights but the noise of the doors of the delivery trucks being slammed down at six in the morning that I hated. I wasn’t even that close to the lot but those metal on metal sounds can really travel.

  • Over here in Winlow Place, the consensus amongst neighbors seems to be that another jumbo grocery in the neighborhood is retarded.

  • I’ve tangled with some posters pro-business mentality on here before. They seem to see situations from every angle except the people who actually live there. Build a “soundwall” like the one on I-10, that will block the sunrise through the trees in the spring and fall for those people. Who cares, right? Our economy needs another red brick grocery store across the street from a perfectly good grocery store. It’s all about business in your mind and I find that annoying as hell. Those residents should fight this every way possible and maybe HEB would find the property unusable.

  • The soundwall is a solution to a problem that is likely to occur for the residents.

    HEB is committed to building this store and seems to have the market research to say that enough people would shop there to keep it viable. HEB is there to provide a service to thousands of people. There decision to build or not to build shouldn’t be made on couple of homes that might object because of proximity.

    Brad, your argument over blocking sunlight is really hollow.

  • kjb434 wrote, “HEB is there to provide a service to thousands of people.”

    That might be the funniest thing you have ever posted.

    Look, I’m in the ad business, so don’t try to bullsh*t an old bullsh*tter.

  • 1738 sul ross is actually a part of 7 lots collected by the resident on Branard. 4 on sul ross and 3 on branard. there is actually a nice breeze that flows through when you sit on the porch.

  • Brad,

    You may believe in the childish and naive concept that big evil companies only are there to make a profit at any expense by duping customers.

    My statement still holds true. If you shop at an HEB and purchase goods, then you were served by HEB. If you are happy with what you purchased and the process to purchase it, then HEB did a good job. If HEB didn’t provide the service well, then people wouldn’t shop there. There isn’t anything more complicated than that.

    As a many educated consumers would know, advertisement usually provides good comedic entertainment in that people actually fall for the B.S. that is usually on display.

  • Brad, seriously? It blocks the sunrise through the trees? The site used to be filled with a bunch of crack houses you moron. The new developer could take a dump on the site and it would be nicer than it was before. Two grocery stores accross the street will really serve that community well. Now they will have one place to buy their flour tortillas, and one to buy their corn….err, MAIZ!

    Start the Ashby Highrise!!!

  • Start the Ashby Highrise!!!

    Start Ashby and Stop HEB – citizens unite and put a stop to the sleazy politicians at City Hall!

  • This is all BS. The cul-de-sac requirement has to do with the usability of those streets, and maybe as someone pointed the fire engine issue.

    Trying to use this a way to defend or attack the right of the developer to build whatever they want is hypocritical. Houston has voted three time to have no zoning so, for better or for worse, there is no zoning ordinance. Don’t try to sneak it in.

  • The presents of a high-end HEB, will give that neighborhood a lift. Since the university light rail on Richmond now is becoming ever more unlikely,until after 2014.

  • No sneaking zoning (or safety*) into this discussion, but, there’s no doubt residents/visitors, in the past dozen years, have used Wilshire Village’s lot to turn around in.
    A totally blocked end to these 2 residential streets would be a hardship for the residents, who 1) have rights, 2) may be grandfathered, & 3) are not crack dealers.
    [*btw, I’m pretty sure ladder-trucks – and school-buses – cannot negotiate a basic ‘bub,’ anyway.] For that, Branard and Sul Ross need the super-sized version which would take up over half the Abercrombie parcel! Demand that!

  • Houston has voted three time to have no zoning so, for better or for worse, there is no zoning ordinance. Don’t try to sneak it in.

    True but we have the Driveway Ordinance! This should be interesting given the amount of traffic that obviously WILL be added to a two-lane street and a three-lane street.

    Maybe the city could apply the ordinance to HEB and make them “downsize” and maybe get rid of maybe the produce section or maybe the imported foods section to reduce the amount of potential customers who would add to the potential traffic and then use that to defend their position that they didn’t violate the law in denying the original plans for Ashby and apply it all. Or at least started applying it to at least some once the city was sued over Ashby.

    Or maybe the homeowners in Lancaster Place could just sue the city if the city doesn’t apply the Driveway Ordinance to HEB.

    What a legacy Bill White left behind.

  • Kjb434 (or whoever you really are), you do not know me. I was art director in a grocer advertising department for many years before going to a different retailer where I’ve been for 19 years, so don’t assume I am a pollyanna or GreenPeace member. HEB is in it to make money. The margins are thin and they want to own the market. HEB is the most predatory grocery chain in the area.

    MCoerver, I’ve been living in this area or nearby off and on since 1966. Don’t assume I didn’t know what the apartments had become, but you both missed my point. Razing the property, building a sound wall or putting up a 20′-25″ tall wide store WILL block breezes and dawn light from those two streets. I’m up before dawn and see the sun come up every day, so don’t smugly dismiss my opinions.

    There are many ways to design a nice neighborhood grocery store on that sight that not only served the area, but it should never be at the cost of its nearest neighbors.

    I enjoy a healthy discourse on things like this, but you two are being jerks.

  • HEB is the most predatory grocery chain in the area.

    Someone should get some more tacky yellow signs so we will have the Monster That Devoured Southampton and the Monster That Devoured Lancaster Place. Or maybe a different color sign so people don’t get their monsters confused. Of course these signs may prove to be very popular so we maybe we should assign color to zip codes.

  • Matt Mystery,

    LOL. How about a land swap?

    HEB can build their store at Ashby and Bissonnet? All they need to do is put a delightful soundwall around the loading dock area. Southampton would finally get a grocer.

    The Ashby Tower twins can build away at Dunlavy & Alabama and enjoy nearby shopping.

    Lots of problems solved.