Announcing the Swamplot Award for Special Achievement in Sprawl. Your Nominations, Please?

The category announcements are rolling here at Swampies central. Earlier today we introduced the 5th category in this year’s Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. Here’s the complete list of our categories so far: Favorite Houston Design Cliché, Best Demolition, Best Parking Lot Dining Experience, Most Notable Recycling Effort, and the “No Zoning” Award. And already, you’ve identified some terrific potential nominees for all of them. Keep them coming!

Category number 6 is brand new for this year. It’s the Award for Special Achievement in Sprawl. What thing, place, or event from the greater Houston area could be worthy of such an honor this year? That’s what we’re hoping you’ll tell us. Got any potential winners in mind?

Refer to the official nominating rules if you need them. But really: We need your smartly formulated suggestions for this category! Add them and explain them well below — or email them to us privately. You have until midnight next Tuesday, December 13, to suggest nominees for both categories announced today.

18 Comment

  • Can we have a “Dumbest City Policy” award, and if so I nominate the expansion of the Chapter 42 urban area from the Loop out to tbe Beltway. I’ll be happy to explain, but basically “urban” has almost nothing to do with geography and is totally about form, Chapter 42’s urban regulations are in any event sub-urban, and this new approach means Greenspoint and much of Westchase will still be suburban, but the little single family neighborhoods near them but inside the Beltway will be urban. Give me a break.

  • Well the one road to ring them all just took out an entire Chinese army this year. How’s that for the power of sprawl?

  • The Grand Parkway, like a zombie from a bad movie it keeps rising like the undead from beneath the Katy prairie, every time it looks like this project is really dead…..

  • I nominate the sprawl of “River Oaks” to the name of every dry cleaner and oil change shop within a 10 mile radius of inner-loop Westheimer. I get it, River Osks is fancy. You know what isn’t fancy? Gus, the guy checking the air in my tires and extra starch in my collar. I can forgive the geographically challenged doggy daycares and florists who co-opted the RO name, but I just don’t get the dry cleaners and oil change places doing it.

  • I second the expansion of the Grand Parkway through the Katy Prairie (again). Here’s to you Houston, for continuing to fund road projects where people do not live, while destroying a precious (endangered!) ecosystem in the process. I wouldn’t expect anything less. A third ring around the city, really?!

  • I would like to nominate the new Exxon Mobil campus between Spring and The Woodlands. Pulling all those office workers from such inner-city sites as the Bell St. tower downtown, the research center on Buffalo speedway, and the offices at 290 and Dacoma and forcing them all to drive up an already overcrowded I-45 contributes greatly to sprawl.

  • In addition to the Grand Parkway expansion, I would like to nominate the Heights Walmart. This is an example of urban sprawl’s flagship big box, and to see it so close to the city center can mean only one thing: The Sprawl is so sprawled that it is beginning to sprawl back onto the urban core itself! Recursive Curses!

  • I would recommend a “Swampie” goes to Zone de Erotica on the corner of 610 @ Westheimer for the No Zoning division.

  • Segment E of the Grand Parkway is the obvious winner. Aside from a few farmers and clueless people who work in the energy corridor but bought homes up in Cypress instead of Katy, the road is useless, except to developer looking for cheap land to sprawl up the area.

    I would nominate Houston’s reverse sprawl. Outside the loop, developers are doing big mixed use re-development (City Centre) and putting grocery stores in mixed use developments (Whole Foods/Galleria), but inside the loop, the Heights gets strip malls and Walmart and grocery stores pop up every time a large parcel of land opens up. And the City of Houston now wants urban density outside the loop, while subsidizing suburban sprawl development inside the loop with free money for infrastructure upgrades through 380 agreements.

  • Old School, I think that you’re confusing affluence for urbanism. Whereas Wal-Mart wants to be everywhere (urban, suburban, exurban, and rural), places like BLVD Place, City Centre, Sugar Land Town Square, The Woodlands Town Square, et al., get built only where their density is necessary to overcome high land values, which are in turn being supported by retail revenue potential well in excess of construction costs. They get built when a neighborhood is deeply affluent, and so people associate that form of density with success and desire it near them as a validation of their worth.

    I doubt that anybody is actually pissed off that Wal-Mart is “suburban”. (First of all, Wal-Mart isn’t “suburban”, it is “everywhere”.) And I say that because very few seem at all concerned about Wal-Mart’s plans for Wayside. The non-reaction to the Wayside location provides a foil for the over-reaction to the Heights Wal-Mart. And what is revealed by opinion leaders is at best some cognitive dissonance over people’s perceived self worth, and at worst thinly-veiled class warfare…there are also a lot of highly-vocal self-important lemmings involved, I think.

  • Clearly, the Grand Parkway.

  • River Oaks, the Heights, and Rice Military aren’t deeply affluent? The trade area for the Heights Walmart could easily stand toe to toe with City Centre or Sugar Land and probably knock them out of the ball park. You are still stuck on the idea that market forces decide what goes where. All you need to buy a big lot inside the loop is one dollar more than the other guy. The only reason Walmart goes up instead of City Center or West Ave is because the developer did not have the finances to do the bigger deal and cashed out with what they could do (even Orr is managing to eventually put in some apartments on their tract). The market in the area is for class A+ retail space and apartments, not Walmart. But all developers are not created equal. Some have the finances to deliver the mixed use development with class A retail, others don’t. The guy that buys the land is the guy who paid one dollar more than the next guy, which is not necessarily the guy with the finances to what the market demands.
    And you have to be kidding if you think that Walmart isn’t suburban. Walmart is the definition of suburban. Cramming its stores into urban areas doesn’t change that fact.
    The Wayside location is apples to Yale St.’s oranges. Wayside has direct feeder access on one side and a four lane road on the other side. The immediate area is much more typical of suburban feeder road development in Houston than Yale St. No bike path, no runners crossing under the highway to head to the bayou, no reason for traffic to flow through an abutting residential neighborhood with 18′ wide roads, no problem with 18 wheeler delivery trucks not being able to directly access the development due to a bridge that no commercial trucks are allowed on without having to pop a curb on an ill-designed reverse curve cut-through street, and no oversaturation with big box grocers. SE Houston is a depressed area and a major food desert. The City of Houston is giving HEB a 2 mil 380 agreement just to keep Gulfgate open. Of course residents will overlook the traffic burden and bad corporate citizenship of Walmart (cutting employee benefits while building a 1.2 billion art museum in Bentonville) just to get something built in their neighborhood.
    And your personal resentment of people who are against walmart on Yale is ultimately ridiculous. What kind of person would not want the best kind of development in their neighborhood and not do everything they can to try to stop something they believed is bad for their neighborhood (don’t even tell me a Walmart is better for the area than a mixed use development)? The real lemmings are those who believe that we should all leave the fate of our community in the hands of a few wealthy developers and drop to our knees in praise of any bad idea they come up with.

  • Hear, hear Old School!

  • So, Old School, what makes you the arbiter of what’s right for development? Were you elected King of Houston development? Personally, I think the WalMart is a far better development than some stupid mixed use piece of junk that no one will use, and that will be empty and idle in 6 months. I am far more qualified than you to make that decision, because I say so. If you don’t like the way things are going, there are multiple freeways leading out of town, see ya!

    That’s all tongue in cheek, but points out the fact that in Houston, it’s up to the market to figure out what is needed in terms of development, not a bunch of zoning board members to be bought and sold like cattle. That’s the Houston way, and one of the things that makes this city a great place to live. Or it was, until control freaks who couldn’t convince their neighbors of the value of deed restrictions convinced the city to use its police power to force the recalcitrant neighbors to toe the line.

  • I nominate the new headquarters of Exxon and/or the Woodlands for trying to create yet another “energy corridor” many miles away from the actual city.

  • Take it from a former developer…when making acquisitions, we bid up the value of the land according to the risk-adjusted capitalized value of the built asset. A Wal-Mart is about as low-risk as a user can get, was one of the very few players in town at the time, and the prospect of holding vacant land at that location until the market healed would have entailed hefty outlays on top of the opportunity cost for doing nothing.

    It’s entirely possible that there were higher bidders that weren’t taken seriously because the owner didn’t think that they could close the deal. Happens all the time. When tens of thousands of dollars are on the line with each passing month, you don’t want to get jacked around by inane pie-in-the-sky visionaries prancing about the marketplace in developers’ clothing. (Even in the best of times, most visionaries’ proposals fail or require a drawn-out closing process, public subsidy to get built, and THEN fail.)

    Consider that Wulfe is still struggling to get more dirt churning on BLVD Place, and then think about how difficult a time even someone as well-heeled, experienced, and connected as Wulfe would’ve faced if he had proposed something like that on this site. Your choices appear to have been a vacant post-industrial brownfield or low-density retail with possibly some apartments.

    As for your dismissal of the Wayside foil, you claim that that site is a “food desert” in that area; there are a Sellers Bros. and a Fiesta within walking distance. You claim that this is why HEB got a huge sum from the City; I think that HEB (or more likely their well-heeled, experience, and connected landlord, referenced above) pulled a fast one on us rather than renegotiating the terms of the lease like any other landlord would have to. You claim that the Yale Street site is special because of runners and bicyclists, but the developed trail stops on the other side of the freeway and the new trail is two thirds of a mile away; there are at least as many pedestrians (not for the exercise but because they don’t have cars) along Wayside. I expect that there will be more pedestrians on Yale after the Wal-Mart goes in because the trail will be extended, and also because there will be more stuff to walk to. And lastly, you complain about trucks on narrow streets, but the streets are getting upgraded; and what, you don’t think that retailers other than Wal-Mart use trucks and loading docks to receive goods?

    As for my supposed “personal resentment against people who are against walmart on Yale being ultimately ridiculous,” close but no cigar. My personal resentment is against the utterly ridiculous people who are against the Wal-Mart on Yale. You know the type…they describe a location not in the Heights as being in the Heights and invoke the name ‘River Oaks’ as though it means something to a development off of I-10. People like that are a public nuisance, and I take a special delight in exposing them as such.

  • Hear, hear TheNiche!

  • Keystone XL Pipeline sprawling 1,700 miles from Calgary to Houston. That makes the Grand Parkway and new Exxon Headquarters look close.