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: SAVING HOUSTON FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF NEWCOMERS “i’d just point out that Houston is a large and growing city. although the inner-loop is changing, so are all the other hoods within 20 miles of here. nobody says you have to live in the same ‘hood all your life and i’d even go so far as to say that to expect to live in the same neighborhood indefinitely without seeing major changes is just selfishness. i’ll gladly pick up and move once the montrose has finally been redeveloped for the $150K+ income bracket only. i think it kills diversity and character of the area, but i’m glad it’s growing and more people are able to live near work and greater amenities while providing a larger tax base to make this city better for all the areas . . . i think my fellow citizens deserve that at least. if it changes it changes, but there’s no shortage of places to move to. as long as it’s making the city better.
move to a poor neighborhood if you don’t want to see any changes, there’s plenty around. and that’s the danger of giving neighborhoods rights over [what] can be developed. by nature they will only have their desires in mind, not that of the millions of others that could benefit from growth and new developments.” [joel, commenting on Comment of the Day: Who Cares What the Neighbors Think?]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: AN ATMOSPHERE OF MISTRUST “I’m inclined to believe the owner on this one. Who knows better what Sharifi plans to do with the property, than Sharifi himself? It’s not just that he said there were no immediate plans to develop the property – how many times have we heard that one — it’s the good brick award and the quip about townhomes that does it — for me at least.
The real story here is the level of mistrust that exists between the public and the building community (developers but also architects, engineers, and contractors). It’s a nationwide phenomenon that’s especially strong here in Houston. There’s a common misconception that our lack of zoning leaves us more vulnerable. We’ve suffered a lot of bad development since the 1960s. It has made us paranoid. And with affordable garden apartments Inside the Loop falling one-by-one to luxury mid rises, it’s understandable that people in complexes like the Gramercy Place Apartments would be especially paranoid.” [ZAW, commenting on The Confusing Continuing Story of the Gramercy Place Apartments]
BRINGING THE STREETS DOWNTOWN RIGHT INTO THE LOBBIES Why isn’t there more street life Downtown? A recent architectural exhibition suggests that one cause might be the sealed world of a tunnel system that’s accessed mainly through closed-off corporate lobbies: “[Rice University’s Bryony Roberts] argues that these [sites] provide opportunities for a new type of public space that would more effectively integrate street activity and subterranean circulation,” explains OffCite’s Helen B. Bechtel. Using studies of One Allen Center, the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Reliant Energy Plaza, and Wells Fargo Plaza — imagined here to include ramp-like pedestrian feeders — Roberts shows how “otherwise segregated interior and exterior public spaces” might be linked. The exhibition’s on view — where else? — in the One Allen Center lobby at 1200 Smith. [OffCite; previously on Swamplot] Rendering: Bryony Roberts via OffCite
COMMENT OF THE DAY: FOLLOW THE MINI STORAGE “Mini Storage facilities are almost always limited partnerships designed to last 7-10 years and put on strategically poised land the developers/LLP’s have determined will increase in value. The facilities are generally inexpensive to build and maintain and are easy to demo once the property has gained enough value to where it is sold for development. The area all along 34th street is just not ready for redevelopment yet. It’s currently a dump. Additional years of creeping development from the Northern Heights will be required to eventually turn the 34th St. blight into the redevelopment gem many hope for.” [CK, commenting on What They’re Doing to Food Land on Ella]
The HBJ’s Jennifer Dawson picks up an interesting detail about Springwoods Village, the mysterious eco-themed community being planned by a mysterious company for 1,800 mostly forested acres just south of the Woodlands, at the intersection of I-45, the Hardy Toll Road, and (someday) the Grand Parkway. Coventry Development, still won’t talk about the project’s connection to the rumored but not-yet-announced corporate campus ExxonMobil appears to be building next door, which is expected to consolidate most employees currently based in Houston and Fairfax, Virginia. But it sure looks like Coventry is banking on something big close by: Development director Keith Simon tells Dawson that
Coventry will develop commercial parcels in Springwoods before the residential acreage. The company’s strategy is to build commercial first to create tax value that will funnel money through the tax district to fund infrastructure.
Building standalone office parks and strip centers in the middle of a forest is, of course, a time-honored Houston development tradition. More often these days though, the sprawling houses go in first. But if the major centralized campus of the second-largest publicly traded company in the world is going to bring in thousands of workers nearby pretty soon anyway, yeah — what’s the point?
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CITY TAX INCENTIVES TO HELP WALMART BUILD IN THE WEST END? Mayor Parker tells the Houston Press‘s Christopher Patronella Jr. that the city has been discussing the possibility of a tax-incentive agreement with the developer of the 25-acre site off Yale St. in the West End — where Walmart is planning to build a new store: “‘The city is not negotiating with [Walmart]. However, there are ongoing conversations with the developer regarding a 380 Agreement, which allows for the dedication of future tax revenues from a qualifying project to be used as reimbursement to the developer for necessary infrastructure improvements. 380 Agreements are authorized under state law and have been used previously by the city. This is still not a done deal.’ The 380 agreements, as established by the Texas Local Government Code, authorize cities to refund a portion of projected sales-tax income over a period of time. From Jan 1, 2000 to May 21, 2008, according to the City of Austin’s peer city comparison of economic development agreements, Houston has among the lowest number of such agreements with 11, next to Austin with 7. San Antonio is next in line with 43 and Dallas and Fort Worth with a combined 85. City spokesperson Janice Evans told Hair Balls that the city generally considers projects that are at least $25 million, require substantial new public infrastructure and create a measurable number of new jobs, for the 380 agreements. “The major project that I can point you to that utilized these same concepts is the planned [Regent Square] redevelopment of the former Allen House site. That project will eventually be a $750 million investment.'” [Hair Balls; previously on Swamplot]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE CREEPING SOCIALIST MENACE THAT LURKS WITHIN “It’s horrifying to think that a business would have to actually have to work with neighbors who will be living with their presence for a long, long time. The next thing you know, people will start thinking that as citizens they have some stake in the city they live in, and a right to participate and influence its future! What kind of crazy society would we be then?” [John, commenting on Mayor Parker to Walmart: Start Talking]
Always on the lookout for striking images, art blogger Robert Boyd discovers an intriguing pattern in the map included in the listing of the nearby Fabulous Flea property discussed a couple of days ago on Swamplot. He asks:
Do you think the property lines of of those houses were deliberately designed to look like a man? (Sort of like the Vitruvian Man, don’t you think?)
Boyd dubs the pattern — found on the lower portion of the Upper Kirby blocks surrounded by Elbert, Bammel, and Sackett — “Elbert Street Man.”
But there’s a more direct reference. The anatomical property lines are the mark in Houston’s real-estate landscape of a much more well-known figure:
Allen R. Stanford.
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