Spec’s Developments on Washington: The Full Court Press

More action in the ongoing battle over the Washington Ave. Spec’s: Responding in kind to the lawsuit filed against his company by the Harris County District Attorney in March, the owner of Spec’s has filed his own complaint against the city of Houston and Harris County.

The new countersuit claims that by granting the store permits, the city had agreed to allow the Spec’s at the Washington and Westcott roundabout to sell alcohol — even though the property was less than 1000 ft. from Memorial Elementary School. According to a city ordinance, only establishments earning more than half their revenue from food sales are allowed to sell alcohol within 1000 ft. of a school.

Spec’s owner John Rydman says the city agreed to issue the permits to sell alcohol at the store

even though the proximity to the school was noted on the application. He said he renovated a building and entered into a five-year lease at a cost of $2 million based on the assumption that the permits were valid. . . .

In a previous interview, Rydman said he knew of the potential problem and would not commit to build out the property or to sign a lease unless the city agreed to a variance. When the permits were granted, he said he thought all obstacles had been cleared.

The Harris County Attorney’s office contends that the granting of the permit was a simple error — and Spec’s officials knew it.

Meanwhile, a Swamplot reader writes in with a few pointed questions about the roles of the building’s owner and leasing agent in the dispute:


It seems strange Spec’s only is mentioned in this matter. In addition to property improvements, a $2.5 million lease is indicated; perhaps the actual owner of the property was involved with the initial agreement to operate this establishment within 1000 feet of an elementary school! The property has had many tenants. Obviously, the owner of this parcel was ecstatic to realize such a viable occupant.

Photo of Spec’s, 6010 Washington Ave: Trip to the Outhouse

20 Comment

  • So I guess is very similar to bar fiasco on White Oak where the city approves then doesn’t approve of the situation.

    The city and county never understands a simple mistake in a property owner being late on their taxes, but they are allowed to make mistakes in granting permits and then reneging them?

  • This also illustrates the basic stupidity of a rule like “no alcohol sales with 1000 feet of a school.”

  • And will be further illustrated if the city council passes the REALLY stupid sign ordinance today.

  • Similar but not the same. From what I understand Specs pointed out the 1000ft issue on their original application and specifically applied for a variance and also contacted the school district to try to address the issue.

    With the bar on White Oak I believe the owner applied for the permit without mentioning the possible issue with the dry zone after apparently canvassing his regulars on where the boundary was.

  • Which means Spec’s has a much more solid case. They appeared to do their due diligence up front before investing a lot of money in this place.

    I haven’t read, but why is the HC DA going after them. Was it because of a community complaint? The DA just feels like going after businesses like this?

  • I am all for regulation of places that sell alcohol. In this case I think the city should move the school. That way the regulation stays in place, untarnished. :)

    Seriously, if Spec’s applied for a variance and went the extra step to contact the school district, if the city upholds the restriction they should be held financially accountable for Specs’ losses.

    As for Lonnie, I think in the swamplot posting about his application, it was noted that he did not follow the 90 day rule of posting his intentions for community feedback and just posted for 30 days. Strike…you’re out. Spec’s seems to have followed to the letter. More, I suppose will be revealed all around on this one.

  • Beyond the obvious problem of government approving something and then changing their mind, I want to know why there are even rules about liquor stores located within 1,000 feet of a school. Seems like nothing more than pandering to a small but vocal religious minority that thinks alcohol is “evil”, and the mere sight of a liquor store will somehow corrupt their children. What a load of BS!

  • John, I wouldn’t even just pin this on religious. I would pin it on over protective parents.

    In most small towns, this type of ordinance was essentially make the town dry.

    It’s just an extremely unfair rule to push on a business. Spec’s it not a store that allow where people come out of it drunk like a bar. It’s a respectable business that always appears on the up and up. How is the spec’s any different than the Exxon at just up the road or the restaurants and bars just down the street.

    Why is the number 1000-feet? Why not 10,000-feet? Why not 500-feet? Parents and people in the community should learn to control their lives versus expecting rules an regulations set by a few in a building the majority of us will never set foot in take us over.

  • kjb434 wrote: “Parents and people in the community should learn to control their lives versus expecting rules an regulations set by a few in a building the majority of us will never set foot in take us over.”

    A majority of us who cared to vote put those regulation writers in office. If we oppose their regulations, we can vote in hard-core libertarians next time around–you, yourself, could run for office, assuming you meet the fairly minimal citizenship and residency requirements. That’s what representative democracy is all about.

    Virtually any regulation is going to seem onerous or paternalistic to someone. I’m sure their are people who chafe at slowing down in school zones or stopping for stop signs. This regulation about alcohol sales must be more than 1000 ft from a school must be one that most Houstonians either agree with or don’t care about much, because I have never heard any particular opposition to it (except from you). This regulation hardly seems to have lessened the availability of alcohol in our fair city.

    Anyway, like most commenters, I think it is unfair that if Spec’s was granted a variance that it should be yanked away. Maybe there is more to this story than we’re being told, but on the face of it, it looks like Specs is in the right.

  • From the chronicle story it sounds like someone at the City issued a variance, but it was of a type normally issued for restaurants. My reading of the story is that the City are arguing that Spec’s attorneys should have noticed that it was the wrong variance when it was issued.

    I think the ordinance doesn’t come up much because most people buy their alcohol at a store that makes more than 50% of their sales from things other than booze which are not covered. I believe the argument for the original ordinance was not that kids would be tempted into buying a beer but that the mere prescence of these establishments would create an undesirable atmosphere near our schools. As has already been pointed out the ordinance really does nothing except highlight our ludicrously puritanical attitudes towards alcohol.

  • The reason you don’t see opposition to rules like this is because to people that truly opposed to them are working for a living versus being able to attend city council meetings. The rest are oblivious to the rules until it finally affects them.

    I’m no means a libertarian. I’m just truly wondering why the city devotes time to regulations like this and the crazy sign ordinance (that won’t do anything to affect signs except for new businesses). Aren’t much more pressing issues? Actually there are many more pressing issues, but they aren’t politically sexy and they may actually involve our council members actually making a real tough decision.

    The council members that are speaking up on real issues or criticizing waste are essentially made fun of and looked over.

  • Poor kids. I remember those times, after a hard day of third grade, when we’d walk up the street to Joe’s Bar and have a couple of cold ones. Now they will have to walk farther!

    We get rules like this because nobody except the owners of the businesses cares much, and nobody’s going to go to bat for people who sell booze, operate sexually explicit businesses, etc. What would make sense would be to come up with guidelines for what’s near schools based on what businesses might actually cause real observable problems. It’s really hard to imagine Specs fitting into that category.

    But more immediately, if the city screws up as they did this time, an individual business owner should not be stuck with the bill.

  • They should close down the school, or make the school move farther away. Problem solved!

  • They should close down the school, or make the school move farther away. Problem solved!

    Spec’s has closed. Of course there’s still the lawsuit against the city and the county. Which they will probably win. Given the “variances” they give to developers, well, you get the picture. If not, no doubt it will be presented in court for all to see. The city did the same thing with 1717 Bissonnet. The only permit the developers lacked was the foundation permit. Then, suddenly, they had no permits at all.

  • Dagnammit! Popped by on Friday to try and buy a couple of bottles of wine only to find this out first hand. The idea that different types of legal organisations can coexist in the same neigborhood is fundamental to the rebuilding of livable local neighborhoods. The City and County here are just incompetent, the real culprit is the State and by extension the voters for implementing this ludicrous rule in the first place. Personally I’m more concerned about the possible effect on my kids of having prosletyzing religious organisations in close proximity to their schools than of them having to see a liquor store on their way to school.

  • There is a Spec store just down the road on Memorial @ Westcott. You can buy your wine and scotch there. I would like to see the store on Washington turned into Specs deli!

  • tomT,

    Although Google Maps says it’s a Spec’s, it’s not unless they just changed ownership.

    I think it’s still called Daily’s Liquor.

  • Specs bought out Dailys AFTER they built the Spec on Washington. Do think the market in the area is big enough to support two Specs so close together? Or was Specs hedging their bets that the Washington store might have to close.

  • I think you right about hedging their bet that the Washington location will close.

    Specs may even buy out/rent out the rest of the shopping center to have a full store in the future.

  • The property tax record goes to an LP on Gibson where the leasing agent, Urban Meridian Properties, are also based. They are still listing the property as fully leased on their website. My guess is that they are the owner, not Specs.