10/13/17 10:15am

16 months after the Fiesta Mart on site was torn down and 11 months since Heights-area voters approved a modification to longstanding local dry-zone prohibitions to allow alcohol sales for off-premises consumption, H-E-B at last appears ready to begin construction of its store at 2300 N. Shepherd. This week fencing went up around the site, which stretches between W. 23rd and W. 24th streets — and a couple of trailers have rolled onto it. An official groundbreaking is scheduled for October 24th.

The store will sit on the east side of the site but up one level, on top of a concrete parking deck. Here’s a view looking east along 23rd St. toward that part of the site and Lawrence St. beyond:

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08/11/17 11:15am

The new Holiday Inn Express about to begin construction at 3401 N. Main St. in the Near Northside will have some consistently quiet neighbors and some occasionally very loud ones — with the steady drone of the adjacent North Fwy. available to somehow bridge the gap. The 1.44-acre site, where the Casa Grande Mexican Restaurant stood until it was torn down 2 years ago (and Stuarts Drive-In before it), sits across N. Main St. from the Hollywood Cemetery (yes, the same cemetery featured in Wes Anderson movie Rushmore). And it’s just a bit more than a quarter-mile up N. Main from the White Oak Music Hall complex, whose outdoor concert habit spurred nearby residents kept up late at night by the noise to file suit against the venue — and later, the city of Houston — for failing to follow (and enforce) local sound ordinances.

Late last month, crews removed the concrete paving left behind after the Casa Grande demolition (see photos above). Just this week, a city permit was granted for a 58,929-sq.-ft., 95-room Holiday Inn Express on the site — up 10 rooms from the 85 promised a couple of years ago, when the developers submitted these drawings as part of an application for a variance that would allow them not to have to extend or widen Norma St., on the north end of the lot:

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Near Near Northside
07/07/17 4:00pm

The highrise hotel with apartments River Oaks District developer OliverMcMillan has been promising for a couple years as a tower feature of a promised second phase of the mixed-use development will be an Equinox, according to documents submitted to the city planning department. There’s already an Equinox fitness club in the River Oaks District, fronting Westheimer; the new Equinox hotel will be on the west side of Westcreek Ln., on the rear parking lot portion of the 3.4-acre Sullivan’s Steakhouse–Le Peep shopping center along Westheimer closer to the West Loop that OliverMcMillan leased almost 2 years ago.

The hotel portion of the site is 1.91 acres and set back from Westheimer. Equinox is seeking a variance from the city to allow the hotel to take access from Westcreek Ln., which further to the north also serves as an entry road for the SkyHouse River Oaks and the Wilshire condo towers.

The variance application doesn’t mention how tall the building will be, but renderings of the imagined hotel dating from 2015 (below) show a structure of approximately 25 stories, with a lower parking garage immediately to the west. A shorter building is shown on the 1.5-acre southern portion of the site facing Westheimer:

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Phase Two
06/22/17 9:30am

H-E-B TO SCOOT GROUNDBREAKING BACK TO END OF SUMMER BREAK, SCOOT BUILDING UP TOWARD N. SHEPHERD Work on that Fiesta-supplanting H- E- B on N. Shepherd Dr. is now scheduled to kick off on August 25th, Scott McClelland tells Landan Kuhlmann in The Leader this week. That’s purportedly due to variance-related pushbacks — namely, to H-E-B’s request to put the edge of its proposed 2-story structure closer to the street (like the request it briefly filed around the start of November but pulled just before the alcohol sales election). That variance request was re-filed in January and was granted, but triggered another round of permitting approvals and associated waiting periods, McClelland says. Estimates on an opening date have also slid back to the end of next year’s summer vacation — by which time we’ll know whether the rest of the area’s alcohol sales laws have gone the way of the off-site sales rules H-E-B helped campaign to remove last fall. [The Leader; previously on Swamplot] Rendering of H-E-B with N. Shepherd setback variance approval, as originally filed in 2016: Houston Planning Commission 

03/02/17 3:00pm

2901 S. Shepherd Dr., WAMM, Houston, 77006

1618 Westheimer Rd., Montrose, Houston, 77006The body-oriented retail strip across from the recently browned-out Alabama Theater has just swapped second-or-more-hand clothing retailer Buffalo Exchange into the spot by Kipling St. last occupied by Centre Fitness Fusion, a reader notes. (Centre Fitness took over from Orange Shoe Fitness, which itself succeeded bike shop and implicit fitness purveyor Cycle Spectrum.) Buffalo Exchange joins Epique Massage next to Darque Tan, separated only by a driveway and some parking spots from Demeris Bar-B-Q.

And what of the old Buffalo Exchange spot, recently spotted sporting a variance request notice out front?

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Fashion Recycler Recycling
08/23/16 5:45pm

1403 McGowen St., Midtown, Houston, 77004
Variance request at 1403 McGowen St.

Signage up on McGowen between La Branch and Austin streets heralds the property owner’s recent request for a few variances approvals from the city, include reduced building line setbacks on the site. Plans submitted with the request show cross sections of an 8-story midrise (arranged as 3 levels of parking topped by condo units above), which the application says was planned back when the owners were under the impression that the lot already had reduced building setbacks following city approvals of a previous owner’s project on the land that fell through.

As was discovered during the city’s permitting review, the previous variance approval was only applicable to the scrapped project, though the application claims that caveat wasn’t noted with mentions of the variance attached to the property’s plat records. City planners purportedly told the developers (which appear to include Knudson and Allied Orion Group) that they could get the same reduced setback lines approved again if they turn the first floor of the condo project into residences or retail.

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Midtown Condo Limbo
07/12/16 10:45am

Canyon Cafe, 5000 Westheimer, Galleria, Houston, 77056

Post Oak Centre Variance Request NoticeThe torches along the stairway to the former Canyon Cafe space at 5000 Post Oak Blvd. are not part of the plan for the southwestern grill’s northern replacement, Dallas hockey owner Tom Gaglardi’s Canadian fusion chain Moxie’s. Renderings of a potential remodel for the space (submitted as part of a variance request for Post Oak Centre) show the whole staircase missing, and depict the restaurant’s footprint spreading out as it adds part of the ground floor of the shopping center to the original restaurant space. The drawings depict an entrance canopy to the south of the development, and a new 2-story covered patio to the eastern side of the building, edging close to Post Oak Blvd.:

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Post Oak Recentering
02/23/16 1:30pm

Former Montrose Clinic, 215 Westheimer, Avondale, Houston, 77006

The peaked building at at 215 Westheimer Rd., which for 17 years housed the medical organization that evolved from the Montrose Clinic, appears to be headed toward a new gig in cosmetic dentistry. A reader snapped the photo above of a variance request notice outside the property, which was sold in 2013 after what’s now known as Legacy Community Health Services consolidated some of its operations at 1415 California St. The renamed Clinic, which developed to meet the health needs of the Montrose community during the AIDS crisis, moved out of the building in 2011; according to Houstonian Dental’s website, the firm will be moving into a suite at the same address some time later this year, offering both general and cosmetic tooth services.

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Legacy Legacy
07/08/15 2:15pm

Demolition of Strip Center at 4122 Willowbend Blvd., Willowbend, Houston

The 1959 strip center that once hid the top-secret bar known as Carolyn’s — as well as the Fruit of the Spirit Community Church — is all gone now. Demolition crews tore down the 18,600-sq.-ft. center at 4122 Willowbend Blvd. 3 blocks west of S. Main St. last week and the week before (see in-action shots below, sent to Swamplot by an area resident). And in late May, the planning commission approved a couple of variances to allow the all-in-a-line seeding of 29 3-story townhomes on the lot, in 2 rows facing Willowbend, like so:

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Summer Crop
06/30/15 11:15am

1055 Gessner Rd., Energy Gateway District, Spring Branch, Houston

What looks to be the last structure standing in the way of MetroNational’s hush-hush Energy Gateway District project across I-10 from its headquarters is now ready for its exit. The 32-year-old PoMo style strip center at 1055 Gessner Rd., which formerly housed an HPD substation, Terrace Limousine, and the Asiana Garden restaurant, appears fenced off and ready for demolition in this photo sent to Swamplot by a reader. The center stands at the far northern end of the 24-acre property, which — following the city’s approval of a variance request last month — will be bisected by the extension of Mathewson Ln. to Gessner Rd. from Conrad Sauer Rd.

Photo: Bayan Raji

Going Soon
05/13/15 1:30pm

Conrad Sauer Detention Basin, Energy Gateway District, Spring Branch, Houston

Here’s a purty watercolor-filtered drawing that shows how a portion of the concrete-lined Conrad Sauer Detention Basin extending north from the I-10 feeder road between Gessner and Conrad Sauer Dr. is supposed to look after MetroNational and TIRZ 17 upgrade it into a grassy, bike-lane-crossed area with park space that improves on its current ditch functions. It sits directly across the little ol’ Katy Fwy. from MetroNational’s ‘Death Star‘ HQ; the normally secretive company reveals a tiny bit about its plans for the area around the detention basin, lining the northwest corner of Gessner and the outbound I-10 feeder, in a variance application that’s scheduled to be discussed and possibly voted on in a planning commission meeting this Thursday.

MetroNational is calling the cleared 24-acre site (shown below) the Energy Gateway District.

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From the Death Star to You
02/20/15 11:45am

NO PARKING VARIANCE FOR HEIGHTS MERCANTILE RETAIL REDO ON 7TH AND YALE Proposed Heights Mercantile Retail and Office Complex,  7th St. at Yale St., Houston HeightsDespite a recommendation from the planning department staff to allow the development to proceed with significantly fewer parking places than required by ordinance, the planning commission yesterday denied a parking variance for the proposed Heights Mercantile mixed-use building complex along 7th St. between Yale St. and Heights Blvd., the longtime site of a warehouse complex for the Pappas Restaurant group. The Finial Group, the project’s developers, had hoped to be allowed to count 58 existing head-in public parking spaces along 7th St., many of them fronting the MKT Hike and Bike Trail, toward the development’s off-street parking requirements. [Previously on SwamplotRendering of proposed new building along Yale St.: Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

02/13/15 1:15pm

Proposed Saudi Arabia General Consulate of Houston, Wilcrest Dr. Between Richmond Ave and Meadowglen Ln., Westchase, Houston

“Does a building have diplomatic immunity to local ordinances if [its site] is deemed international soil?” asks Architect’s Newspaper reporter Jay Thomas, reporting on the variance request made on behalf of a new General Consulate of Saudi Arabia complex in Westchase — which Houston’s planning commission denied in December. The applicants for the variance appear to say yes, it does: “The Consulate should be considered foreign soil and should be allowed to develop the property as they have planned as long as it doesn’t harm the public in any way,” reads the application.

But the design team went ahead and applied for the variance anyway. Why?

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International Setbacks
02/05/15 12:45pm

Proposed Heights Mercantile Retail and Office Complex,  7th St. at Yale St., Houston Heights

Proposed Heights Mercantile Retail and Office Complex,  7th St. at Yale St., Houston HeightsResidents near the section of 7th St. between Yale St. and Heights Blvd. have been discussing plans to turn the group of warehouse buildings long held by Pappas Restaurants into a 4-building “creative neighborhood and shopping destination” called Heights Mercantile. The Finial Group, which bought the properties from Pappas and a few other landowners last year, hired Austin architect Michael Hsu to come up with plans for renovating 3 of the buildings lining 7th St., tearing down the long warehouse lining Yale St. and replacing it with the new 2-story structure pictured above. The new project is a joint venture between Finial and a local investment firm called Radom Capital.

A notable feature of the 1.4-acre site plan is 3 stretches of head-in parking along 7th St. The plan shows 36 spaces on the north side of the street, facing the row of wooden bollards lining the hike-and-bike trail converted from the path of the former MKT rail line and 2 banks of 11 spaces in a row on the opposite side. Although head-in parking configurations dominate in some portions of the city (Rice Village, for example), new stretches of more than 4 spaces in a row have been prohibited by city regulations for decades.

The Pappas warehouses have head-in parking along 7th St. The developer not only wants to preserve and adjust that arrangement for the new development, but is asking the city to count these on-street spaces toward the required number of off-street spaces. The planning commission is scheduled to rule on the associated parking variance application this afternoon.

Here’s a site plan:

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Retail Revamp
01/06/15 1:30pm

Variance Sign for Living Green, MDI Superfund Site, 3617 Baer St., Fifth Ward, Houston

Signs have gone up around the former metal foundry site at 3617 Baer St. in the Fifth Ward indicating that a hearing is scheduled for this Thursday to get city approval for the latest rejiggering of homesites on the 35-acre tract. Developer Frank Liu of Lovett Homes, InTown Homes, and a few other local builder brands plans to put a total of 538 homes (down from 589) on the EPA-monitored property, known as the MDI Superfund Site after the last owner of the metal-casting operations, Many Diversified Interests, which shut down in the early 1990s (previously, the plants were owned by TESCO). The property, which lies just south of I-10 about 2 miles of east of downtown, was listed on the EPA’s list of priority Superfund sites in 1999, after tests showed the soil and groundwater was contaminated with lead and other hazardous metals.

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Living Green