The New Inner Loop Townhome Poster Child

THE NEW INNER LOOP TOWNHOME POSTER CHILD “Density hasn’t been kind to Cottage Grove, a small neighborhood with narrow streets, few sidewalks, poor drainage and scarce parking for the owners of its many new homes and their guests. Like many neighborhoods inside Loop 610, Cottage Grove in recent years has experienced a flurry of construction of large townhomes that loom over 80-year-old cottages next door. Two or three dwellings crowd sites where one house stood previously. Streets are cluttered with vehicles parked every which way. Water stands in the streets after heavy rains. ‘It was shocking to see this jewel of a neighborhood in this condition,’ said former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, a senior fellow with the nonprofit Urban Land Institute who toured Cottage Grove two years ago. ‘It was about the ugliest thing I’d ever seen, to be honest with you.’” [Houston Chronicle]

22 Comment

  • Cottage Grove also during the time of that tour was also part of a pilot program that investigated old neighborhood experience that much change.

    The study focused on drainage and parking as the two main points.

    I’ve suggested using one way streets with one side allowed for parking. That will allow the continual use of the roadside ditches and smaller streets.

  • Cottage Grove was one of the dumpier areas for many years until it began experiencing the tear-down/new construction boom. People used to jokingly refer to it as “Garbage Grove”.

  • I also want to mention that over all, teardown of actually older homes isn’t that common in Cottage Grove.

    Many of the old cottages were moved out of the neighborhood when the owners sold the property. The homes that were torn down were already in disrepair. Many tear downs were of small aparments, warehouses, and empty businesses.

    This isn’t the first time Cottage Grove experienced renewal. If you drive down the streets, you’ll see some ranch homes from years after the original cottages were build. You see run down apartments. You have some shacks that are rental units.

  • “It was about the ugliest thing I’d ever seen, to be honest with you.”

    That statement could refer to just about anything in Houston, to be honest with you.

  • I’m sure poor drainage, narrow streets, and lack of sidewalks would be problematic for the neighborhood way before any waves of teardown/townhomes. Having recently purchased a home in Cottage Grove, I know for a fact a good portion of the neighborhood is outside the 100 and 500 year flood plains so drainage issues maybe, flooding nope. Luckily our home is on the corner too, so parking isn’t too much of a problem at the moment. I feel sorry for the people WAY in the back on Sherwin St. Even midday on a Wednesday it looks like a parking lot back there.

    Streets in Cottage Grove are a grid instead of the nausea/heartburn/indigestion/upset stomach/diarrhea of some suburban developments so the one-way streets would work great. Especially when you have to deal with a city bus barreling towards your car at Mach 1. I’m surprised I don’t see more cars nose first in inadequate drainage ditches.

  • Matt, I live on Kansas between Sherwin and Langston.

    I’ve seen my share of cars in ditches already. Also, Kansas at Sherwin is becoming popular with car wrecks. People on Sherwin for some reason think cars on Kansas have a stop sign when they don’t.

    About flooding: This is what I do for living. These streets and some of the homes were part of a developer built subdivision in 20s-30s (Maxroy St is a combination of their names). The narrow streets and roadside ditches are part of a different era. Some of bad flooding recently has more do to with temporary storm water quality filter fabric fences placed in ditches in front of homes being constructed (required by the city). Some of the flooding is being induced by some citizens purposely letting the grass get overgrown in an attempt to clean storm water runoff. There are some some storm sewers in the the neighborhood along Arabelle and Kansas. These intercept most of the flow from the neighborhood and take it to a 96″ storm sewer line that heads north under the rail road yard and empties into a tributary to White Oak Bayou. On top of the increased development, a large industrial complex was taken down on the far west side of Cottage Grove along Kansas. The complex used to contribute a lot to storm water runoff prior to the town home construction. Once the town homes started to show up, this site completed altered. The entire complex of warehouses and other structures were removed. The site was rehabbed to now only having grass. This would actually help flooding by adding all the pervious ground. Pretty much offsetting many of the new town homes. A critical component that the city has looked into addressing is that the water just runoffs off fast now. It’s not necessarily more water, just faster moving. That’s a good job for storm sewer and not small roadside ditches.

  • I’ve seen some of the newer construction in the area build out over their ditches. When we first moved here I thought that caused some of the larger puddles until I saw they weren’t filling in the ditches, just building over drainage pipes. I don’t understand people who would leave their grass overgrown like that.

    I like that large grass area behind the neighborhood, we can see a lot of it from our windows. I didn’t know it used to be warehouses etc. The end of Katy St near Sherwin where the field drains tends to turn into a lake during sudden thunderstorms, storm sewers sound like a good solution. Expecting the field will stay empty is too much to hope for, but it would be a great spot for a park.
    Are there any plans for the site?

  • Matt,

    If you ever get a chance to look at old aerial photos, you’ll see them. If they were still there, the homes along Katy and Maxroy would have nothing but metal across the street to look at.

    The good news about that site is that it’s not an easy one to develop. The company I work for did some analysis for the broker for the land on what would need to be done to prep the site for development. The drainage solution is pretty straight forward. The main thing that made the site undevelopable is the lack of adequate sanitary sewer service. The city would require any developer of the track to install some major sanitary sewer upgrades. The best options involved going north or to the west with sanitary water (it wasn’t a viable option through Cottage Grove). It will lay vacant for while.

  • I’m not surprised at some of the comments concerning Cottage Grove. When my husband and I were house-hunting back in 2006, we had looked at some new townhouses in Cottage Grove. But I did not like that area for many reasons, such as no sidewalks, low walkability score (I don’t drive, so this is a major issue for me) and lousy guest parking (if you get out of the car, you run the risk of falling into a ditch). Also, it was an odd sight to see old, rickety little houses next to new townhouses (I’m not talking about little daitny bungalows like in Heights — those houses look like something you’d see hilly-billy folks living in the rural South.)

  • As ugly as parts of Cottage Grove are, it’s a major improvement on what was there before. as an added bonus, the amount of gunfire from New Year’s celebrations is down considerably as the demographics change. That should prevent another occurrence of bullet in the roof syndrome at our house in Timbergrove.

  • “It was shocking to this jewel of a neighborhood in this condition” WTF?????? I think the Mayor of Pittsburgh must be insane.

    After living in the vicinity since 2005, I drove through Cottage Grove street by street in early 2008 and was actually shocked at what a slum (sorry kjb34 and Matt) it was.

    Chalk up another one for the City of Houston for perpetuating and exacerbating another ill conceived neighborhood with no density contols, requirements for parking,
    street improvements etc….I don’t know why after 20 years of living here, I am still shocked at how backward our city is
    when it comes to quality of life, development and traffic management issues.

  • JT,

    I really don’t consider our city to backwards on the catch all abstract buzz word concept of “quality of life”.

    Living in Cottage Grove for the last 4.5 years, I’ve seen this neighborhood through some dramatic changes. The new town homes are the ones putting in the new sidewalks (thank you developers and the city requirements). Many of the existing residents are happy with this from local civic club meetings.

    For me, I love the neighborhood. It’s extremely quiet. The trains nearby don’t bother me at all. I’ve lived near trains all my life. Even without continuous sidewalks throughout the neighborhood, there is a lot more walking by the residents. The roadside ditches are a cause by some in the neighborhood and with support from many organization to keep versus cover over based on an environmental “quality of life” issue. Many residents are resisting the push towards putting in storm sewers with curb and gutter streets. It would require the tearing down of many trees in the community. Also, Cottage Grove just like the Heights was not part of Houston originally. It was a small suburb that was annexed many years later. the intersection of Larkin and Radcliffe was sort of a mini downtown area. Stevenson Elementary is where many existing buildings stood. I-10 cuts through the south part of the old town. Being built in the 20s and 30s as a rural and generally poorer community explains the narrow streets and right of way along with the lack of sidewalks. This was never an urban neighborhood just like much of the Rice Military and Shady Acres areas of town. What these area are experiencing is a conversion to an urban area. Some existing areas of the city can handle it better than others. Cottage Grove and the Rice Military area will take many years to transition the existing streets to a more urban style.

  • One word: planning.

    Only in Houston is that seen as a negative.

  • You obviously haven’t read anything posted here finness.

    No amount of planning could have prevented what has happened.

    Even if you Houston had planning back in the 20s and 30s (which they did to a degree), this neighborhood wasn’t in Houston and was actually considered a little ways out of Houston. This is what happens when and existing established rural community becomes part of a growing city.

    Anything within this neighborhood would have to be retrofitted into the old design used in the gridded street pattern.

  • Well, it seems that no matter what I post you will take objection. You seem angry.

    I have read the posts. It does not mean that I agree with them. I believe that many problems arise from allowing builder/speculators to erect what they want where they want. I do not think that dense urban areas are best served by a laissze faire approach. And I am still amazed at how much new building went up in areas that I know were under water after Allsion.

  • People from Pittsburgh should stay in Pittsburgh.

    Cottage Grove was a dump 20 years ago and probably even further back than that. Today’s Cottage Grove is FAR better than it has ever been and it’s only getting better by the day.

    Parking is problem? So what? It’s not the end of the world. It’s apparently not enough of a problem that developers won’t continue to build townhouses there and buyers won’t continue buying them.

    Scary townhouses are “looming” over termite infested cracker boxes. Again. So what? That problem will solve itself soon enough… when all the cottages are gone and replaced by townhouses.

    Cottage Grove is walking distance from Memorial Park. Five minutes from Downtown. Five minutes from the Uptown (which is probably bigger than downtown Pittsburgh). Close to restaurants. Close to night life. And guess what? It’s AFFORDABLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    If you don’t like Cottage Grove, don’t live there. It’s a big city. You have lots of choices. So did all those townhouse buyers. They looked at all the available choices and decided Cottage Grove was their best choice, despite it’s flaws.

  • Good comment Bernard.

    All your reasons are reasons I couldn’t turn down buying a place there.

    My house at $180k 4.5 years ago.

    There are still some $190k $210k. A couple of $380k were just sold.

    You can’t be the location. It’s quiet yet not far from anything.

  • I often wondered what was behind I-10 and those train tracks (near Washington Ave). Never knew there was neighborhood there.

  • I see that cottage grove might have some flooding issues… Does anyone know how serious the issue is? Would it be likely to see water in your house after every storm? Or is it only likely to happen during a hurricane? (Looking to buy a home in the area and trying to do a bit of research) Thanks for the help!

  • Have you looked at the flood map? Are you talking about streets or homes? Depends on the home and how high off the ground it is or how much the developer raised the lot. Truth is, nobody really knows what the next Allsion will brings.

  • Yeah, I took a look at the flood map which gave me the first inclination of worry. I guess hurricanes don’t give me the biggest concern since they’re not as frequent… *knock on wood* – I guess I’m just trying to get a feel for how often you might find water in your house. One of my friends lived in the Heights and would have a couple inches of water in her house everytime it rained reasonably hard and I’m just trying to avoid that situation. Once again, any insight or other experiences people have had or heard of in Cottage Grove would be great!

  • For those commenters (kjb,Matt, Ross, JT, etc.) who live in Cottage Grove, the Cottage Grove Civic Club really needs your thoughtful and engaged participation at our bi-monthly meetings. Please join us at Stevenson Elementary cafeteria (Larkin and Radcliffe entrance) for Cottage Grove Civic Club’s next meeting at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 1st, 2009.