October 20, 2006
Bye bye, Bolsover

Previously, I had noted a new mixed residential/commercial development in the Rice Village called The Piazza. The impression I had gotten from the Chron article in question was that this would be a one city block project:

The proposed seven-story Piazza will feature six stories of residential space, retail, a public plaza at street level and underground parking.

La Mesa plans to break ground in early 2007. The Piazza will be bound by Bolsover, Morningside, Dunstan and Kelvin. Many retail spaces on the block already have been vacated. Tysor said she is working to put Thai restaurant Nit Noi and Walgreens in the Piazza and helping other tenants relocate.

Look at a Google map and you'll see what I mean. However, when I came across this Chron story about the project, I see that my initial impression was mistaken. The Piazza goes from Dunstan to Rice Blvd, with Bolsover from Kelvin to Morningside slated to be closed off to vehicular traffic and turned into a pedestrian plaza.

The project on Bolsover between Kelvin and Morningside streets would have retail stores facing into the plaza. Above the shops would be 230 to 250 condo units costing about $500,000 each.

Julie Tysor, vice president of developer The Appelt Co. and of the general partner of Lamesa Properties, described the plan as, "a true mixed use development similar to East Coast and West Coast developments you've seen in dense urban areas."

Parking would be hidden behind the stores and underground with 500 spaces for residents and 400 spaces for retail visitors. There also would be some street parking.

As the plan stands, Lamesa is creating 160 more parking spots than what is required by city ordinance.

"We are long-time owners and landlords in the village," Tysor said. "It is a unique community in Houston that isn't replicated anyplace else. It is ripe for redevelopment to benefit the surrounding residents as well as the University and Medical Center. The current trends in Houston all call for a development like this."


Lamesa hired Traffic Engineers Inc., a 35-year-old Houston company, to perform a study as part of the abandonment request. The Department of Public Works and Engineering asked for a supplemental study, which was done.

After reviewing both studies, the department recommended abandonment, given several conditions.

The conditions include:

  • Installing left-turn lanes on Kelvin and Morningside at the Rice Boulevard intersection;

  • Adding right of way space to the east side of Kelvin Street and west side of Morningside Street, where angled parking spaces would be added; and,

  • Constructing a four-foot wide sidewalk on Kelvin and Morningside between Bolsover and Dunstan streets to comply with American with Disabilities Act standards.

District C council member Anne Clutterbuck said not closing Bolsover Street would make for a very different development without green space.

Of the study she said, "I'm satisfied the counts were accurate. Traffic is always going to be a problem in the village and it will continue to be whether we approve the abandonment or not."

That's why City Council was involved - Lamesa is buying Bolsover for that one block stretch. Well, buying it with some conditions.

Bolsover would not be the first street in Rice Village the city has abandoned to a developer. Part of Amherst Street was ceded to Weingarten Realty for parking.

Clutterbuck cited the Amherst Street abandonment Tuesday in promoting her amendment to the motion for abandonment, which allows council to specify the approved use of Bolsover. The amendment passed.

"We have been burned in the past," Clutterbuck said of Amherst Street.

She said Weingarten originally told council the parking garage would be free to the public, but it is now paid parking.

Clutterbuck said there also would be provisions in the contract for the sale and abandonment, saying if Bolsover Street were not used as specified, the city would get to keep the money from the sale and get its street back.

"This amendment amplifies that," she said.

Tysor said the amendment is fine with her.

"We intend to build what we've proposed to the community so this doesn't present a problem to me," Tysor said.

I think that's a creative approach, and should serve to protect the city's interests. Kudos to Council Member Clutterbuck for addressing that concern.

While there's plenty of space for parking, the real issue as raised by residents who spoke against the Bolsover closing at the Council meeting was traffic overall.

Clutterbuck said the issue was of particular interest to her not only because Rice Village is in her district, but also because she lives five blocks from the proposed development.

"I have put more time into this particular issue than probably any other since I've been on City Council," she said. "When I look at this project, I look at what is in the best interest of not only Rice Village, but also adjoining communities and the city as a whole."

She explained why she supports the project saying City Council cannot regulate the height or density of developments, but it can regulate parking, green space and setbacks.

Given those limitations, Clutterbuck said this proposal exceeds the city's requirements for parking, meets the setback and "I like that it's going to turn a large portion back into green space."

Clutterbuck said density is coming to the inner core.

"(The development) will satisfy an increasing need for density and may forestall additional development," she said.

Perhaps. But whether it does or doesn't, we will have a situation where an awful lot of people will be living, working, and shopping in a tight space. Given how busy that area is to begin with, and how crowded traffic is on Kirby Drive, there's no question in my mind that this will exacerbate things. It's a matter of whether or not you think the other possible alternatives would have led to any less congestion.

I still think that a shuttle service of some kind that looped around the Rice Village area from the Dryden light rail stop to the Museum District stop would go a log way towards solving some of this. Someday, when we get the Universities line built, whether on Richmond or Westpark or floating on antigravity platforms above the Southwest Freeway, that would tie in nicely to this concept. It's great that people will be able to park and walk at The Piazza. It's the getting there that's going to give everyone a migraine. I know there are obstacles to what I'm proposing, some of which emanate from Metro, but I don't see any way around the fact that alternatives are needed. Who's going to make something happen about this?

UPDATE: Bill Pribyl of Morningside Place makes a suggestion in this week's West U Examiner.

Let's agree to close the street - with the condition that the traffic gets no worse than the study predicts. Do a new traffic study every few years, and if we ever need the street back for area mobility, it will revert back to the taxpayers. Hey, we can even give the developer the right to propose alternatives, as long as they provide at least as much mobility as reopening Bolsover.

Again, I say the answer is to find ways to move more people in and out of the area without cars, but it's hard to argue the point that periodic checkups of the traffic studies would make sense.

See also this letter from the Public Works Department (PDF). Note that coordination with the construction on Kirby Drive (which as of this month has progressed north of Holcomb) is mentioned as a requirement for the developers.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 20, 2006 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

Had to move out of my little office in the Texas Gas building a few months ago. *sniff*

Old, smelled kinda musty, but I liked it.

You're absolutely right about it getting tight over there.

Posted by: PDiddie on October 20, 2006 7:35 AM

I agree with the shuttle bus idea. Why not require the developer to fund it in exchnage for the street closing?

Another important issue: should there be a permanent public access easement on the former street right of way? If it is private, that means the owner can determine who's allowed to walk there (except for anti-discrimination laws, of course). The more the village grows, the more important pedestrian connections are.

Posted by: Christof Spieler on October 20, 2006 2:25 PM

Underground parking in that part of town?

Only condos I know that have underground parking in the West U area are ones where your car gets flooded.

Posted by: Stephanie Stradley on October 20, 2006 11:36 PM