November 02, 2007
Freeway expansion forces closure of Fiesta

A little story to file away for when the complaints about Metro's takings for the Universities line begin.

News that the Fiesta Mart at the Katy Freeway and Blalock will close at year's end surprised and disappointed customers shopping there Thursday.

The closing also figures in a dispute between the Houston-based grocery chain and the Texas Department of Transportation.

Fiesta spokesman Bernie Murphy blamed the closure on the loss of 1.3 acres TxDOT condemned for the Katy Freeway widening project.

"The state took 40 percent of our parking," Murphy said.

Fiesta is looking for another location in the area but hasn't found one yet, Murphy said.

"We're going to have to let it go," he said. "We hate it, because it's one of our better locations."

Fiesta is owned by Houston-based Grocers Supply. The company has 50 Fiesta stores, 36 in the Houston area.

By law, TxDOT must pay landowners fair market value for property it takes, and the agency budgeted $480 million for 442 parcels along the 23-mile stretch being widened, said Raquelle Lewis, a spokeswoman for the Katy project.

"They just don't go out and take people's property," she said. "The entire process is designed to keep them whole."

The matter is in litigation, and neither Lewis nor Murphy would discuss dollar amounts.

Fiesta rejected the state's first offer as well as another amount recommended by a court-appointed commission. The dispute is now set for a jury trial next year in Harris County Civil Court-at-Law No. 3, Lewis said.

As part of the valuation process, TxDOT determined that claiming part of the property under eminent domain would not force the store to relocate, Lewis said. The state pays more if a business has to move.

"The evidence that TxDOT has does not support their claim that they are needing to move because of the condemnation that is taking place along the right of way," Lewis said.

Noted for the record. Disputes over TxDOT's valuation of properties, and other resulting lawsuits like this one, has been a contributing factor to the expansion's vast cost overrun. Like I said, just something to keep in mind.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 02, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

While I agree that TxDOT should deal fairly with businesses and residences replaced by construction and should work proactively to mitigate these disruptions, its too bad that Fiesta views a taking of the wasted space of surface parking as a deal buster for its store.

Why not ask TxDOT to pay for rebuilding the strip center in the same parking lot with the same street level retail in place and a parking garage on top and a green room to reverse the negative heat island effect of surface parking?

Why not ask TxDOT to fund METRO improvements to the area to allow more customers to arrive by transit?

Undoubtedly, Grocers Supply is doing what they are supposed to do as a corporation, and trying to get the best deal out of the negotiations, but its just funny that the auto-dependent mentality that is causing an unnecessary widening of a freeway and thus a taking of their property is also not giving them breathing room to creatively rebuild at this site.

Posted by: Jay on November 2, 2007 7:26 AM

TxDOT doesn't care about businesses or the impact of those businesses on the community when they are forced to close when TxDOT condemns property for highways.

All TxDOT cares about is the land. Which is all Metro will care about when it starts condemning property under eminent domain along Wheeler and Richmond.

I doubt Metro will reduce Richmond in particular to a two-lane thoroughfare from the 59 Spur to Shepherd the way it did Main Street. So one side of Richmond is history. Most suspect the south side. The north side has too many "influential" homeowners so to speak. And as we learned from the "influential" homeowners in Southampton and Boulevard Oaks, thems that has the gold makes the rules. And keeps the land so to speak.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on November 2, 2007 12:04 PM