December 13, 2008
Weingarten's bait and switch
The construction has been going on for awhile at the River Oaks Shopping Center - you can really see the shape of the structure that will eventually be there. Problem is, it's not what property owner Weingarten Realty had gotten permits for, and only now that they've been discovered are they trying to get re-permitted. Swamplot has the scoop.
According to the [Greater Houston Preservation Alliance], Weingarten is now seeking a variance to allow it to keep changes it made to the approved plans for the building -- which have already been built. From a website referred to in a GHPA email:
The restaurant's balcony facing Shepherd encroaches into the mandatory setback, violating Houston City Setback Requirements. Once the City was notified of the encroachment, construction of the encroaching porch was stopped--temporarily. . . . Weingarten Realty has requested that the Planning Commission grant a variance to permit this encroaching porch. Without objections from concerned citizens like you, the City will likely grant the variance request.
Maybe they figured it'd be easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. The website in question is StopShepherdNoise.org
, which has a petition
and a Facebook group
for those who want to know more. I've reproduced the mail they've sent out beneath the fold. There's going to be a hearing on this request for a retroactive variance on December 18, which is to say next Thursday, and they intend to argue against granting it to Weingarten. I don't know how likelt they are to be successful, but I wish them luck in getting Weingarten to act as though the rules did in fact apply to them. If you're interested in learning more or maybe joining in, visit StopShepherdNoise.org
and click on to see their message.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 13, 2008 to Elsewhere in Houston
Weingarten Realty Investors, who own the River Oaks Shopping Center and demolished the southern half of the center last year in order to replace it with a larger new center, have secretly and significantly altered the design shown last year to the neighbors and the community in order to build an even larger and taller structure that will tower over River Oaks and Shepherd Drive. They have started construction and are trying to finish as quickly as possible, although the construction has been halted due to a violation of city setback ordinances. Weingarten is not only violating the law, they are violating the promises they made to the community to honor the original design, and you can stop them by signing our petition.
In 2007, after loud and protracted public protests, Weingarten specifically promised that the new center "would honor the original curved design, but be two stories tall instead of one." That was the specific promise given to the neighbors, The Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, and The Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission. In early October 2008, however, Weingarten began erecting steel beams to a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DESIGN. Without the knowledge of any of the parties they had talked to for their support, Weingarten simply changed the design, submitted it to the City for approval, and started construction. No one outside the City Planning Department had any idea of the changes until the steel beams started going up.
Compare the photos for yourself.
The attached images show what the shopping center looked like before it was demolished, and in the configuration Weingarten promised to build, and in the configuration they are actually building.
Take a look at the height of this building, and compare it to what used to be there, and what they promised to build! The building used to be about 17 feet tall. What they promised was about 30 feet tall. What they are building is 50 feet tall. That's FIFTY FEET TALL! And at the top is a bright rim of light going all the way around the top, which Weingarten has said is only there "for aesthetic reasons" - which is to say, to make the building brighter at night. There are also huge backlit letters of the restaurant name on two sides of the building.
But that's not all! If you look at the second floor of the building, you will see an outdoor porch extending over the sidewalk, towards Shepherd Drive. This entire end of the building has been leased for a large two story restaurant and wine bar. According to published articles, this wine bar and balcony will be rented out for private parties, causing noise to spread throughout the adjoining neighborhoods. An outdoor balcony at a wine bar can be a very loud neighbor, especially when bands start playing. Not only was the balcony not in the plans, but it violates City setback ordinances - it is illegal. When the setback violation was reported to the City, they agreed it was illegal and ordered construction to stop, which it has - temporarily. HOWEVER, Weingarten has merely filed for a variance, and set the hearing date for just a few days away, in order to make it difficult for opponents to get the word out or even to find out more about the project.
We need your help! The Planning Commission needs to know that Houstonians care about about historic preservation, visual pollution, and corporate honesty. Visit our website and click to sign our petition so they will know that you agree that the City should not grant variances to let developers violate the law.
And please pass on this link so that others can find out - quickly! The variance hearing is scheduled for December 18, 2008.
Visit StopShepherdNoise.org to learn more about this travesty and to sign a petition to stop it. We have very little time. Your community and especially your neighbors need your help.
Thank you for your help,
Concerned Community Members and Neighbors at
Stop Shepherd Noise!
Sign the Petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/StopShepherdNoise/
Join our Facebook Group at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/group.php?gid=39050073023
Noise...from a wine bar? Please. To suggest that a wine bar will create an unbearable amount of noise over the 4 lane Shepherd thoroughfare is beyond ridiculous. The GHPA is a respected organization. I hope they do not continue to embarrass themselves with this contrived argument.
There are consequences to these actions. One may be that they lose the support of those of us who see through this charade.
They're concerned about the light, too. Be that as it may, the concern I have is with Weingarten getting a permit for one thing and then doing another without going through the process of applying for the variance first. If they're just going to do whatever they wanted to anyway, what's the point of having a permitting process?
It's the principle involved which is important and not that long ago the mayor made such a point about "citizen concerns" and ordinances and yet here we are again. The ordinances and the rule of law behind them do not apply to Weingarten. Because they have supported the mayor. They are insiders. And insiders get to violate ordinances with variances. Outsiders don't get to build their hirises.
RedScare: you may not have read the website to understand the issue, so let me explain why people are upset about this illegal encroachment.
First, yes, there is in fact a lot of noise from a wine bar. This outdoor porch will seat 34 people, and they will be sitting one floor up, overlooking a residential neighborhood across the street. The owner of the wine bar has been quoted in the press more than once stating that the balcony will be rented out for private parties, and bands can play at these parties. The sound of 34 people having a party and drinking wine is not a quiet sound, and human voices and music travel right over the sound of traffic and will disturb the peace much more than traffic does, especially at night when we are trying to sleep. But here is the point: this balcony is illegal. It violates the setback, and the setback is a public asset that belongs to all of us.
Whether you yourself value the space we have in Houston between our roads and the buildings that line the roads is your own opinion, but many, many people do. Why do we have setback requirements? For sunlight, for fresh air, for a tiny bit of nature and space - one reason Houston does not look like Manhattan (at least not yet) is because we have setback requirements. We don't have zoning in Houston - but we do have setback ordinances and building codes. This encroachment violates those laws.
What Weingarten has done by building a balcony into the setback, is to take a public asset, and sell it to their own tenant. It is not theirs to sell.
Several hundred people have signed paper and online petitions on this subject in the four days that have elapsed since Weingarten applied for this rushed variance hearing (which is at City Hall next Thursday December 18 at 2:30 pm). Those people, and tens of thousands of others like them, believe that city ordinances should be obeyed and not violated.
These folks also remember that last year, Weingarten spent considerable time and effort 'building trust and support' from neighbors and other community groups after a huge public outcry. In meetings with the neighbors, the preservation alliance, and city's historical commission, they distributed drawings showing what the redeveloped center would look like. That drawing can be viewed at StopShepherdNoise.org
Many of us attended the meetings in which Weingarten distributed those drawings, and heard them say that they wanted to assure us all that they were going to respect the community desire to maintain the look and feel of the main shopping center, and specifically assured us all that the new building would 'maintain the original footprint and curve of the building, but would merely be two stories tall instead of one.' But just look at what they actually built, compared to what they promised to build. It is nothing like what they promised in their "trust us" world tour. This part of the problem is not a violation of any law. But it is a serious violation of trust.
Will Weingarten get away with violating the law in the process of simultaneously violating public trust? Will they get away with taking a public asset and selling it to their own tenant, while simultaneously violating the 'quiet enjoyment' of our residential neighborhoods? (and by the way, legally they can't) Will Weingarten respond to the valid concerns of its community by changing its plans to address the issues it has created? We will see – it depends on all of us.
We really have been humbled by the huge response to this four day old movement. It’s a shame Weingarten is trying to force this through the system with virtually no time for the interested public to find out about the issue and do something about it. We can only hope that those reading this post will make their voices heard as well. Thanks for your patience with this long post.
Yes, I read the website. I read it because I could not believe you were complaining about a wine bar. Since you take me for a fool, I must point out that I have worked in restaurants and bars as a waiter, bartender, manager and owner. I have lived in close proximity to bars, restaurants and niteclubs. I currently live within a few blocks of half a dozen or more restaurants and bars, ALL with patios.
No, wine bars do not make a lot of noise, and your suggestion that your wealthy neighbors will be loud and obnoxious in a wine bar is laughable.
Weingarten is not defensible. I have signed many petitions to save the historic shopping center and theatre. Your carping about a wine bar gets no support from me. My original comments stand.
Thems that own City Hall control City Hall. As everyone will again discover.