RUDH recommendations to the city

Whether you think the Stop Heights Wal-Mart effort is a righteous cause or the annoying whine of a bunch of fancypants elitists, I recommend you go check out this post to read the recommendations made by Responsible Urban Development for Houston to the city for how they would like to see the site get developed. Here, from there overall recommendations, are their specific goals:

• A more groundbreaking, innovative site design, which is original and productive and does not set a dangerous policy precedent with regard to “very ordinary” private developments within the City of Houston.
• A significantly better utilization of the site, and thus, a correction of the current potential major financial opportunity loss and neutral or negative Economic Impact.
• A development plan which addresses the concerns of area residents, home owners and local business owners.
• A revised 380 agreement which meets the requests of the public and provides a responsible compromise in order to promote achieving goals for all parties.

Seems pretty reasonable to me. If you read through it all carefully, you might even conclude that it’s quite possible to build a Wal-Mart as the anchor to this development and still meet these goals. That would require Ainbinder and Wal-Mart to think a little differently, but I don’t see anything wrong with that.

A Chron story about these recommendations, which were presented to the city on Wednesday, is here. Nick Urbano describes the meeting they had with Mayor Parker, Andy Icken, Council Member Gonzalez, and Mayor Parker’s deputy chief of staff Adam Harris. It sounds like things went pretty well for them, but we won’t really know until the next Council meeting. On a related note, Urbano, who lives right there on Koehler Street, responds to Lisa Falkenberg, and Andrew Burleson responds to a troll. Enjoy!

Related Posts:

This entry was posted in Elsewhere in Houston and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to RUDH recommendations to the city

  1. JJ says:

    So Burleson accuses Whited of being a “dick” and then is a dick right back. And then you, Mr. Kuffner, call Whited a “troll.” I bet everyone’s mom is real proud of this exchange.

    Let me try a different tack.

    I wonder where Mr. Urbano lives on Koehler. If he lives in one of the little bungaloes, one story, with lots of green space, I think that is cool. I assume he will be fine if the City declares those bungaloes protected and doesn’t allow anytihng but cute, innovative, groundbreaking housing to ever be built on those sites. And so he won’t be able to sell his property to a developer who wants to maximize his profit.

    But if Mr. Urbano lives in one of the big box townhomes that are right there on Koehler, then I don’t really understand how he can be complaining. (If he is indeed in a bungalow, then I have to switch gears and direct my comments towards anyone anyone in the box townhomes allied with him — those neighbors who I hear are universally againt the Wal-Mart — then it is their complaints I object to.)

    See, I happen to think the bungalows cute and the box townhomes horrendous. The townhomes crowd the street, too many are crammed onto a lot, there is no greenspace, the water run off creates flooding, they are ugly, too tall, not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. Should government have forced an “innovative” use of that land and not allowed the box townhomes? Lots of people (certainly me) would prefer “better” development than box townhomes, surely the neighbors don’t like those towering over them, etc. There should be green space, smaller footprints, etc. Mr. Urbano — or anyone who lives in those several developments — should have been denied that place to live, that decision, that style of living. At least that’s what plenty of people would prefer.

    Does he want the City to go that far? To deny his developer the right to build those townhomes, deny his ability to decide to buy one of those townhomes? Many people would say he should be forced to go live in one of those stark townhome developments in the burbs if he wants that kind of heartless, ugly, overbuilt lifestyle. In the Heights area, he should only be allowed to have a cute bungalow, or something else “thoughtful” and “better.” Certainly very few people in the Heights approve of ugly boxy townhomes.

    That is the logical extension of these arguments that Anbinder should be forced to “think differently.” Shouldn’t we also critique Mr. Urbano — or whoever lives in those box townhomes? Force him/them to do something else because we don’t like the decision he has made?

  2. You and I sure have a different perception of dickish behavior, JJ. I thought Andrew’s response was perfectly measured, and well deserved. Kevin has a long track record of saying nasty things about people. Quite a bit of it has been directed at me. I don’t bother calling him on it, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from having small children, it’s not to reward bad behavior. That doesn’t mean I’m not glad to see someone else call him on it. I feel quite confident my mother will understand.

    As for the rest of your comment, by your logic pretty much nobody gets to take action about development they think will be harmful to their neighborhood. Let’s just agree to disagree about that.

  3. One more thing: There was a time when I respected Kevin as a person and as a blogger. I said nice things about blogHouston when it opened shop, and I read it regularly for some time. They used a quote from that post on their sidebar. I have no idea if it’s still there, I haven’t looked at the place in awhile. I have no idea why Kevin started acting the way he did, not just towards me but towards many people. I did nothing to provoke it, and certainly Andrew did not deserve Kevin’s dismissive patronization in this particular case. Far as I’m concerned, he meets the definition of “troll”.

    And that’s the last thing I have to say about it. Nobody cares about this. I apologize to everyone who feels like their time has been wasted reading this comment thread.

  4. Ags Win says:

    Per HCAD, Mr. Urbano lives in a 2,880 SF townhome built in 2005 on a 2,125 SF lot.

    Click here for details

  5. JJ says:

    Okay, let’s leave aside people calling each other a “dick” and a “troll”. That just isn’t my way to get enjoyment, but whatever.

    If indeed someone living in a 2800 SF townhome on a 2100 SF lot is leading the charge against the Wal-mart based on ideas of being “responsible” or “building something better” or “thinking differently” or “innovative”, I just don’t understand. Sure, he has the right to fight Wal-mart — and I wan’t saying no one can object, but I tend to still believe in the glass houses/throw rocks type principles.

    I approached this open-mindedly, and generally my impression of Wal-mart is not favorable. But my idea of all the things people are loudly telling the Wal-mart developer to do also applies to how I would prefer that homes are developed. And cramming 8 residences on a tiny lots, with no greenery, terrible flooding consequences, increased traffic, ugliness, disrespect to the bungalow style of the neighbors (the ones right next door, not 2 blocks away), well ….. I start to see hypocrisy, or at least inconsistent behavior. (Again, if Mr. Urbano lives in a little bungalow, then my critique doesn’t apply to him, just to the others on that street, if indeed they are protesting Wal-mart with these arguments.)

  6. JJ, I understand your objection to townhomes. I’ve certainly complained about the proliferation of them in this space. But there’s still apples and oranges going on here.

    There are two basic issues with the townhomes. One is appropriateness of location. When a little bungalow is sandwiched between two three-story monsters, you know something is wrong. The other is concerns about basic infrastructure items like drainage and availability of parking.

    The parallels to the Wal-Mart are obvious, but there are differences. At least with the townhomes, they’re dense development generally in parts of town that are suitable for it. You can’t say that about the Wal-Mart – in fact, it’s a key point of contention.

    The other issues could be dealt with in a variety of ways, including a reform of the city’s form-based codes and a requirement placed on builders to mitigate the infrastructure concerns. I’ve called for this for townhome developers for a long time. The 380 agreement is theoretically supposed to make this happen in the Wal-Mart case, but the actual agreement – which the RUDH folks have given feedback on, as they were asked to do – is pretty weak, and technically not supposed to be used for developments like this that would get built regardless. If the city really takes into account some of the things the RUDH folks are talking about, I bet the tone of this debate will change a lot.

    Finally, the parking issue I mentioned could be mitigated with a stronger commitment to walkable urban development citywide. I can see how townhomes are a part of that, but not so much for the Wal-Mart.

  7. Mr. Urbano says:

    Mr. JJ,
    Its funny being called ‘Mr. Urbano’. You’re welcome to call me Nick … I’ve been called worse during this whole thing, so thanks for the formality in the least.

    My home is a free standing home. It does not share a driveway, and is not structurally connected to any other building. It has a small yard, which is insanely convenient for my dogs to do their business in, and was frankly one of the deciding factors in making our home purchase. I believe we have less about a 1200-1300 sq. ft ‘footprint’ (including driveway) on the 2100 sq/ft lot; the rest is drainable greenspace, including the permeable stone patio I just put in about a month ago (uses little rocks to encourage drainage and water returning to the water table rather than rushing out into a stressed drainage system).

    When we bought this home, it was in 2007. This is my first home purchase. We both live and work in the city, and wanted to live somewhere close in that would be convenient. We had previously lived for 3 years in a rental one story ranch/bungalow style home built in the 1940’s, also inside the loop. We decided that for our first home purchase, we wanted the higher efficiency and presumed lesser maintenance issues that we had experienced during our rental period, that a newer home would hopefully bring. We have been correct in that our monthly expenses are far less, especially in the summer, than they every were in our 1 story rental, as awesome as that house was. Additionally, we did not want a large yard as we had in the rental, because the maintenance simply did not fit our lifestyle – IE, on weekends, I like to relax, and not cut the yard all day.

    The townhomes that are across the street and now next to me were not there when we purchased. That said, they serve a purpose; higher density means that more people can live and work closer in to our city’s core, which in a city lacking expansive mass transit options (commuter rail), is a valuable option. I would also suggest doing a search for ‘townhomes’ in the 77019 zip code on (River Oaks’ shared zipcode – Michael Ainbinder’s Neighborhood), and see what pops up. You’ll find a plethora or options on shared structure (townhomes), at some hefty asking prices, on down to more ‘main street’ style designs similar to what’s found in the West End.

    Also found in the West End, multiple 1 story bungalows on the same lot. In order to maximize potential rent from some of the homes, you can find 2, or even three 1 story bungalows built on one lot, with tenants in both homes. These are not garage apartments, these are full on homes. Have a look at my neighborhood on a Google Map satellite view, and it will be clear (I won’t post address’ to save other’s privacy – I also understand that by being vocal on this issue, I’ve effectively given up much of my own).

    My point being that townhomes that build up instead of out, are used everywhere in Houston, especially in the inner loop. We cannot all afford to live in large single family homes on large lots. And its not just Houston; just about every other major metropolitan area is experiencing, or is rooted in similar, or denser, living architecture (visit Chicago, Boston, Vancouver, etc).

    And in many respects, I agree with you Mr. JJ. So much so, that it was also discussed in our meeting with the Mayor last week, especially in regards with how to fix streets in the West End. I noted that the drainage underneath the driveways, both shared and free standing, do not encourage proper connection from ditch to ditch, and this is a major problem for potential flooding in the neighborhood. But that is, as has been pointed out, an issue that permitting needs to discuss with home builders for present and future building processes. Frankly, its nothing that I’m an expert on, just something I’ve come to be aware of in the past couple of years of living in the West End, and moreso in the past month or so. Generally speaking, we rely on our government to tell us what is safe, and not safe, in building and choosing homes.

    Ultimately, the Develper can buy, sell, build and develop. No one’s doubting that, especially not me. But when public monies are involved, then there should be questions brought to bear … which is why we’ve released our 1 page overview on the 380 today – .

    To equate my home purchase as a paradox to advocating for a responsible development? Well, thats a bit of a stretch in my opinion, but most likely, you’ll continue to disagree. The problem with speaking online about things is, you can’t really ‘win’, just make statements, and if people choose to follow or agree, then they do.

    Sorry if I misspelled anything … I usually don’t re-read before posting …

  8. kevin whited says:

    ** So Burleson accuses Whited of being a “dick” and then is a dick right back. And then you, Mr. Kuffner, call Whited a “troll.” I bet everyone’s mom is real proud of this exchange. **

    Echo chambers may heighten sensitivity to noise that is off frequency. *laugh* On the other hand, it strikes me that a blogosphere in which everyone thinks and writes similarly would be pretty boring.

    I expanded on the one-sentence playful reference to Houtopian Planner Fantasyland in the comments on the original post. That magical land where the reality of Houston laws, politics, and economics need never intrude on the views of our betters may, in the future, be referred to as A Place Called Perfect on the blog, so long as the YouTube videos remain available. We’ll see. 🙂

    Thanks to all for reading and discussing BH content, as always. As for the digression into discussion of… ME… hey, it’s constitutionally protected speech also, and revealing to boot — no worries! 😀 I desperately wish my mama were still around to have an opinion about it; she had a good sense of humor.

  9. Pingback: Council approves the Wal-Mart 380 agreement – Off the Kuff

Comments are closed.