Just west of the Rice University campus is the Rice Village, a collection of shops and eateries that’s been there for a few decades now. It’s grown in popularity, and the surrounding area has seen a lot of new high-density housing construction. End result: parking there is a bitch.
Now, the management of the Village Arcade, a shopping center in the heart of the Village, plans to start charging a fee to patrons of surrounding businesses who use the shopping center’s parking garage.
“We’ve done some towing in the past, but that’s not a very customer-friendly way to control your parking,” said Suzanne Anderson, assistant director of property management for Weingarten Realty Management Co., which runs the shopping center.
The chronic Rice Village parking problem is not the only hassle triggered by increasing density in the Rice University area. Residents of the nearby Wessex subdivision are fighting plans for a high-rise residential building in their neighborhood, saying it would increase traffic and lower property values.
Both issues reflect Houston’s lack of appropriate planning tools to cope with the impact of new development, said David Crossley, president of the Gulf Coast Institute, a nonprofit civic improvement organization.
“It illustrates problems with public policy that allows density to occur where there is no possibility of transit relief,” Crossley said.
While buses run on Kirby and University, the MetroRail runs more than a mile east of the Village, and most customers get there by car.
City Councilman Mark Goldberg, who represents the area, said he is working with the city’s Planning Department to develop an ordinance that would require traffic studies as part of the permitting procedure for new buildings. This would enable better planning for parking and traffic management, Goldberg said.
Parking problems in Rice Village, Goldberg said, are exacerbated by employees of Village businesses who take up the limited street parking. He said he proposed installing parking meters but that Village merchants protested that idea.
“They insisted that people wouldn’t shop at their stores if they had to pay a quarter,” Goldberg said.
In 1998, Weingarten filed a lawsuit that sought to require management of a nearby bar, the Ginger Man, to instruct its patrons not to park in the Village Arcade garage. Today, a sign at the garage entrance warns that patrons of seven nearby bars and restaurants, including the Ginger Man, will be towed if they park in the garage.
David Berg, the general manager of Mi Luna, one of the restaurants named in the sign, said Rice University should consider running a shuttle between its campus and the Village to help alleviate the parking shortage. He also said he would have been amenable to paying a reasonable fee to allow his diners access to the Arcade garage.
Berg said he can understand Weingarten’s desire to preserve parking for patrons of the shopping center’s businesses. But the restrictive, turf-conscious attitude runs counter to the open, collegial environment of the Rice Village, Berg said.
“The village is designed to walk,” Berg said, noting that many diners walk to his restaurant after shopping in the Arcade just across University Boulevard. “You should be able to go wherever you want.”
Even though I work near by and there are a number of good lunch places there, I avoid the Village like the plague. The parking situation is that bad.
David Berg is on the right track here, but running a shuttle from Rice University to the Village won’t help, because the public can’t park at Rice, and the Village is close enough for students to walk there now. What they really need is for the city to run a shuttle, much like the downtown shuttles, from the light rail line through the Village. I’m thinking from the Dryden stop down University to Kirby, then to Sunset, then back down to Main and the Hermann Park/Rice U stop (see PDF map). The retailers in the Village, especially those whose customers can’t park in the Village Arcade lot, ought to be willing to help subsidize such a thing, even own it outright if Metro’s bureaucracy is too thick to penetrate.
The beauty of this plan is that it would also make the light rail line more accessible to the people who live in that area, perhaps enabling some of them to take it into downtown instead of driving. Metro gets more riders, the Village gets more shoppers, and the people who still have to drive in or through the Village area get more parking and less traffic. What’s not to like?