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Sawyer Ave

From industrial to residential

More changes coming to my neck of the woods.

Some of the old warehouses lining a stretch of Sawyer Street across Interstate 10 from the Heights are being primed for new development, as this First Ward area continues to morph from industrial hub to an upscale artsy neighborhood.

Houston-based Lovett Commercial is transforming a 1950s warehouse at Sawyer and Edwards into Sawyer Yards, which will have about 40,000 square feet of space for restaurants, retail or offices.

The company is looking to fill another 5-acre parcel at 2000 Taylor just south of I-10 at Spring Street. The property is across from the Sawyer Heights Target.

H-E-B quashed rumors that it was considering opening a store there, though the grocery chain has been looking around.

“That’s not a piece of land we’re looking at,” said spokeswoman Cyndy Garza-Roberts. “We’ve had an interest of moving into the Heights area for several years now. We just have not been able to identify a location.”

Jon Deal, who has developed artist studios in the area, is planning another project at the old Riviana rice facility at Sawyer and Summer.

The project is called the Silos on Sawyer, and it will include artist studios, creative workspaces and some retail.

The main building contains more than 50,000 square feet.

Deal said he, Steve Gibson and Frank Liu of Lovett Commercial own – separately or in partnerships – at least 35 contiguous acres in the area.

They hope to master-plan the acreage.

“Ideally we’re going to be a campus-type creative community,” Deal said. “It’ll look and feel like a master-planned development in the end, although it’ll keep its raw edge.”

The area is part of a cultural district recognized by the state, Deal said. The program is not currently being funded, he said, but when it is, it will allow artists to seek grant money.

There’s an awful lot of activity going on in this general area, which stretches from Studemont to Houston Avenue between I-10 and Washington Avenue. I consider it a positive for the most part – the existing industrial area didn’t exactly add much to the quality of life in the larger area, and a lot of it is not actively used now anyway – but there are concerns. Mostly, traffic on the north-south streets – Studemont, Sawyer, and Houston – is already a problem, and there are limited options to ameliorate it. Sawyer, for example, is a narrow one-lane-each-way street south of the Target retail center, and as you can see from the embedded image or this Google Map link, there aren’t any other options thanks to the active freight train tracks, which by the way regularly block traffic on Sawyer and Heights. (This is part of the corridor that would be used for some variation of commuter/high speed/light rail, if and when it ever happens.) There is at least the off-road Heights bike trail along Spring Street that connects the area to the Heights (passing under I-10) and downtown (passing under I-45), and there is a sidewalk along Sawyer; it definitely needs an upgrade, and there’s a lot of potential to make it much nicer when the properties west of Sawyer get sold for development, but at least it’s there. The potential exists to turn this part of town into a compelling modern urban residential/mixed-use area. In the absence of any unified vision for the myriad developers to draw inspiration, I hope at least no one does anything to permanently derail such a thing.

Whose TIRZ?

My reaction to this story about whether some development projects that didn’t benefit from getting a TIRZ designation might have been better suited for it than some that did get that benefit is that as long as there are those who get and those who don’t we’ll always have those questions. Maybe that’s an argument for doing away with TIRZes entirely (I suspect such a proposal would not go very far) or for making the rules about them more objective, but I don’t think you’ll ever be able to remove subjective evaluations and, yes, politics from consideration. I also don’t think comparing two recent projects will tell us much, since frankly either of them could have gone either way.

As for the case in question here, there’s no doubt that Sawyer Street needs massive improvements between I-10 and Washington Avenue. Between the successful Sawyer Heights development and the new housing springing up on the side roads, what used to be a low-traffic street for mostly trucks is now heavily used, both to access what’s now there and as a cut-through to I-45 by those who want to avoid the horrible I-10 to I-45 interchange. It’s likely to get busier as the industrial lots in the area get sold off and redeveloped. I believe a proposal to fix and widen Sawyer Street is in the CIP for District H; all I can say is the sooner the better. Perhaps we’d have gotten a good result faster if Sawyer Heights’ TIRZ plan had been accepted, and perhaps we’ll get a better result this way, I don’t know. As long as it happens and gets done right, that’s what will matter.

District H CIP meeting report

Here’s the Chron story on that CIP meeting for District H that took place last week. The highlights:

Jane Cahill West, president of the combined Washington Avenue/Memorial Super Neighborhood Council, said she was glad to see the MKT (Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad) Trail on the current CIP project list.

“But I urge you to extend the MKT Trail right of way to Memorial Park,” she added.

The $1.9 million bike trail is being built along the former railroad right of way in partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation.

Construction on this trail is well underway – they’ve dug the path along 7th Street near Heights Blvd, and have poured concrete for some of it. I’ve been meaning to take a walk on some of it and take pictures.

Cahill West also asked the city to add reconstruction of the heavily trafficked Sawyer Street; upgrades to security and lighting for West End Park, 1418 Patterson; and establishing quiet zones along Houston Avenue and other streets with major rail crossings.

The “quiet zone” issue come up recently. That stretch of Sawyer Street, basically from I-10 to Washington Avenue, is basically everybody’s alternate route from the Heights to downtown – it avoids the nasty I-10/I-45 interchange, which backs up traffic as far back as Heights Blvd and beyond. I talked about it a year ago when it looked like there was going to be some imminent residential construction in the area. That hasn’t really happened yet, but there are signs advertising what’s to come, and the cross streets between Sawyer and Houston Avenue are still seeing action.

Other current projects already on the CIP list for District H include:

  • The $10.3 million reconstruction of North Main Street from Interstate 45 to Airline Drive, estimated for completion Oct. 27;
  • Replacement of water lines in the Gardendale area, estimated at $8.3 million, scheduled to be completed last month, and north Houston’s Ellena Gardens subdivision, $4.46 million, to be completed Sept. 12;
  • Market Street paving from Lockwood to Wayside, $7.3 million, estimated for completion Sept. 12; and,
  • Little White Oak Bayou Trail, $1.17 million, to be finished in September.

Upcoming projects on the list include:

  • A new prisoner processing center in partnership with Harris County, $38 million;
  • Hempstead Road and Washington Avenue reconstruction in partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation, $23.8 million;
  • Yale Street paving from Tidwell to Parker, $10.4 million;
  • Yale Street rehabilitation, Phase I, from Interstate 10 to 17th Street, $9.3 million;
  • Yale Street rehabilitation, Phase II, from 17th Street to Loop 610, $6.5 million;
  • Little York paving, from Airline to Hardy Street, $9.7 million;
  • Moody Park Community Center expansion and park, 3725 Fulton, $3.5 million;
  • and,

  • Buffalo Bayou Trail, from Shepherd Drive to Sabine Street, $2.08 million.

What else would you like to see get done? You can contact the District H office at 832-393-3003, or the office of Council Member Melissa Noriega, who ran this meeting, at 832-393-3005, with questions or feedback.