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Studemont

Party Boy bye-bye

Sad.

This October may be the last year the view south of I-10 across from the Heights is a giant orange pumpkin.

The property housing Party Boy at 1515 Studemont, where an inflatable pumpkin is displayed atop the building each Halloween, is up for sale.

The owner of the store, a go-to spot for spooky costumes and all manner of party supplies, is asking $10.5 million for the site, according to listing broker Jeff Trevino.

“It’s an icon and 300,000 cars drive past it every day,” said Trevino of Endurance Properties. “It has stayed high and dry through all of our high-water events.”

The store’s operations are housed in a two-story, 20,000-square-foot warehouse building and an adjacent 7,000-square-foot structure. The site is about 70,000 square feet — or 1.6 acres.

This area just west of downtown has been booming. Party Boy has become surrounded by new developments and construction.

“It is probably one of the last high-profile corners in that corridor that is open and ready to change hands,” Trevino said.

In addition to housing a haunted house that snarls up traffic on Studemont at I-10 every hear for about two months, they have a fantastic costume rental place in a separate building in the back end of the property. The story doesn’t say, but I sure hope that finds a new home.

A construction crew recently carved out what I assume is a couple of parking places in front of the lot. I don’t know if this is related to the forthcoming sale or not, but they’re there now. I’ve no doubt that the owners will make a ton on the sale, and I’m sure whatever rises in its ashes will be in high demand, but right now all I can think of is that once again the Heights is about to become a little less cool than it was before. Such is life.

One more thing:

You’re welcome.

More bayou bike trails

Nice.

Laying out the particulars for a new trail section along White Oak Bayou, Chip Place saw something out of place where the trail crossed the Heights Hike and Bike Trail near T C Jester.

It was the stairs connecting the two trails.

“Look at that,” Place said, pointing from the new stairs to the stellar view of downtown Houston. “I said ‘Oh my god, we’ve got to capture this.'”

Starting Friday, the stairs – along with two miles of fresh trail to southeast of T C Jester – are ready for runners, cyclists and others who want a new view of the area.

“It is always fun to create a park and see how people will use this,” said Place, managing director of capital programs for Houston Parks Board, the nonprofit that promotes parks in the city.

Part of the parks board’s Bayou Greenways 2020 efforts, the new segment of the White Oak Bayou Greenway runs from Studemont Street and the Heights trail to the T C Jester trail.

[…]

The new two-mile section – minus an unfinished spot below Yale Street – extends the White Oak trail to about 11 miles, making it the largest continuous portion completed thus far. By mid-2017 that will lengthen to 15 miles once key connections to downtown and the trail is extended from Antoine to the city limits. Once all of its segments are connected, Brays Bayou Greenway will be the longest of the trails at 30 miles, from the Houston Ship Channel to Eldridge in far west Houston.

“I really do believe Houston is at such an exciting point in the public realm,” said Beth White, the parks board’s president.

White, who took over the nonprofit nearly six months ago, moved to Houston encouraged by the “vast” opportunity to develop a large-scale trail system.

“All of the things that cities need to be resilient are being looked at,” she said. “Open space, alternatives in mobility, it’s all right here.”

I’ve been watching this go in – you could see the progress of the construction from the I-10 service road as you approach Studemont – and I plan to give it a ride in the near future. The one thing that is unclear to me at this time is whether it connects to the Heights trail, which among other things would connect it to downtown. There’s a separate trail that begins in front of Stude Park and takes a different route into downtown, but this new one stops a little short of that, and would need a bridge across the bayou to make a connection. It’s a good addition to the area, and will provide a non-car means of local travel for folks in the new housing being built on Studemont across from the Kroger.

One way to lower speed limits

Purple City makes an interesting observation.

One of the quieter actions of the late Parker administration has been to slowly alter speed limits from 35 or 40mph to 30mph. These reductions aren’t based on an engineering study or field measurements, but on a creative interpretation of state law. Texas sets the default urban speed limit at 30mph in lieu of a study justifying higher speeds. The City is interpreting that to post 30 on roadways which were formerly determined to be safe at 35 or 40.

I first began to notice this about a year ago, and had it confirmed by sources within PWE last summer. Thus far, it seems to be restricted to thoroughfares inside the Loop. The existing signage is allowed to disappear (through collisions, failure, theft, etc). When most of the old 35/40 is gone, the road is re-signed at 30. This provides a more gradual transition period than simply changing the signs out overnight.

Recently, I noticed that all of the 35mph signage is missing between Allen Parkway and IH-10.

He’s got a Google Maps image with the various sections of Studemont/Montrose highlighted to show what the speed limit is on each. It’s signed for 35 between Allen Parkway and Westheimer, but either signed for 30 or not signed elsewhere. Unless the next Mayor changes direction, my guess is that at some point in the not too distant future, this road will have a 30 MPH speed limit all the way.

And you know what? That’s just fine. Twenty-five years ago, when there was little retail or residential development north of Westheimer, a 35 MPH speed limit was reasonable. Nowadays, with pedestrians and bikes and cars slowing down to turn into driveways and side streets, a slower speed makes a lot more sense. Slower speeds save lives, and the streets in Houston’s dense urban areas aren’t just for cars any more. We should be updating the speed limits on these streets to reflect that.

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.

Studemont Junction

Swamplot has an update and some pictures from the to-be-redeveloped Grocer’s Supply truck lot near Studemont and I-10, basically on the north doorstep of my neighborhood.

SIGNS ARE UP at the soon-to-be-former Grocers Supply distribution center across Studemont from Kroger just south of I-10 announcing Studemont Junction, the name meant to bring some . . . uh, conjunction to the odd-shaped 15-acre food-storage facility Capcor Partners bought late last year. To judge from the proposed site plan for the project, that’ll be quite a task.

Developers plan to rope in (beginning at the northern end of the property) some sort of fast-food drive-thru, a bank (with its own drive-thru in back), and enough retail operations to fill a couple of “pad site” retail boxes and a more conventional broken-L shopping center on the site, each structure surrounded by its own dedicated rows of parking. Later, Capcor’s partner Kaplan Management plans to build a 400-unit apartment complex on the western end of the site.

According to the marketing copy on the leasing broker’s website, this multifamily structure, bounded by a small railyard on its south, will “reinforce the urban character of the site and will encourage heavy pedestrian activity along the corridor.” Residents will be able to get to the new complex’s front door from Studemont St. either by wending their way through the retail parking lot or by driving along a proposed new extension of Summer St. past Olivewood Cemetery to a circular drive at Wichman St.

The developer’s webpage for this is here; I encourage you to click the links under “Downloads” to see how they envision things. The comments on the Swamplot post are always useful to read – reaction is more negative than positive, due mostly to the size of the parking lot and the general feeling that this stretch of land near I-10 between Yale and Taylor is being turned into East Katy. My reaction can be summed up thusly – it’s hardly an urbanist’s dream, but given the constraints of that particular property, what did you expect? As I said before, what I really want to see out of this is an improved sidewalk along Studemont/Studewood, all the way from Washington to White Oak, and better bike access, which a couple of commenters on my post say will be part of the Bayou Greenways 2020 plan, then I’ll be happy. Basically, don’t do anything that will later be an impediment for future developers in this area or the city to improve mobility in all forms. I hope that’s not too much to ask.

How to make the warehouse transition something to look forward to

I have four things to say about this.

Houston developers plan to build a mixed-use project, including upscale apartments and retail, on a 15-acre tract close to downtown, replacing a large produce warehouse that’s occupied the space for decades.

Capcor Partners and Kaplan Management bought the land this week from Grocers Supply, which has been at the corner of Studemont and Interstate 10 for 42 years.

[…]

Josh Aruh of Capcor, which specializes in retail developments, said it’s rare to find such a large piece of land in the Inner Loop and added that the project will make a “big footprint.”

“There is tremendous, continuous demand in this sub-market,” Aruh said. “We believe the scarcity of such a large, contiguous tract so close to downtown Houston, the Heights and entertainment districts is primed for a strong multifamily component. And with frontage near I-10, this property is ideally suited for retail. The size of the tract invites many possible other uses and users that we are currently exploring.”

Aruh said he has already discussed possibilities for the property with grocers, cinemas, restaurants and several big box retailers.

The developers are also working with the city to expand a street to split the property and reduce traffic, he said.

Michael Kaplan of Kaplan Management, which specializes in multifamily developments, said he hopes to build up to 400 high-end apartments, to go with the retail and commercial uses, to meet the demand for housing in the area.

“It’s just in the heart of this terrific growth corridor,” Kaplan said. “It is such a strong area.”

1. I admire their desire to have as small an impact on traffic as possible, because traffic on the stretch of Studemont between Washington and I-10 sucks thanks to the Kroger, the long light cycle at I-10, and the huge number of cars turning left to get onto I-10 and to get into the Kroger. Let me suggest that the first order of business would be to rebuild that piece of road, because it’s axle-breaking awful right now. Yeah, that’ll make traffic even worse for the duration, but the gain will be worth the pain. As for expanding a street – not sure which one they have in mind – let me suggest that what they really ought to consider is adding a street. I presume the entrance to this new development would be opposite the entrance to the Kroger where the traffic light is and where there’s already a left turn lane on northbound Studemont, which currently turns into a wall. Having that entrance street connect to Wichman on the west so that vehicles can access Hicks Street, which passes over Studemont and which connects to Heights via Harvard, will help.

2. If you really want to lessen the impact on traffic in the area, then it’s vital to ensure non-vehicular mobility into and out of this development and to the surrounding areas, by which I specifically mean Washington and White Oak. First and foremost, put in a sidewalk on the west side of Studemont, along the front of the development. There’s already a decent sidewalk on the east side of Studemont, but it terminates immediately north of I-10, where a well-worn path in the dirt connects you up with the bridge over the bayou and the continuation of the sidewalk at Stude Street. That new sidewalk could split at the underpass to give pedestrians the option of continuing on Studemont to Washington or ascending to Hicks and the overpass for better access to Arne’s and Kroger, and on to Sawyer Street if one is adventurous. I took the #50 bus home from work on Friday when this story was run, and I got off at Studemont to walk home from there. It took me 15 minutes to get from Washington to White Oak – I timed it – so having good pedestrian paths between these two streets will make the new development a lot more accessible. Given the traffic and the parking situation on either end, you’d be better off walking from whatever residence they build to Fitzgerald’s or BB’s or wherever you want to go.

3. At least as important as facilitating pedestrians is connecting this development to the existing bike paths and bike lanes nearby. You could take Hicks to Heights and from there get on the Heights Bike Trail, but that’s a mighty big detour if you’re heading towards downtown. And Lord knows, no one in their right mind would want to bike on Studemont to get anywhere. Look at a map of the area. Isn’t the solution to all this obvious?

GrocerSupplyMap1

This just screams for a new trail along the bayou to get past I-10 and eventually hook up with the existing trails. This picture shows how that would be possible:

GrocerSupplyMap2

Pass under Studemont, and pave that truck path to get to the Heights trail. You’d need to build a bridge over the bayou to connect to the new trail adjacent to Stude Park, which you can’t see in this old Google satellite image, but that shouldn’t be a big deal. I have no idea how much this all might cost, but for something like this that enhances mobility there may be federal grant money available. Or, you know, maybe the developers can kick in on this, since it would greatly enhance the value of their property. This might in fact be an excellent candidate for 380 agreement, one that would offer a clear benefit to all involved. I’m sure there’s a way to make this work.

Ed Wulfe, chairman and CEO of retail development and brokerage firm Wulfe & Co., said as Houston becomes more dense and urban, more warehouses will be converted into residential and commercial properties.

“We are changing land-use patterns,” Wulfe said. “Now the need is greater and the market is stronger. Warehouses can only command so much economic benefit.”

4. Density with transit >>> density without transit. The good people of Super Neighborhood 22 have that comprehensive transportation plan for their area that includes various rail and streetcar options for the Washington Avenue corridor. Moving forward on that would be a huge boon to mobility in the area, and to projects like this one and the ones that will inevitably follow. Look, I know people get skeptical whenever non-car modes of transportation are discussed. Most people don’t want to give up their cars, even a little bit. I get that, but in a city this size that still leaves a whole lot of folks who do want alternatives, and these are the people who will be seeking out dense development. We can do it right and make the whole experience a hell of a lot better, which includes the drivers since they’ll have fewer competitors for road space, or we can do it wrong and make a huge mess of it all. You tell me what the right answer is. Swamplot has more.

The Heights Wal-Mart is now open

On the plus side, the world did not come to an end. On the minus side, it’s still a lousy location for a Wal-Mart and a giant missed opportunity for better, more urban-oriented development.

For nearly 2½ years, Heights-area residents fought against one of the largest corporations in the world, employing yard signs, meeting with City Council members, even filing a lawsuit. It was an intense emotional effort to stop Walmart from opening a store just outside the Heights, its first inside Loop 610.

In the end, Walmart won. Its 153,000-square-foot Supercenter opened Friday at Yale and Koehler streets.

Those living nearby have mixed feelings about the store, ranging from anger to apathy, with some just waiting to see if any of the naysayers’ concerns come to fruition.

But for some opponents, the fight is far from lost. They say their cause always extended beyond just stopping the development of the Walmart.

“It was if you’re going to develop the neighborhood, do it right,” said Rob Task, president of Responsible Urban Development for Houston, a nonprofit born from the controversy over the Supercenter.

This earlier Chron story and The Leader have more on what’s on the inside of this store, and on the Studemont Kroger a mile or so due east that opened the same day. I can’t say I noticed a difference in traffic on Studemont on Friday, but it’s been awful around there for some time now, so it’s hard to say how much worse it could get. We’ll never know what could have been here, we can just hope that what we got isn’t as bad as we’ve feared it will be.

On getting to walkable urbanism

This story about neighborhood opposition to the Kroger 380 agreement doesn’t quite get at what I think are the key issues that need to be discussed.

[O]pponents of both the Wal-Mart and Kroger deals say suburban-style big-box stores don’t fit a widely-held urban vision for Washington Avenue Corridor. They’d like to see more incentives offered for development by small businesses or in more needy neighborhoods.

“It’s a lost opportunity for how we should be developing our urban space,” said Tom Dornbusch, who lives in Woodcrest. “Why don’t we incentivize something appropriate for these sites rather than just servicing the frontage roads on I-10?”

That five members of Houston City Council opposed the Kroger deal at least shows that neighborhood activists have “raised the consciousness” of some council members since the Ainbinder agreement was approved, Dornbusch said.

Dornbusch is an officer in the Washington Avenue Coalition/Memorial Park Super Neighborhood Council, a coalition of homeowner groups well-versed on planning and quality of life issues in this redeveloping area west of downtown. These groups helped raise matching funds for a Liveable Centers Study of the Washington Avenue Corridor.

Former City Councilman Peter Brown, an architect and urban planner with nonprofit Better Houston, has aided their planning efforts.

Like Dornbusch, he thinks the area is well-suited to become a teeming urban landscape that accommodates both pedestrians and transit, either rail or streetcar, which the neighborhoods have embraced.

But right now, economic development favors “the lands, Pearland, Sugar Land and the Woodlands,” Brown said, and that brings big-box stores to the fore.

“These are the kinds of things that city policy needs to consider, and it is evolving. It is evolving toward smaller urban growth. We’re just not there yet,” Brown said.

The issues here, at least as I see them, are whether it’s a good idea for the city to pursue 380 agreements of any kind in areas where development is likely to occur naturally, and whether the developments that are being pursued in these two 380 locations are suitable and desirable from an urbanist perspective. I can’t quite tell from the story whether Dornbusch and Brown are evaluating these deals separately or lumping them together. As I see it, the two sites are fundamentally different. There’s no reason why the Ainbinder/Washington Heights property couldn’t or shouldn’t be connected to and a key part of the walkable urban vision for the Washington corridor. It abuts a neighborhood to the west and apartments to the south – there used to be apartments to the east as well, but they were torn down to make room for more suburban-style development – and is certainly close enough to be reachable from a future Inner Katy rail line stop or streetcar stop at Heights Boulevard. With the West End Multipurpose Center and some townhome development already there, and who knows what to come in where the Center Street recycling center currently is, the Ainbinder location could be an epicenter of a real urban neighborhood. Instead, it’s going to be more like a sinkhole, separating places that should be connected, and that’s just a shame and a wasted opportunity.

The Kroger location, on the other hand, seems to me to be a much better fit for a supermarket or other car-oriented shopping center. Its neighbors are things like Arne’s, the Sawyer Heights Target center, Party Boy, and a truck depot. Where Yale and Heights have sidewalks that can connect the Washington Heights site to either side of I-10 if you ensure there’s a safe pedestrian crossing there, Studemont has no sidewalk from I-10 north to Stude Street, and from Hicks south to Center there’s only a very narrow sidewalk on the east side of the street. The eventual connection of Summer Street ought to be walkable, but Studemont will still serve as a dead end for anyone on foot. Otherwise, it’s basically cut off from Washington to the south and the Heights to the north. Who would ever walk there? With a long-term plan and control of most of the property between I-10 and Center, and Studemont and Sawyer, you could build something urban, but how likely is that to happen on its own? Washington Heights is close to that, or at least it was before Ainbinder screwed it up. Sawyer Heights isn’t.

Because of that, I don’t have any philosophical objections to a grocery store going in at that location, even though I know it’s going to mess up traffic. The question about 380 agreements is going to be more in the forefront – litigation will do that – but I don’t want to lose sight of the suitability question. I think it’s the more important discussion to have.

Kroger gets its 380

Despite neighborhood opposition, City Council has approved a 380 agreement for the proposed Kroger on Studemont at I-10.

District H Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who represents the area around the proposed store and who championed the 380 agreement, insisted the deal was less an incentive to Kroger than it was a way for the city to extract benefits from a market-driven project. The deal gives the city two blocks of road, sidewalks and traffic lights more than a decade early, and also hands over to the city a third of an acre that it would someday need to extend Summer Street from Studemont to Sawyer.

Mayor Annise Parker said Houston’s strategy differs from that of cities that build infrastructure first and then try to recruit businesses to move in.

“We have not chosen to use that sort of what I would call ‘corporate welfare.’ We have said, ‘Business, if you want to open and you need the street, you pay for the street. We’ll pay you back, but if you really want to be there, you use your dollars upfront,'” Parker said.

The city will pay a premium on that upfront money. The deal calls for the city to pay Kroger back with 5.17 percent interest. The city’s rate on bonds through which it finances public works projects ranges from 2.55 percent to 4.06 percent, according to information that Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck got from the city’s Finance Department.

“What do you make on your IRA? I would love to make a 5.17 percent return,” Clutterbuck said. “The taxpayer, in my opinion, should not be on the hook for that.”

The rationale given by Mayor Parker for the use of 380 agreements is sensible. It’s certainly a less risky approach than “build it and hope they come”. Aside from the premium interest rate, whether it’s good policy to use a 380 in this particular location is another matter. The outline of the deal here sounds better than what was struck for Ainbinder on Yale Street, but I’m dubious about the wisdom of a supermarket there. I’ve seen traffic at the light back up all the way to Center Street during the afternoon rush hour, thanks in large part to the many people wanting to enter I-10 West from Studemont. The thought of adding in grocery store traffic, not to mention another traffic light, makes my head hurt. Having said that, I’m not sure what kind of development could have been built there that would be both low impact on traffic and profitable to the developer. Long term, I may have to think about using Sawyer/Watson as an alternate route, though if the rumored plans of an Alamo Drafthouse come to fruition, it may not be much better.

RUDH files suit over 380 agreements

From the inbox:

RUDH has filed a petition in Harris County District Court challenging the legality of a six million dollar tax reimbursement deal between the City of Houston and Ainbinder Heights, LLC, the developer of the Houston Heights area Walmart Supercenter strip mall development. RUDH alleges that the deal violates section 380 of the Texas Local Government Code because the developer was committed to building the project with or without public funds.

Section 380 of the Texas Local Government Code broadly allows municipalities to provide various forms of public assistance to private developers so long as the public funds are used to promote economic development. The City of Houston’s 380 agreement with Ainbinder Heights, LLC provides over six million dollars in sales and property tax reimbursements for various infrastructure upgrades needed for the Walmart Supercenter strip mall development. RUDH alleges that the principals of Ainbinder Heights, LLC , the Mayor and members of Houston City Council all stated that Ainbinder Heights, LLC will build the development with or without the assistance of public funds. RUDH alleges that a 380 agreement cannot promote economic development when the developer can build with or without the assistance.

RUDH also alleges that the City of Houston’s program for awarding 380 assistance agreements violates the Texas Constitution because the program gives the City absolute discretion to ignore standards for awarding assistance in favor of agreements the City believes are “otherwise meritorious”. In the case of the Ainbinder Heights, LLC 380 agreement, RUDH alleges that the City completely ignored its own standards and application procedures and simply gave Ainbinder Heights, LLC over six million dollars to support the development of a Walmart Supercenter strip mall development.

RUDH believes that legal action is necessary because the City of Houston is using section 380 agreements to spend money out of future city budgets without doing anything to promote economic development. If a developer does not need public funds, then scarce tax revenues should not be sacrificed to pad a developer’s profit margin.

You can see a copy of the lawsuit here; one of my blog posts is listed among the footnotes on page 7. Note that the suit asks for a “permanent injunction restraining the City from giving any effect to or complying with the 380 Agreement and from proposing any further 380 agreements” under its 1999 ordinance that created the 380 program. One presumes that would have an effect on the Studemont Kroger, for which a separate 380 agreement was voted on by Council yesterday.

Under the deal headed to City Council on Wednesday, the city would reimburse Kroger as much as $2.5 million for extension of a street, landscaping, traffic lights, sidewalks and other infrastructure improvements surrounding the store. In exchange, Kroger guarantees it will create 170 full- and part-time jobs at the 8.6-acre site.

[…]

In addition to the job-creation requirements, the deal calls for Kroger to donate $40,000 to the nearby Olivewood Cemetery. However, that, too, will be reimbursed by the city under the deal, [Mayoral spokesperson Janice] Evans acknowledged.

Evans said City Hall had no plans to extend Summer Street or do the other improvements for 12 years, so the deal buys the city an accelerated schedule. City officials see that as an economic booster shot that puts people to work sooner and clears the way for other businesses to open on the new street.

[Kroger spokesperson Rebecca] King described the improvements as “above and beyond” what would be required without the 380, but it is not clear how much more the city gets by agreeing to rebate to Kroger some of the property and sales taxes generated at the site over the next 13 years.

I’m pretty sure there will be a motion for a temporary injunction to come, so we’ll see if either of these projects are put on hold. Swamplot and Hair Balls have more.

UPDATE: The Kroger deal is on hold for now.

District H Councilman Ed Gonzalez championed the Krogerdeal as a contributor to economic development and one supported by the local civic associations he consulted.

Other members, who did not get many details of the deal until Tuesday, asked why the city was not offering incentives to grocers to set up shop in the Third Ward, Fifth Ward, Sunnyside, Independence Heights and Acres Homes.

“I hope we revisit our use of 380 agreements and use them in the parts of this city where we most need it, and I would respectfully submit to you we’re not doing that now,” Councilwoman Jolanda Jones said.

Councilman Jarvis Johnson said the city needs to do more outreach to urge companies to locate in low-income neighborhoods.

“We can’t have a city of haves and have-nots, we need to balance the city out to where there’s economic development all across the board,” Johnson said.

According to the Council agenda, the proposed ordinance was tagged by CMs Jones, Rodriguez, Noriega, Johnson, Sullivan, and Bradford

Studemont Kroger update

The Heights Life brings news about the proposed Kroger at Studemont and I-10. Of particular interest is this bit:

The property on which Kroger plans to build lies on the east side of Studemont north of Arne’s. The store will be at the south end of the property, facing the main customer parking lot to the north of the store. A fuel center will be placed at the north end of the property together with a small, secondary parking lot needed to fulfill code requirements.

Delivery docks will be located on the east and west faces of an extension on the south side of the store. The three main delivery dock doors will face east toward an industrial area. A small dock door will face west toward Studemont.

Hicks will be cut through to meet Summer Street on the east side of the property. The City’s intent is that this will become a through street, but there are some unspecified impediments. The portion of the block that is now Hicks will be improved to current City standards, and the whole block will be built like a City CIP project. Kroger will eventually dedicate that property to the City as street Right-of-Way in exchange for a smaller area of water/sewer ROW that the City will dedicate to Kroger. Access to the delivery docks will be from Hicks/Summer. An employee parking lot will occupy the portion of the lot south of Hicks/Summer next to Arne’s; Kroger expects that Arne’s will also use this lot at some point (possibly for its employees).

Couple things here. First, there may be “unspecified impediments” to extending Summer Street, but that doesn’t mean they are unknown. Behold, the view from where Summer dead ends heading eastbound at Oliver Street:

Presidential Heads Rear View

Yes, it’s the Giant Presidential Heads. And in what may be fortuitous timing or a harbinger of their doom, there’s this:

Now a source says that the [Alamo Drafthouse] plans to open a new central Houston location in the Sculpturworx compound. The 78,175-square-foot former studio of artist David Adickes (the man behind the giant president heads) was sold to Bartlett Lofts developers Phil Arnett and Chap Chapman in 2010, according to Swamplot, with plans for artists’ studios as well as significant commercial space.

That report may be a bit premature, but never mind that for now. Having an Alamo Drafthouse in there would greatly increase the need for and the value of a connected Summer Street. It also nearly guarantees a traffic light at the Studemont intersection, which I predicted in February. If nothing else, having Arne’s employees, and possibly its customers, park there will necessitate a stoplight, as the pedestrian crossing at I-10 isn’t really safe due to the right turn from the service road onto Studemont, which isn’t controlled by the light. Given what a mess that area can be during the evening rush hour, I’d hold out for a pedestrian crossing bridge as an alternative, but I don’t expect anyone to listen to me on that.

Anyway. As both Swamplot and Houston Politics note, the development is up for a 380 agreement this week. If that happens, and if the extension of Koehler Street to 2nd at the Heights Wal-Mart happens, you will be able to travel directly from one 380 agreement location to another, without using I-10 or Washington to get there. Just take 2nd to Harvard and turn on Hicks, then follow it along – see this Google map for the details. Note that Hicks passes over Studemont – it’s what on top of that underpass you pass under – and voila, there you are. Keep that in your back pocket for when you might need it.

The Studemont Kroger

Swamplot:

Kroger has bought 8.5 acres of former industrial land on Studemont, just south of I-10, the Chronicle‘s Purva Patel reports. The land, which was once part of Houston’s Sixth Ward, sits just north of Arne’s Warehouse and Party Store and across the street from Grocer’s Supply. Kroger closed on the larger portion — a 7.2-acre cleared parcel at 1400 Studewood, listed for sale at $15.7 million — just last week. A spokesperson for the grocery chain wasn’t ready to announce a new store on the site, but did say the company had already taken possession of 1.3 acres just to the south, at 1200 Givens St. If Kroger does build a new supermarket there, the parking lot would have 450 ft. of frontage on Studemont; other industrial properties, many of them accessed from Summer St., would still be sandwiched between it and the Sawyer Heights Target.

When built, this would easily be the closest grocery store to our house; it’s practically walking distance, not that I’d be likely to do so given the current sidewalk conditions and the need to cross under I-10. I’m not sure how much we’d use it anyway – Tiffany is not a big Kroger fan. She hates the Kroger at 11th and Shepherd, even post-renovation. Maybe the convenience factor will sway her, I don’t know.

I foresee issues getting into and out of the place. As it stands now, the only access to it is via Studemont, and I’d only want to access it via the northbound side. Making a left to or from the southbound side will be hairy. Most likely, there will need to be an additional traffic light, probably at the little piece of Summer Street that people use to get to Arne’s. I’m so looking forward to that. (Note: The street sign there actually says Hicks Street; Google Maps labels it as Summer. Just FYI.)

Another issue will be the Party Boy store across the street, especially in the month of October when they’ve got their Halloween haunted house open. It’s a popular attraction and traffic around that time is already pretty bad. Maybe the rebuilt service road on I-10 will provide additional access to that site, which would help.

Speaking of which, I wonder if there would be a way to fit a driveway from the new access road east of Studemont to the eventual Kroger parking lot. That would take some pressure off as well. From the diagram on Swamplot, which shows a little extension of the property behind its neighbor to the north, it looks like it’s at least theoretically possible. I hope someone is thinking about that.

Here’s a Google map of the area. You can approach it from the rear, which is to say from the east on Summer Street, which would mean access from Washington and Center via Oliver Street. It’s a little tricky – after you turn left from Oliver onto Summer, you may have to dodge semi trailers parked along the road as you follow the twisty street, and when you leave you have to turn off before you get to Hicks Street, or you’ll wind up on the overpass above Studemont, with your next opportunity to make a turn at Harvard Street. Alternately, if you start out west of Studemont, you could approach via Hicks and avoid Studemont altogether. I don’t think this will allow for any kind of volume unless some changes are made.

Whatever else happens, I hope one outcome of this is to improve the sidewalk along Studemont between Washington and White Oak. At least then the folks in the Sawyer Heights apartments could take advantage of the nice pedestrian path they’ve included along the new service road.

By the way, I’m hearing that the Target right there in Sawyer Heights is becoming a SuperTarget. So there will be a grocery option there even before the Kroger opens.

Finally, I can’t let this pass without noting that the site in question used to be a warehouse that was once the home of this impressive land shark before it was demolished in 2007. I’d love to know where that shark is today.

More on streetcars and sidewalks

Andrew Burleson had a couple of good posts last week that followed up on Christof’s streetcar suggestions and my post about a KIrby light rail line. Here they are: West Gray Streetcar, in which he takes Christof’s concept for a streetcar line on West Gray and runs with it, and Will and Won’t, which gets into the reasons people walk and don’t walk in Houston. I think he’s right on about this:

My contention is that most people in Houston will walk single-digit block distances without complaining too much. If you get into double digits, most people think it’s too far. I’ve told people before, “let’s walk to the train station, it’s about 8 blocks,” and their reaction is, “woah, that’s a long walk!” I’ve told other people, “let’s just walk to the train station, it takes less than 10 minutes and it’s a lot easier than messing with parking.” That gets a more positive reaction usually. It seems that as you get to about 10 blocks distance people think “that’s pretty far.” If you phrase it as time rather than distance, people usually think 10-15 minutes (which is probably more like 12-18 blocks depending on who is walking) is reasonable, and longer than that is “far.”

In my experience, however, once you’re actually walking, people quickly get tired of it if you’re walking on broken old sidewalks or no sidewalks at all. They’ll almost immediately ask “are you sure we shouldn’t just drive?” But on nice sidewalks, especially when there’s retail opening on to the street and other people out walking, most people will go longer distances without noticing.

That’s something that I’ve thought about a lot as I’ve tried to imagine rail lines along Washington and Kirby, as I’ve proposed them. Washington is a street that should be far more walkable than it is, and I know that it’s in line for a big overhaul in the nearish future, but for now it’s got narrow sidewalks that abut the street, with no grass or anything as a buffer, with utility poles and other obstacles for walkers to dodge. Fixing that, hopefully in conjunction with planning for a rail line, will go a long way towards improving that whole area. (Fixing Studemont as well would go even further.) Kirby is reasonably walkable in most places, and it’s already undergoing a facelift north of 59, but for the rail line I’ve proposed something would have to be done to it between Bissonnet and Richmond, and to Yale Street on the north end of the line. I don’t know what can be done about this now other than talk about it and hope to get other people talking about it, so consider this a contribution towards that end. What parts of town should have better sidewalks than they currently do? Leave a comment and let me know.