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Target

Hotze and Woodfill take their hate statewide

These guys, I swear.

The conservative organizers who helped topple Houston’s equal rights ordinance are pledging a $2 million advertising campaign against Target over the big box store’s transgender bathroom policy.

Jared Woodfill and Steven Hotze of Conservative Republicans of Texas on Thursday launched the new “Campaign for USA” in what they described as an effort to keep men out of women’s restrooms. The duo had already called for a nationwide boycott of Target.

“We must stand up for the rights of our grandmothers, mothers, wives and daughters,” said Woodfill, who recently lost a bid to become chairman of the state GOP.

[…]

Woodfill, a frequent LGBT foe, on Thursday released a new TV ad that mirrors a provocative ad from the effort to defeat the Houston ordinance. His group also launched a new website, which says “transgender” is a just euphemism for “pervert.”

Blah blah blah. I’d note that this is pretty much the same sort of thing that was regularly said about gays not too long ago. Hell, it’s the same sort of crap Hotze and Woodfill say about gays today. My point is that this kind of hysteria can only be effective for so long. Woodfill and Hotze’s problem is that transgender people are, you know, people. People with family and friends and coworkers and neighbors, who go about their lives. The reality doesn’t measure up to the fearmongering, as people figured out about the gays and lesbians that Hotze and Woodfill and the like kept trying to make them despise. It may take awhile and there will surely be setbacks along the way, but lies eventually lose to the truth. It won’t be easy, and these guys will never stop trying to hurt the people they hate, but they will lose in the end. Just keep that in mind. Juanita has more.

POSTSCRIPT: I drafted this before the horrible mass murder in Orlando, and when I looked at it again as I scheduled it for publication, it was difficult to fight down the revulsion that I feel for these two hateful bastards. What happened in Orlando is the effect of stigmatization and dehumanization. I don’t care what drove this particular gunman to do what he did. The root cause is hatred and fear of The Other. Jared Woodfill and Steven Hotze bear a piece of the responsibility for that.

Ken Paxton would like to remind you that he really is running for re-election

We all understand that’s what this is about, right?

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton warned Target this week that the company’s restroom policy could lead to criminal activity and demanded the retailer supply his office with its safety policies, stepping up his fight against transgender access to public accommodations of their choice.

In a letter laced with criticism of Target’s new policy allowing transgender people to use the bathroom best corresponding to his or her gender identity, the state’s top attorney asked the retail giant for a full text of safety procedures it will use to protect women and children from people who would use the company’s policy as a ruse for “nefarious purposes.”

“Regardless of whether Texas legislates on this topic, it is possible that allowing men in women’s restrooms could lead to criminal and otherwise unwanted activity,” read the one-page letter sent Tuesday to Target CEO Brian Cornell.

“Target, of course, is currently free to choose such a policy for its Texas stores,” Paxton wrote. “The voters in Houston recently repealed by a wide margin an ordinance that advanced many of the same goals as Target’s current policy.”

[…]

A spokesman for Equality Texas, an advocacy group seeking fair treatment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Texans, said Paxton is “looking for a solution to a problem that does not exist.”

“People fear the unknown and people don’t know or understand transgender folks, so they use the transgender population, a marginalized population, as a scapegoat so that they can incite fear in other people,” said Lou Weaver, transgender coordinator for the group.

Weaver, identified as a female on his birth certificate, said he began using the men’s room when he was 17 because he looked too masculine.

“I don’t belong in a women’s restroom, ” he said. “I don’t look like I belong there; I don’t act like I belong there. I just don’t. They are not thinking about people like me.”

To be clear, Paxton’s missive carries the same legal weight as a letter to the editor, or one of my blog posts. I’m sure Paxton is aware of this, and I’m equally sure that Target wasn’t his intended audience. This is aimed directly at Republican primary voters, to make sure they know that even though Paxton is an accused felon, he’s also One Of Them, and he will stand tall for their right to harass insufficiently feminine women in public restrooms. What else do you need to know? The Press and the Current have more.

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.

Falkenberg’s Wal-Mart strawman

Where to even begin with this bizarre Lisa Falkenberg column?

I’ll probably get banned from my favorite Heights coffee house for saying so, and it’s not that I’m a fan of Walmart. Some of their business practices led me years ago to avoid shopping there if I can avoid it. I’m fortunate enough to have that luxury.

But the campaign to stop developers from building the Walmart-anchored shopping center at Koehler and Yale seems more out of touch the louder it gets.

We keep hearing from the folks waving the “Stop Heights Wal-Mart!” signs that the development doesn’t jibe with the Heights vibe. I’m not entirely sure what this means anyway in the context of a our zoning-free, free-market-free-for-all crazy quilt of an urban landscape.

But I’m almost certain that some of the other structures nearby — that looker of a climate-controlled self storage facility, for instance — don’t meet the definition, either. And the site in its current state certainly doesn’t: it’s an overgrown lot enclosed in a razor wire-rimmed fence sprouting with a fringe of runaway weeds.

Then there’s the fact that the site isn’t even in the Heights. It’s the West End, or what’s become the Washington Corridor, or Super Neighborhood 22, if you will, but not the Heights. We’re not talking about tree-lined streets of reborn bungalows and mom-and-pops. The area has been industrial for decades, at least according to long-timers like Sarah Hunt at San Jacinto Stone, across the street from the site.

She supports the Walmart, too, by the way. Finally, she says, someone to mow the grass regularly, in addition to all the other improvements developer Ainbinder Co. is proposing: a bike and pedestrian trial, widening and repaving streets, improving drainage, among others.

The refrains from the anti-Walmart folks seem to center around traffic, and trucks and crime and light pollution and China. And I’m sure there are some valid points in there somewhere, although I know the Target on Shearn Street has been known to draw a few cars, emit a little light and sell one or two products from China. Yet, a quick check of the Chronicle archives revealed hardly a blip of opposition when it was built several years ago.

I’ll stipulate that calling this area part of “the Heights” is silly. I’ve been saying that from the beginning. I’ll also agree that whatever ultimately gets developed on this site will have little to no actual impact on what we all agree really is “the Heights”. But look, if you’re going to call out “the Heights” for their hysteria over something that is not in fact in their back yard, you might also note that the developer has christened this location Washington Heights – they like that name so much they registered the domain – so it’s not just the protesters who want you to associate this with that part of town. If “Heights” is going to be a brand as much as it is a neighborhood, then you ought to expect the owners of that brand to be a little protective of it.

Falkenberg talks of the jobs a Wal-Mart would bring, and how much nicer it will be than the vacant, overgrown lot that sits there now. While we can debate about how much economic benefit the city might derive from a Wal-Mart, I will certainly agree that a Wal-Mart would provide a lot more jobs than the vacant lot currently does. If the only choices in this debate were between building a Wal-Mart and leaving the vacant lot as it is, I’d have to concede the economic argument in favor of the Wal-Mart. But, see, the Wal-Mart opponents aren’t advocating for the vacant lot. They want something other than a Wal-Mart, something that they think will be a better fit for the dense urban area immediately around it than a big box store with oceans of parking spaces. This is why the non-profit they’ve set up to raise money for their fight is called Responsible Urban Development for Houston, and not Snooty Heights Residents For The Preservation Of Unmowed Vacant Lots or something like that. It’s why the Stop Heights Wal-Mart group, which is one of the projects that RUDH is supporting, is now soliciting input about what development there should look like. It’s easy to argue that a Wal-Mart would be better than a vacant lot. It’s a lot harder to make the case that a Wal-Mart would be better than anything else that might reasonably and rationally be built there. When Falkenberg wants to make that argument, I’ll be happy to hear her out.

Oh, and let’s not forget the two other Wal-Marts that will be built within a five-mile radius of the Washington Heights location, one at I-10 and Silber and the other at I-45 and Crosstimbers. We will soon be awash in new Wal-Mart locations, not that Falkenberg bothered to mention that. Note that nobody is objecting to either of those locations, either. Perhaps the fact that they’re much more suitable for big box development has something to do with that.

Finally, Falkenberg brings up the comparison to the Target on Sawyer Street, and wonders why no one got their panties in a wad over that. Let me make three points about this:

1. First, as I said before, the two areas really aren’t comparable. The Wal-Mart site is surrounded by residences and residential streets. There was almost none of that for the Target. The residential lofts that are there now were built after the Target was completed. (Those lofts are called “Sawyer Heights”, by the way. See what I mean about branding?) As such, there was almost no one who was directly affected by the construction, so there was little hue and cry about it. In addition, the main access road to the Target, Sawyer Street, was lightly used as a route for passengers vehicles. A few people used it as a cut-through to downtown, but it was and it remains generally unattractive for that because 1) it’s only one lane each way once you get past the Target; 2) there are two active at-grade freight rail tracks that often block your way, and 3) the main vehicular traffic otherwise has always been 18-wheelers, as befitting the industrial area this is in, and if you don’t get stuck waiting for a train you might get stuck behind a semi backing into or pulling out of a loading dock. Yale Street, on the other hand, is already a busy thoroughfare, and unlike Sawyer the Wal-Mart location would also be dependent on smaller residential streets like Koehler and Bonner for access. Finally, as my wife reminds me, the Sawyer developer held open meetings about their proposed development early on without being prodded, and was a lot more receptive to feedback about things like what other retailers were desirable for the site. Nobody knew there was a Wal-Mart coming until it was reported in the Chronicle, and Ainbinder hasn’t exactly been a model of public engagement.

2. Falkenberg never once mentions the 380 agreement, which Council will take up (and surely tag) today. If approved, which I expect it to be, this will provide public reimbursement to developer Ainbinder for various agreed-upon infrastructure improvements. Perhaps if Falkenberg had spent a few minutes perusing the Stop Heights Wal-Mart Facebook page, she might have realized that it’s the idea of city tax dollars going into Ainbinder’s pockets for this that really has people pissed off. (A link to her column has been posted on that page, and several people have commented saying they sent her email pointing that out, so hopefully by now she is aware of this.) I’m one of those people who believes that Ainbinder and Wal-Mart cannot be stopped and that the best possible outcome is to wring as much out of them via the 380 as possible, but I certainly understand the anger over this, and for Falkenberg to not even mention it in her column borders on malpractice. This is another crucial difference between the Wal-Mart and the Target, which as far as I know – I’ve yet to see anyone report on it – was built without any kind of city incentives. That Sunday Chron story about Mayor Parker’s aggressive use of 380s certainly suggests that Target’s developers got no such deal. For sure, they did the absolute minimum in terms of infrastructure there, which is what Ainbinder has been threatening to do if we don’t fork over the cash. Again, I don’t oppose the concept of dangling a carrot like a 380 in front of a developer for something like this, but Ainbinder’s publicly expressed attitude, which can be summed up as “We’re going to build this thing you don’t like anyway, so give us everything we’re demanding or we’ll build something you’ll really hate”, almost makes one nostalgic for Weingarten Realty. Compare Ainbinder’s hands-out approach to that of HEB, the runner-up in the bidding process, which has expressed a willingness to spend its own money to make a proposed new development more agreeable to the neighbors, and the picture is complete.

3. I’ve already touched on this, but it bears repeating: What’s being opposed here is not development of that vacant lot, but a specific kind of development, one that opponents fear will not fit in with the surrounding neighborhood. The Super Neighborhood 22 folks have a vision and a plan for their neighborhood. How will a Wal-Mart at that location affect their vision? (I should note that as of this publication, SN22 has not taken an official stance on the Washington Heights development, and that I do not in any way speak for them.) As Andrew Burleson has shown, putting suburban-style big box development next to walkable urban development negatively affects the latter. Again, this wasn’t an issue at the Target site because it doesn’t abut any neighborhoods. Maybe in the future, when the old industrial stuff is cleared out and residential development moves (more) in, so that “Sawyer Heights” becomes connected to the Old Sixth Ward, we’ll regret the missed opportunity that the Target development represents, but who knows when or if that may happen. Washington Heights is happening now, and it’s in conflict with what many residents want for that area. In theory, the 380 agreement could be used to mitigate most or all of these concerns, but as it stands now it appears to do very little of that, which just adds to the frustration and resentment about it.

All right, I think I’ve run out of steam. The funny thing is, I do agree with Falkenberg that “the Heights” is playing an outsized role in this debate, and that we ought to be paying closer attention to what the folks who actually live near this development think about it. (Such as, you know, Nick Urbano.) I agree there’s an element of class in all of this – it’s not at all hard for me to imagine a Costco being treated much more deferentially, for instance; of course, it’s also not hard for me to imagine a Costco being much more sensitive to the community. I agree that this is an opportunity for the city to get some much-needed infrastructure improvements done, though to shoehorn in a point I couldn’t quite get to above, it sure seems like there’s plenty of room for them to have gotten more out of this. (See this, for example; I’ll have more on it later.) It would be nice if Falkenberg would agree to discuss the actual project at hand and not a bunch of irrelevancies. How about it, Lisa?

The 380 agreement

Here’s the proposed 380 agreement between the city and Ainbinder for the site now known as “Washington Heights”. It’s all fairly dense legalese, and I confess my eyes glazed over while reading it. If there’s something in here that’s unexpected or unusual, I’ll have to leave it to someone with greater fortitude than I have to find it.

On a related note, the Sunday Chron has a story about the proliferation of 380 agreements under the Parker administration.

Unlike her predecessor, Mayor Annise Parker has taken an aggressive approach to creating incentives for various kinds of business expansion.

Parker defends her administration’s approach to creating such incentives, saying it gives the city powerful leverage to control development in the nation’s largest metropolis without zoning.

“We have very few tools that bring a developer in and allow us to work on the front end on projects,” she said. “We’re always playing catch-up.”

For at least two of the projects, however, critics have abounded, especially in neighborhoods. Many question why a high-end home developer or a developer paving the way for a corporation with the resources and global power of Wal-Mart Stores would ever need help from the taxpayer, especially as the city continues to face great uncertainty amid a dour economic climate.

Jonathan C.C. Day, a lawyer who lives and works near the Walmart site, questioned whether the $6 million in infrastructure improvements the city will pay for in the development deal will pay for anything the community really needs.

“What are we getting for $6 million?” he asked. “At the end of the day, I think people recognize that Walmart can build a store there if they want. But how easy are we going to make it for people and trucks and traffic to get to their site?”

Mr. Day is the only critic named and quoted in the story – the other projects for which 380s have been used or contemplated are barely mentioned – so other than the Stop Heights Wal-Mart folks, it’s hard to say from whom Mayor Parker is defending her administration’s use of these things. It’s also hard to say how much of the pushback is specific to the fact that these incentives will be used to build something for which there is so much intense dislike, and how much is criticism of the concept of a 380 agreement as opposed to a TIRZ or some other development goodie.

The Chron also tells us that not everybody hates the idea of that Wal-Mart.

“On my block I have a lot of blue-collar workers,” [Patricia] Wunderlich said. “They’re very hard-working folks. Some of them would like the opportunity to have a second job at Wal-Mart.”

Wunderlich said she is sympathetic to the concerns of residents who live next door to the planned 24-acre retail development at Yale and Koehler streets, but said a Wal-Mart would benefit many in the Heights area. Others in the area share that view.

“I don’t think it’s the majority that are complaining about it,” said Sixth Ward resident Chris Greene. “I just think they’re the noisiest.”

Opponents of the project, Greene said, are basing their concerns on negative stereotypes of Wal-Mart, noting that there was little opposition when a Target was built at 2580 Shearn.

“If it’s going to be developed anyway, then I think that Wal-Mart is a good store to go in,” Greene said. “It’s going to provide a lot of jobs for people.”

Absent any detailed polling information, it’s hard to say for sure how supporters really stack up against opponents. But there is a reason why it’s the squeaky wheels that tend to get the grease. If you want people to believe that there are more supporters out there, you might consider getting some of them to show up on Facebook so they won’t be outnumbered three hundred to one by opponents. I’m just saying.

As for the comparison to Target, it’s really apples and oranges. The Wal-Mart site is surrounded on all four sides by residences, and the street that will be most used to get to it is already heavily trafficked. The Target site is bounded by I-10 on one side, which separates it from the closest neighborhood, and has almost no residences near it; the Sawyer Heights building was constructed after Target opened. And even with all that, there were and are people who didn’t want a suburban-style big box store in that urban area. The opposition was much less intense and much more muted because almost no one lived right next door to it. It’s as simple as that.

Anyway, the 380 agreement for this development is on the Council agenda for tomorrow, though it’s sure to be tagged for a week. And the anti-Wal-Mart forces haven’t given up.

The city has drafted a 13-page agreement now on paper between the city of Houston and those who want to develop the Washington Heights project. It spells out how, if approved, the city would use more than $6 million in economic development funds to reimburse the developer, Ainbinder Heights, for infrastructure improvements around the site at Yale and Koehler streets.

“Do that on your own dollar,” said Nicholas Urbano with Responsible Urban Development for Houston. “Don’t take the public money to do it.”

Even though those improvements could mean wider streets and sidewalks, upgraded landscaping, and a limestone walking path on Heights Boulevard, opponents say there are still significant issues of concern. Wal-Mart, they say, has historically not proven to be a good neighbor elsewhere.

“It’s going to create a number of problems which have already been discussed in press; traffic, crime, drainage, just all kinds of disruption to the neighborhood’s life,” said Eileen Crowley Reed, who is opposed to the agreement.

We know that the reaction of Ainbinder to sentiments like these has been to figuratively twirl their mustache and say “Okay, go ahead and don’t give us any reimbursements for this project you don’t like, we’ll just go ahead and build something you won’t like even more!” To some extent I believe them – they’re not going to plant trees or fix up that railroad overpass if they don’t have to – but to some extent I don’t. I mean, if the streets are too narrow and too prone to flooding after construction if they do the barest minimum, that’ll ultimately affect Wal-Mart’s bottom line, and I feel confident that they won’t want that to happen. The question to me is whether there’s an outcome that’s acceptable to the Wal-Mart opponents other than capitulation, and if so whether there’s a path to it or not. I don’t know that I’d have the guts to play chicken to the bitter end.

Finally, Mayor Parker, CMs Gonzalez and Costello, and various others paid a visit to the author of the They Are Building A Wal-Mart On My Street blog to discuss the status of the project.

CultureMap previews the Wal-Mart

Some interesting stuff here.

Restaurants and stores on Heights Boulevard, along with new pathways and landscaping on the boulevard’s esplanade, will be part of Ainbinder Company’s Walmart-anchored retail development in the Inner Loop of Houston, the developer of the project said Friday.

The project, called Washington Heights, is planned for 23 acres near the southwest corner of Yale Street and Koehler, just south of Interstate 10 and the Heights community. Much of the project will be located on industrial land vacant land that formerly was the site of a Trinity Industries steel fabrication plant.

“We are going to take this land from a factory site to a fairly upscale development,” said developer Bart Duckworth, principal in the Houston-based Ainbinder firm.

Washington Heights will also spread onto land Ainbinder is acquiring on Heights Boulevard, south of the freeway. An old apartment project there will be demolished to make way for the new retail space, Duckworth said.

You can see the back end of the apartment complex here, looking east from Koehler Street. I’ll reserve judgment on that for now, but I’m pretty sure extending this development across Yale like that isn’t going to alleviate anyone’s concerns about traffic. I’m already envisioning a new traffic light being installed at Yale and Koehler to handle the exiting and left-turning vehicles.

Real estate broker Lance Gilliam of the retail division of Moody Rambin Interests has been handling the project.

Gilliam hopes to attract chef-driven restaurants, local boutiques and non-chain outlets to the retail space on Yale and Heights Boulevard, as an extension of the restaurant development that has occurred along Washington Avenue in recent years.

“We have really made an effort to reach out to the Houston, and also to Texas cities including, Austin, to see who that is out there would best serve this community,” Gilliam said. “We want shops that are unique and add to the community.”

Color me skeptical of that effort. I’m not sure how many driven chefs will want to share space with a Wal-Mart, but I suppose anything is possible. Maybe if pedestrian access between this site and Washington Avenue is improved, and/or if the Washington Wave extends service in that direction, it might make the proposition more attractive to the kinds of chefs and restaurants they seem to want. Or it might not. I know that when they were filling out the Target site on Sawyer that I was hoping for some decent food options, but what we got was Chili’s, Panda Express, and Freebird’s. Seems to me that’s the more likely, and more fitting, outcome over there, but I guess we’ll see.

Ainbinder is seeking an agreement with city officials to make public improvements to the area on city owned property, Duckworth said.

Under the proposal, Ainbinder would spend $6 million to widen and expand streets around the project, beautify nearby bridges, improve drainage, build new sidewalks, and create a crushed rock path and landscaping in the esplanade of Heights Boulevard, he said. Ainbinder would be reimbursed for the public improvements over time as the project reached completion and occupancy goals, in a government sponsored program that has been used for other projects around the state, Duckworth said.

The “government sponsored program” Duckworth is referring to is apparently a 380 Agreement. Which apparently has to be approved by Council first. Expect there to be some pressure applied to Council members about that. Usually, other Council members will defer to the District member on matters like this in their district, so watch what CM Ed Gonzalez says and does very carefully.

Walmart’s trucks will enter the store property off of Koehler Street, next to Berger Iron Works.

There’s already some truck traffic on Koehler, for the Berger Iron Works and for San Jacinto Stone, but for the most part we’re not talking 18-wheelers. Better hope widening Koehler is part of the plan.