December 22, 2008
Gray on the latest Weingarten kerfuffle

Lisa Gray gives the latest Weingarten controversy a look.

Up until now, the building had angered people. But neighbors now say Weingarten is violating a city ordinance. They say the company not only crossed the line, it crossed the line by 10 feet.

The protrusion in question is a porte-cochere, the sort of sheltered area where a car could be left with a valet. On its roof would be a patio for an open-air wine bar run by the Vallone Restaurant Group.

The bar seemed likely to rattle quiet River Oaks with noise from late-night drinking, but Chapman hadn't heard of any public meetings to discuss an exception to the setback rule -- because Weingarten hadn't asked for an exception.

More than many neighborhoods, River Oaks, a place full of lawyers and real-estate experts, is able to wage a credible battle against a developer. Chapman and other east River Oaks neighbors quickly put together a petition and a Web site (, and they contacted the city's planning department.

Called about the controversy, Weingarten made no one available for comment.

Neighbors allege that the company, one of the largest mall developers in the nation, either is unfamiliar with setback rules or it knowingly broke them. Tom Horan, whose backyard abuts the building's garage, takes a dark view of the matter.

"Weingarten would rather beg for forgiveness," he says, "than ask for permission."

Lynn Edmundson, who also lives near the project, thinks the city should have red-tagged the project, stopping construction entirely.

"If the neighbors weren't watching," she says, "it would be a done deal."

After the complaints, the city stopped construction on the porte-cochere and will now consider whether to grant Weingarten an exemption to the setback rules.

Two things. One, as I said before, this to me is about the rules and processes we have in place for construction and development. We don't have a whole lot of them as far as I'm concerned, so we really ought to be able to enforce the ones we do have in place when they get violated. Accidentally or deliberately, Weingarten apparently broke the rules. If that's true, there ought to be some consequence for that.

And two, it is possible that Weingarten had, or at least thought they had, a legitimate reason for doing what they did. We don't know, because they won't talk. That's been their MO pretty much throughout this battle, and it makes it a lot easier to demonize them and to believe that their motives are bad. I don't know if they care about such things, or if they feel, perhaps justifiably, that public opinion is irrelevant and not an impediment to their goals. It sure would be nice if they engaged the public once in awhile. But they don't have to, and they apparently don't want to. And so this is what we get. Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone complain about how responsive (or not) Metro is being about something. It could be worse.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 22, 2008 to Elsewhere in Houston

Kuff, while I agree with you on the rule violations, I still have a hard time sympathizing with a group of people who willingly purchased homes close to a shopping center, and demanding a noise and traffic-free existence.

I think the bigger issue is that, from what I can tell from the rendering, the plans for a center that mimicked the original look of the ROSC have been totally scrapped. That doesn't bode well for the Landmark Theater, not to mention the rest of the existing shopping center.

Posted by: Michael on December 22, 2008 9:59 AM
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