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Why we need flexibility in our parking regulations

Here’s the story of Coltivare.

Coltivare and the vegetable garden space

As many of you know, we are in the process of opening Coltivare, our interpretation of an Italian-inspired, American, neighborhood restaurant, at the corner of White Oak and Arlington Streets.

Undoubtedly, one of the most unique aspects to Coltivare, is the potential to have a 3,000 square foot, fully-functioning vegetable garden, directly to the East of our building.

From day one, we envisioned the green space as having the potential to become that, but knew we faced a few hurdles with the City of Houston, fulfilling our parking code requirement. We didn’t let ourselves get our hopes up just yet.

Many of you have probably noticed a lot of “not much” going on with the construction process. This is because we’ve been going through the variance process with the City of Houston Planning Department.

The variance that we are seeking is one allowing us to utilize parking lots that we have leased adjacent to Coltivare, as spaces to count towards our code requirement.

The warehouse space

Across Arlington Street on the North side of White Oak, sits a warehouse space that has been in existence since 1938, best we can tell. Dating back to the 50’s, via Google satellite images, those same spaces have been used for parking. They are used for parking today as they will continue to be used for parking tomorrow. Over the last 80 years, as White Oak’s right-of-way has widened, it has slowly encroached on the depth of these spaces. They sit between 15′-16′ deep now. The City likes 19′. However, there is another 13′ from the back of the spaces to the actual street, leaving plenty of room to maneuver safely. These spaces are already legally being used by the warehouse during they day; we simply want to use them at night.

These spaces are what we are trying to get the Planning Commission to approve regarding our variance. Spaces that are already in existence and being used for parking.

We have historically had a very good relationship with the Planning Commission and do not envy their jobs. Given everything that is thrown at them, they do a phenomenal job keeping the City moving in the right direction. The idea of turning existing green-space into another parking lot does seem counter intuitive to Mayor Parker’s green initiatives though.

Regarding our variance, they have afforded the Heights community an opportunity to voice your support in their approving our parking plan.

Warehouse parking spaces

In a perfect world, we would love for you to inundate their emails with a quick note saying you support our variance to utilize existing parking, rather than turn one of the few green-spaces the community has, into another ugly parking lot.

Contact Planner Dipti Mathur Dipti.Mathur@houstontx.gov

Dipti has been graciously reading through all of these emails, but she needs to hear from you.

Also wouldn’t hurt to cc:

pd.planning@houstontx.gov

Marlene.Gafrick@houstontx.gov

We also would like to invite you to the Planning Commission hearing, March 28th, at 2:30pm, to verbally support the variance. We will send a follow up email as that date approaches, with more details.

Thank you all in advance for your support. We at Coltivare look very forward to serving you for years to come, and cannot imagine doing this in another neighborhood in Houston. The Heights is our home too.

Best Regards,

Morgan Weber & Ryan Pera
Owners, Revival Market & Coltivare Houston

Here’s some background on Coltivare, and here’s a mention of the story on Eating Our Words. For what it’s worth, the neighborhood seems to support Coltivare – I’ve seen emails about this on two separate Heights discussion groups. Embedded in the post are some photos I took of the space in question. The first, if I’ve read all the emails and whatnot correctly, is where the restaurant itself would be, on the northeast corner of White Oak and Arlington. To the east of the building is the grass lot that they want to use as a vegetable garden but which current rules say needs to be used for parking. The second picture is the warehouse across Arlington, where Coltivare would lease parking space. The third photo is the view down White Oak of those parking spaces – there are a few more on Arlington as well. Where I stood to take the picture is basically where the line between the sidewalk and the parking spaces would be. One could argue that any full-size vehicle would be too long for the parking spaces, and would partially block the sidewalk. This is true, but there would still be enough room to walk around such vehicles, and this western end of White Oak has much less pedestrian traffic than the section between Oxford and Studewood does. The inconvenience for pedestrians would be minor, especially if this were only used at night by Coltivare. All in all, I see a lot of merit to their variance request. I hope the city gives it all due consideration; you of course can help with that, as noted above.

One more thing: The blue structure to the east of the Coltivare site and proposed garden is the Blue Line Bike Shop. The Heights Bike Trail is a block away to the north and to the east. I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere, but surely Coltivare will take advantage of the recent changes to the off-street parking ordinances and max out their bike parking in return for a smaller car-park-space requirement. It would just be wrong not to do so.

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One Comment

  1. Me says:

    I guess I am in the minority in this one. And a bit of a killjoy. Green space is not the problem on White Oak, a lack of parking for the five plus restaurants that popped up in the last five years is. If we grant exceptions to the parking ordinance, the variance needs to have teeth. For example, the variance would be lost if what is supposed to be parking changes from garden to outdoor seating. More over, the occupancy permit needs to be tied to enough available off street parking (for both day and night parking). If they lose the lease, they have to find other parking, ASAP. After watching what happened on Washington coupled with this City’s general attitude of “ask forgiveness rather than permission”, I think we should be cautious about granting variances, even to sweet guys that want a garden.

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