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Dunlavy

Hey look, a Regent Square update

Sometimes I forget this is still a thing.

In 2007, longtime urbanites said goodbye to the Allen House Apartments, a decades-old complex along Dunlavy just south of Allen Parkway. The multiblock property was a Houston institution, housing hundreds of college students, senior citizens and professionals behind brick walls and wrought-iron balconies that gave it a decidedly New Orleans feel.

The demolition of most of the units there – while marking the end of an era and eliminating scores of reasonably priced inner-city apartments – was done to make way for a more modern development covering 24 acres of prime property. The land has sat mostly dormant during the years following the initial announcement, but several new signs point to a coming revival of the project, Regent Square.

The development was the subject of a meeting Wednesday night of the North Montrose Civic Association. Scott Howard, the association’s treasurer, presented details about the project to residents. He said he had met with an official from the Boston-based development company earlier in the week.

“They’re ready to go,” Howard said, explaining how the project had been shelved during the recession. He showed off booklets the developer had passed along containing renderings and site maps. It was dated Nov. 16, 2015.

Howard told the group, which was meeting in the library of Carnegie Vanguard High School in the Montrose area, that the project would contain 400,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, 240,000 square feet of office space, 950 multifamily units and 4,200 parking spaces.

Plans for an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, an entertainment concept that combines a movie theater and dining, in Regent Square are still in the works, as well.

“Alamo is coming to Regent Square,” Neil Michaelsen of Triple Tap Ventures, owner of the Houston locations, said Thursday in an email.

See here for prior updates. The last news we heard about this was almost three years ago, when the announcement was made about the Alamo Drafthouse. The developers did recently finish off a high-end apartment complex a bit down the street on West Dallas, so they haven’t been completely inactive, but I think it’s fair to say the main event has taken a lot longer than anyone might have expected. At this point, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Redefining residential streets

Streets are about more than just cars. Where the rubber will meet the road on this, as it were, is on busy residential streets like Dunlavy in Montrose, where new city planning codes will have an effect.

Dunlavy is, at least in theory, a four-lane street between Allen Parkway and U.S. 59. Some drivers question whether the outside lanes really count.

Uneven gutters, often filled with debris or small mounds of dirt deposited by passing cars and trucks, line the traffic lanes. Cyclists willing to brave the road dodge potholes and passing cars. Trucks, and most cars, tend to stay in the inside lanes.

“It is not effectively working as a four-lane roadway,” said Amar Mohite, who manages the transportation group in Houston’s planning department.

So in a departure from what many consider the Houston model, the city is calling for reducing the space for cars and trucks. Plans for Dunlavy, along with a handful of other street segments between River Oaks, downtown and U.S. 59 and along the Washington Avenue corridor, will decrease driving room in favor of retaining trees and making parking, bicycling and walking easier.

The proposals, part of a list of amendments to the city’s transportation plan, guide future construction and give developers an idea of what to expect. The changes would appear in the 2014 major thoroughfare and freeway plan.

What’s significant, officials said, is the decision to reduce driving lanes in some spots. The traditional Houston method of improving a four-lane road – turning it into a five- or six-lane road – is falling out of favor in many neighborhoods, with residents reluctant to lose more private land to roads.

[…]

Residents along Dunlavy, and generally around Neartown, told planners they wanted their streets maintained to allow for biking and walking, rather than widened to accommodate more traffic.

“What we said was, make it a neighborhood where you could ride your bike or take a walk,” said Greg LeGrande, president of the Neartown Association, a coalition of civic groups.

Here’s a map, for those of you not familiar with the area. Let’s be very clear about something: Dunlavy is not a thoroughfare. It’s a residential street, with stop signs, houses, cars pulling into and out of driveways, bikes, and pedestrians. Other than a brief stretch just north of West Gray by the post office where it is striped for two lanes on each side, it really is just a little one-lane-each-way road, meant for neighborhood traffic at neighborhood speeds. What distinguishes it from the other little north-south roads between Shepherd and Montrose that cross over US 59 is 1) it goes all the way to Allen Parkway, which gives it easy access to downtown and Upper Kirby, and 2) it has no speed humps. Those things help attract traffic to it, and people treat it like it’s meant for that kind of traffic. My friend Andrea, who used to live on Dunlavy near Gray, would complain bitterly about the drivers that zipped past her house at 40 MPH plus. That’s not what that street is for.

So I’ll be very interested to see what the city proposes to do. I predict there will be lots of whining, mostly from people who don’t live on or near Dunlavy. The city’s planning department will host an open house in late June to explain the amendments, and City Council is expected to consider the changes in September. One thing I’m not sure about is how they propose to make Dunlavy more bike-friendly while reducing the lane widths yet maintaining street parking. As I think about it, it should be doable – Dunlavy really is four full lanes wide, even if it’s almost never used as a four-lane road; there’s plenty of space between moving vehicles and parked cars – I’m just not sure how to visualize it. I look forward to seeing the proposal.

What next for Wilshire Village?

Nancy Sarnoff runs an obituary for the Wilshire Village apartments, which are slated for demolition now that they have been officially declared a fire hazard.

A historic Inner Loop apartment complex, once slated for a high-rise redevelopment, was shut down last week after city officials ordered residents to vacate the property.

[…]

The complex is the 1940s Wilshire Village apartments at the corner of West Alabama and Dunlavy, one of three Federal Housing Administration-insured garden apartment complexes built here and the only one still in existence, according to architectural historian Stephen Fox.

In 2005, the owner announced plans to tear it down and possibly build an upscale tower in its place.

Matt Dilick, a commercial real estate developer who controls the partnership that owns Wilshire Village, said the demolition process will start “relatively soon.”

“The buildings are unsafe, and for numerous years prior groups have not kept the buildings maintained or the property up to city code,” he said. “The dilapidated buildings are an eyesore to the public and to the numerous homeowners and businesses in the area.”

[…]

As far the property’s redevelopment, “plans have not been released,” said Dilick, adding that the prime site is best suited for apartments, shops and a hotel.

Okay, an apartment is obvious; one hopes this one will be better maintained than the Wilshire ultimately was. Shops I can see, as long as they figure out how to incorporate parking. The other side of Dunlavy is a strip center anchored by a Fiesta, so more shops would fit in just fine. But a hotel? And was this really considered a good spot for a high-rise? I can’t see it. Dunlavy is a narrow little street. It’s not particularly close to an entrance or exit on 59, which would seem to be a negative for a hotel. It’s not far from Greenway Plaza or the Museum District, but as far as I know there’s no shortage of hotels in those areas, certainly not one acute enough that it would need to be relieved by new construction there. It’s all bungalows in the immediate area, so anything over three stories would stick out like a sore thumb. Basically, it’s analogous to the Ashby Highrise, with slightly better vehicular throughput potential and probably less political clout. I don’t see how a hotel makes sense, and I don’t even see how a developer might see how a hotel makes sense. Am I missing something?

Actually, there is one possibility: The Universities line will have a stop at Dunlavy, so the area will have very easy access to light rail. Maybe that figures in to the calculation. Whether that’s the case or not, I hope whoever redevelops the property includes improvements to the sidewalk, as that will make getting to that rail stop much more pleasant. And hopefully whatever does get built there will be at least mostly done before the U-line is in place, so that stretch won’t be all torn up while people are trying to get to the station. Swamplot has more.

Wilshire Village declared a fire hazard

That happened on Thursday. More from Swamplot here and here. What a bizarre end to such an eccentric little development. I just hope that when the owners finally get to tear the place down, as they seem to want to do, the property doesn’t sit empty for a year or more.

Wilshire Village update

Swamplot has more on the Wilshire Village Apartments situation; apparently, there’s some question as to the legality of the eviction notices that the residents received. Meanwhile, Hair Balls satisfies my curiosity with some interior photos of the place. It does look better on the inside. That’s not saying much, given the sad state the exterior is in, but it’s easy to see how this place, given some love and an owner that cared, could be a real gem again. Seems unlikely that will happen, unfortunately; we’ll just have to see what replaces it. That’s Houston for you.

Wilshire Village Apartments

Normally, another story about another old and rundown apartment complex in Houston being set for demolition isn’t that noteworthy, at least for me, but this Swamplot post about the Wilshire Village Apartments struck a chord with me because I used to live practically next door to them. In the early 90s I lived in a duplex on Branard, just east of Woodhead, which cul-de-sacced into Wilshire Village. I once tried to cut through the complex as a shortcut to the Fiesta (then a Safeway or AppleTree, I forget which) and got accosted by an angry dude (I presume a resident) who yelled at me to get the hell out. Anyway, I have no idea why you’d want to demolish a complex that apparently still has paying residents in this economic climate, and I hate the idea of it being replaced by a highrise – that area had too much traffic 15-20 years ago – but that’s how it goes around here. Hair Balls has more.