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Jane Cahill

The townhomes are indeed coming

I have three things to say about this Lisa Gray column.

The dark side of density

“So the bad stuff we’re going to see today,” I asked, “it’ll be a cautionary tale for the suburbs?” I was driving west from downtown on what I thought of, privately, as the Terror o’ Townhouses Tour, a sort of scared-straight exhibit for suburbanites like me, who haven’t realized what a boring-sounding change to city development rules may be about to unleash on our outside-the-Loop neighborhoods.

David Robinson and Jane Cahill West were my guides. As neighborhood activists, they’d both seen firsthand how, 14 years ago, a similar change to Chapter 42 of the city of Houston ordinances made high-density development possible inside Loop 610, transforming entire neighborhoods lot by lot. One-story houses with yards gave way to townhouses so quickly that it became disconcerting to drive down a street you hadn’t seen in a while.

“Yeah,” Robinson said from my Hyundai’s back seat. “We’re interested in how the city is going to educate the suburbs.” (Robinson, an architect, is one of those civic activists who seem to be everywhere: head of the Neartown Association, former president of the Super Neighborhood Association, former member of the planning commission, a candidate for City Council, veteran of a bazillion stakeholders’ committees.)

“Just getting the word out is a problem,” said West in the front seat. (Her résumé is as overstuffed as his: vice president and resident expert on development for the Super Neighborhood Alliance, recent president of Washington Ave/Memorial Park Super Neighborhood Council, a former board chair of the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone for the Old Sixth Ward, and on and on.) “It’s a tough subject to cover.”

“They’re getting hit by a tidal wave,” said Robinson.

1. Some neighborhoods have had it worse under the previous tweaking of Chapter 42 than others. The West End/Rice Military area had the worst of all possible worlds – narrow streets, drainage ditches with no sidewalks, lax or nonexistent deed restrictions, small lot sizes, and initially affordable property values that made it so alluring to developers that wanted to cram as much living space onto the land as they could. Montrose at least generally had sidewalks, and the Heights generally had either sidewalks or deed restrictions, sometimes both. Nobody really knows what will happen to the parts of Houston that will now be subject to the same density rules as the Inner Loop, but if you live in a decent neighborhood in Houston but outside the Loop and are worried about the possible consequences in your area, I’d advise looking at your deed restrictions pronto. You may be protected from some of the rapaciousness that so changed the landscape in the inner core, but it’s best not to make assumptions about that.

2. The problem isn’t so much density as it is density plus car dependence. Montrose was always supposed to be a walkable neighborhood, and to a large extent it still is, which helps it remain as desirable a place to live as it is. Where it all goes wrong is not when you have more residences on a block than before but more cars that need to be parked than the block can handle. Houston has taken a lot of strides towards being less car dependent, at least in the areas most affected by the increased density, since the last revision of Chapter 42, with things like light rail and a vastly expanded bike infrastructure, but as long as every residence with multiple inhabitants of driving age has at least one car for everyone of driving age in it, these problems become intractable. Housing and transportation are two sides of the same coin, and we can’t solve one without the other.

3. For all of the problems that increased density have brought to these historic neighborhoods, we shouldn’t overlook all of the good that has happened in them. I lived in Montrose from 1989 to 1997. When I first went hunting for rental housing with two friends who would be my roommates back in 1989, there were plenty of cheap options to pick from. Unfortunately, they were cheap because they were mostly rundown old houses in sketchy neighborhoods – burglar bars were a prime feature on many of the places we looked at. The Heights was a place that single women were told to avoid because it was too dangerous. I don’t know about you, but on the whole I’d much rather have the Inner Loop of today than the Inner Loop of 25 years ago. I’d much rather have growth than decay. We absolutely need to learn the lessons of the past changes to Chapter 42, and work to fix the things that have gone wrong while working to avoid making the same mistakes elsewhere. But for all the issues, Houston is a much better place economically, culturally, and politically if it’s a place that people want to live in and can afford to live in. That above all is what we need to work towards.

Revamped Chapter 42 ordinance finally passes

Strangely enough, in the end it was not very contentious.

Houston City Council on Wednesday voted 14-3 to allow greater single-family home density outside Loop 610, while also strengthening the proposal’s already robust protections for neighborhoods concerned about unwelcome development.

Council voted to drop the threshold of support needed to impose a minimum lot size in an area – preventing the subdividing of lots for townhomes – from 60 percent to 55 percent, and agreed to phase in the new rules, keeping new development out of residential areas for two years.

Mayor Annise Parker, who has said the changes will spur redevelopment of blighted areas and lower housing prices in the city, praised the first fundamental changes to the city’s development rules in 14 years.

“It’s about time,” Parker said. “The city of Houston has to grow, and we have to have a more flexible development tool. ”

Parker said she will engage a group of home-builders and civic leaders to continue the dialogue that allowed the package to come to a vote as related reforms move forward. Neighborhood support largely was won through city promises to improve standards in regulations outside the development code, known as Chapter 42.

In the ordinance itself, the Super Neighborhood Alliance got its phase-in of the new rules. The alliance raised concerns about eyesore Dumpsters at townhome developments; developers now must show where large garbage bins will sit when seeking permits. The alliance also worried about structures being built on property lines, leaving inches between homes; builders now must get written agreement from neighbors to come inside 3 feet.

There are still more things that the neighborhoods wanted, having to do with things like stricter drainage requirements and Complete Streets. Houston Politics goes into some detail on that.

On drainage, Councilman Stephen Costello has worked with engineering colleagues to draft reforms. Today, developers are not required to add detention when developing tracts of less than 15,000 square feet as long as they do not make more than 75 percent of the site impervious.

Costello’s proposal would drop that to 50 percent, a number he said is supported by data collected as part of the Rebuild Houston program. His proposal also would make developers add detention when they redevelop a dormant site in a way that makes water run off more quickly, something current rules do not address.

“I’m pretty pleased with what we have,” he said. “I’m always a little concerned about what happens after the development is done and how we manage the existing infrastructure in place. As areas start to redevelop, we need to make sure the city is there with Rebuild Houston to take care of any existing infrastructure that needs to be replaced.”

[…]

On drainage, Councilman Stephen Costello has worked with engineering colleagues to draft reforms. Today, developers are not required to add detention when developing tracts of less than 15,000 square feet as long as they do not make more than 75 percent of the site impervious.

Costello’s proposal would drop that to 50 percent, a number he said is supported by data collected as part of the Rebuild Houston program. His proposal also would make developers add detention when they redevelop a dormant site in a way that makes water run off more quickly, something current rules do not address.

“I’m pretty pleased with what we have,” he said. “I’m always a little concerned about what happens after the development is done and how we manage the existing infrastructure in place. As areas start to redevelop, we need to make sure the city is there with Rebuild Houston to take care of any existing infrastructure that needs to be replaced.”

The references letter is here. Jane Cahill West was quoted at the end of the story saying that “overall, we’re happy” and that working together on this was beneficial for all. The three No votes were CMs Jerry Davis, Andrew Burks, and of course Helena Brown, who tried but failed to pass an amendment that would have exempted District A from the new Chapter 42 rules. Texas Leftist has more.

Today is Chapter 42 day

Actually, today is almost certainly the day that the Chapter 42 revisions get tagged by multiple members of Council, thus pushing it back for a week. Nonetheless, this is the beginning of the end of a long, long journey. Here’s another story about what that will mean.

The Fourth Ward would not look quite the way it does now, however, if not for a change in city development rules in 1999. That change hiked the density allowed in single-family housing construction inside Loop 610, allowing the building of several homes on what had been one residential lot.

City Council is poised Wednesday to extend that Inner Loop home density citywide in the first rewrite of Houston’s development rules, known as Chapter 42, in 14 years. And that has [Ray] Washington and other south Houston civic leaders on edge.

“You’ve got different developers. Some are going to be good, and you’re going to get a few bad ones. Our goal is to upgrade this community,” said Homer Clark, president of south Houston’s Five Corners Management District.

“If they say, ‘Hey, this is a nice place, I think I’ll go out here and buy me a little piece of land and I’ll just put this out here,’ that’s our fear, that it won’t be consistent with what we’re doing.”

To address concerns about incompatible development, the proposed rules include protections that would allow neighborhoods to impose minimum lot sizes for up to 500 homes at a time, preventing the subdivision of lots for townhomes. The requirement, which would last 40 years, also would restrict any residential or vacant land to single-family homes, keeping out apartment towers and condominiums.

“In Houston, because we’re not a zoned city, deed restrictions are the one thing that’s relied upon to keep your neighborhood consistent and retain that character,” said Suzy Hartgrove, spokeswoman for the city Planning Department. “It (minimum lot size) is a protection that really is akin to a deed restriction that will be established for these neighborhoods that apply and are designated. It’s a strong protection to have.”

The minimum lot size process has existed since 2001, and is applied only on a block-by-block basis. Under the proposed change, 10 percent of property owners in an area must apply, triggering a balloting process through which 60 percent of owners must vote yes to impose the restriction. City staff could revise an area’s boundaries to secure the necessary support.

The proposal is an acknowledgement that deed restrictions are difficult to amend, said Joshua Sanders, executive director of Houstonians for Responsible Growth, a nonprofit that represents developers.

“We understand the neighborhood concerns, and we think there should be more tools made available to them to protect against any sort of development,” he said.

“It’s not like these rules are in place to protect against bad development. They’re in place to protect the integrity of a neighborhood. We could go in and build something great on one piece of property, but it’s still an issue because it’s damaging the character of the neighborhood.”

[…]

The lot-size proposal is a “huge achievement,” said Jane West of the Super Neighborhood Alliance, though she is concerned areas with many rental properties will struggle with the petition process. That concern led civic leaders to negotiate a phase-in: one year to give neighborhoods time to petition, and a second year during which the new density would be allowed only on tracts larger than an acre; smaller tracts could be developed if most surrounding properties are not residential.

“It will help all the people it can help,” West said. “It depends a lot on the stamina and the abilities of the people in the neighborhood and how badly they want to save the neighborhood.”

See here, here, here, and here for the recent history. This ordinance and the effort to revamp it are big, complex beasts with lots of moving parts and no one really knows what the effect of this or that change will be, but it sounds like the lot size part of it is being well received by all. If both Jane Cahill West and Joshua Sanders think it’s a good idea, that’s saying something.

On a related note, I want to call attention to this comment left by Ed Browne to one of my earlier posts on Chapter 42:

I think that I can speak for the SNA when I say that everyone agrees that the City needs to grow and densify, but there are good ways to grow and bad ways. Tomaro Bell, president of the Super Neighborhood Alliance (SNA), and Jane Cahill West, its Vice President, have experienced the negative aspects of Chapter 42 inside Loop 610 where it has been the law for over 10 years. They and others inside the Loop decided that the rules need to be cleaned up before subjecting the entire City to them. SN 22, along the Washington Avenue corridor, has been a test case for a lot of these issues. Jane gave a tour for City Council members and SN leaders in her area of problems created by Chapter 42 and although many have been addressed by the City, some of the more important ones still need attention.

We had been told by the Mayor and developers that the main thrust for Chapter 42 was to redevelop run-down apartments and strip centers, but no sooner had the SNA removed its objections, then the Mayor started backpedaling – offering to reduce the wait time for neighborhoods to establish minimum lot sizes and setbacks from 2 years for lots under an acre to 1 year for lots under 1/2 acre. Small lots like this are not run-down apartment complexes. They are neighborhoods like yours.

Under street infrastructure for most of Houston is old and antiquated, so we want to be sure that high density building does not occur where the streets have inadequate storm sewers, water lines, and sanitation sewers. When the toilet flushes next door, will you get scalded? But Jane pointed out that high density also makes every detail more important. Where are trash cans stored? Where are mailboxes? Air conditioners? With a requirement of one guest parking spot for every 6 homes, where do guests (and homeowners) really park? In Cottage Grove, emergency vehicles cannot access many homes because too many vehicles are parked on narrow streets. Ladder trucks needed for the 3 or 4 story buildings need a place for the support pads so they don’t topple over. These were Fire Marshall concerns, too, not just Jane’s.

Average lot size can be as low as 1400 square feet, but there is no minimum lot size. Permeable ground can be no less than 150 square feet on a 3500 square foot lot – tiny. Chapter 42 and Chapter 9 are not harmonized; i.e., they contradict one another. Chapter 42 requires green space which increases as the lot sizes reduce until at 1400 square feet 600 square feet of green space is required, but there is no minimum lot size .

Very dense development makes sense in areas that have good mass transit because then people can do without a car, but multiple small shared driveway developments scattered throughout a neighborhood would be messy and would remove the trees and shade that redefine its character. That doesn’t matter to somebody who only wants to make money, but it does matter to the people who’ve searched for the perfect house for their family.

There’s a lot more to what Ed has to say, so go read the whole thing. Just as the changes from 1999 are being revisited now, the key to making this work as best as possible is to be willing to go back and make further tweaks and revisions as issues and problems arise. This is an ongoing concern, it’s not something you can do and be done with. If we see that something isn’t working the way we though it would, let’s not wait another 14 years to fix it.

How will Chapter 42 affect housing in Houston?

Yes, we’re still talking about Chapter 42, the local development and density code. One of the goals of revamping Chapter 42 is to make it easier and more attractive to build mid-range housing in the city limits. How do we hope that will work?

“We have housing for the working poor, we have a lot of high-end housing, and we’re rapidly redeveloping the inner core of the city of Houston for high-end, high-density housing. But the kind of house that I grew up in, the kind of house that many of the working men and women in this city want to own close to their jobs, is disappearing,” Mayor Annise Parker said. “If we can create more density, there is more opportunity for people to have the opportunity to buy a home – maybe a patio home, maybe a townhome, maybe a single-family home on a small tract – and live closer to their jobs.”

While the Houston region is booming, little of that growth is inside the city limits, a trend builders blame on their inability to build reasonably priced housing in the “doughnut” between Loop 610 and the unincorporated suburbs. The last rewrite of the ordinance in 1999 designated the Inner Loop “urban,” with 27 housing units allowed per acre, and areas outside “suburban,” with up to 16 units allowed. The proposed changes to the development code, known as Chapter 42, would extend the Inner Loop’s density citywide.

[…]

To produce workforce housing, land generally must cost between $5 and $10 per square foot, according to calculations provided by builders. Most areas outside Loop 610 but inside city limits have median land prices of less than $5 per square foot, according to Harris County Appraisal District data. But Jim Gaines of the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M questioned whether there is a market for housing in such areas. Land prices in many desirable neighborhoods outside the Loop exceed $20 or even $30 per square foot.

“You almost have to be surgical about it,” said David Hale, vice president of David Weekley Homes. “If it’s workforce housing, they can’t afford necessarily a $300,000 house, but with increased density can I get them in a $200,000 house?”

Hale has given a presentation to neighborhood groups about the proposal, using seven developments as examples. In all but one case, the average home price dropped from $400,000-plus under existing rules to $300,000 or more with greater density.

Other builders said greater density would produce townhomes in the $250,000 range.

Such prices may be out of reach for the “workforce,” however, which city housing department guidelines define as those earning 80 to 110 percent of the area median income.

Given that buyers with good credit can afford a home 3.3 to 3.5 times their annual income, Gaines said, workforce housing in Houston would be about $140,000 to $204,000 for a two- person household and about $157,400 to $229,500 for a three-person household.

“A little wishful thinking there, but maybe there are providers that know how to do that better than us,” said Will Holder of Trendmaker Homes, a high-end suburban builder.

[…]

Jane West of the Super Neighborhood Alliance is doubtful. Builders will use the new rules to redevelop older homes on the edges of desirable areas, she said, just as they did inside the Loop after the 1999 revisions.

“If you look at the empirical evidence from what has happened in the Inner Loop over the last 14 years of this type of development, this development displaced workforce housing,” West said. “It did not produce workforce housing.”

See here and here for recent updates. I definitely agree with the goal here, but Jane West makes a strong point about recent history. Maybe it will be different this time, but I’d like some better reassurance than that. And I will say again, there is cheap real estate in Houston, including some parts of town not at all far from downtown. I’ve talked about the Fifth Ward plenty, as noted there are some promising things happening there, but it’s not the only place with abundant empty spaces. The other day I got to visit Sugar Hill Studios, and let me tell you, once you get east of 288 on Old Spanish Trail, there’s a lot of vacant lots. Now, much of this would be commercial space if it were developed, and there’s a lot that needs to happen in areas like this to make it enticing to developers and potential residents, but it’s there, it’s a short hop to downtown via 288 or I-45, and I daresay it would meet that $5 to $10 per square foot requirement. What are we doing to make full and better use of the space we already have? That’s the question I keep coming back to, and it’s one we’re going to have to tackle sooner or later. Texas Leftist has more on Chapter 42.

Ready or not, here comes Chapter 42

Changes are coming to Chapter 42, the section of Houston’s ordinances that deal with density and development, and to Chapter 26, the section on off-street parking for bars and restaurants and what have you.

The revisions would allow neighborhoods to create special parking areas tailored to their needs, reduce parking requirements for historic buildings, allow the substitution of bike parking for car spaces, loosen rules on how close lots must be to a building’s front door, and make it easier for businesses to share parking.

Bar and restaurant owners would be most impacted by the new rules. Some eateries – dessert shops, carryout restaurants – would need less parking, but requirements on most restaurants would go from eight spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area to 10, with bars going from 10 to 14.

“We’re trying to redevelop our city, we’re trying to bring renewal and think over the next 10, 15, 20 years. Part of that is to build more walkability into our city,” said Councilman Ed Gonzalez. “I don’t want the parking requirements to be onerous for a small mom and pop shop. The focus should be on building more businesses in those communities, not building more parking lots just to meet, maybe, an arbitrary number that we’re coming up with.”

David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow, a nonprofit that works on quality of life issues, has quibbles with both proposed rewrites, but said his key concern is broader.

“We’re not having the right conversation,” he said. “Rather than do all these Band-Aids – and there’s so many of them going on and they often actually disagree with each other, they’re in conflict – why don’t we just do a general plan for the future in which you say, ‘This is how we want to develop and these are the goals we want to have, and so we’ll build transportation and so forth to meet those goals.'”

[…]

“If council fails to adopt these amendments, many areas between 610 and the Beltway will remain underdeveloped, blighted and abandoned, while development will rapidly continue inside the Loop and outside the city limits,” said builder Ed Taravella.

Some residents are wary, however, saying the push for density inside the Loop has hurt neighborhood aesthetics and created infrastructure problems, compounded by a lack of city enforcement. That would only worsen if development density extends citywide, they say.

The evidence from the 1999 changes to the ordinance is clear, said Jane West, president of Super Neighborhood 22 in the Washington Avenue area.

“Although it was hoped that this redevelopment would create transit-served pedestrian-friendly environment, in most cases that has not happened. And in many cases, problems such as flooding, inadequate drainage, traffic congestion, and lack of sufficient on-street parking have worsened,” she said. “There’s no reason to believe the expansion of Chapter 42 urban standards beyond Loop 610 will yield a different result.”

What I said about this the last time still holds true. There is a need to unify the development code and treat outside the Loop in the same fashion as inside the Loop, but the issues Jane West addresses are real. Ideally, what I want to see out of this is the encouraging of development in parts of town that really need redevelopment, greater emphasis on walkability, more investment in transit, and a sense of urgency about making life closer in more attractive and affordable. A lot to ask, I know, but we only do this every couple of decades, so let’s try to get it right.

Some of the concerns about revising Chapter 42 and the effect it would have on inner Loop neighborhoods can be addressed via increased enforcement, as Mayor Parker noted in the story. I would hope that this acknowledged need for increased enforcement can be addressed in the next budget, since I’m sure there aren’t enough inspectors and whoever else is needed to handle the current caseload, let alone the caseload that would result from the hoped-for boom in construction that updating Chapter 42 would bring. I feel this is even more true for Chapter 26, the off-street parking ordinances.

Heugel’s Anvil bar is just south of the Cherryhurst neighborhood, where June Spencer is civic club president. Heugel has been a good neighbor, she said, but other area bars and clubs and the popular Hugo’s restaurant, despite its on-site parking lot, have created parking problems.

“I have them parking all along the side of my house, the front of my house. They’re loud at night, they don’t even try to be considerate. They throw garbage,” Spencer said. “They shouldn’t give these people permits to open businesses unless they have the appropriate parking.”

While I have some sympathy for folks like Ms. Spencer, let’s be real here: We don’t own the street space in front of our homes. People are allowed to park there. This is a totally normal thing in most cities. Requiring more off-street parking, especially in inner neighborhoods, will result in more parking lots and fewer new establishments being opened. Neither of these are good things. People parking on the street and then walking to a nearby restaurant or bar are not a problem. People creating disturbances and littering are problems. That can and should be dealt with in a way that doesn’t necessitate restricting parking to a special, permitted few. Let’s please aim for that. While we’re at it, let’s also encourage alternatives to more car parking such as more bike parking. We just approved $100 million plus for expanded bike trails, let’s act like we plan to use them.

Finally, as I noted yesterday, you can give feedback on these and other proposed ordinance here. This affects all of us, so if you have something to say, please make sure you say it.

Council approves Washington Avenue parking benefit district

We’ll see how this works.

The Houston City Council on Wednesday formed a special parking district along Washington Avenue, intended to ease the woes associated with the bustling corridor’s mix of bars, restaurants and residential streets.

The plan will add parking meters on about 350 spaces along Washington, and will make it easier for residents to require parking permits on sleepy side streets. The district extends one block on either side of Washington between Westcott and Houston Avenue.

After paying for the meters, two parking enforcement officers and a meter mechanic, the new revenues will be split between the district and the city, with the district keeping 60 percent for enhancements. Projects will be chosen by a committee of local business owners and residents and could include security, lighting, sidewalks, shuttles or a parking garage.

Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, who, with Councilman Ed Gonzalez, represents the area, cheered the approval, saying it will spur turnover for businesses and protect residents. She said data from other cities shows the meters will add patrons, not drive them away.

“People that go out to restaurants and are prepared to spend a significant amount of money want to find a place to park,” Cohen said. “They’re certainly prepared to spend a little bit more to find a place and pay for it.”

See here for the background, and here for more information about what this means. Once the meters are in place, the clock will start on the 18-month pilot period, after which the program can be modified, renewed, or terminated. I think this is a perfectly reasonable response to the problem, certainly a better solution than just giving out residential parking permits, which would only exacerbate the shortage. I look forward to the announcement of the first improvement projects that result from the revenue that this will raise.

On the Parking Benefit District

A proposed ordinance to create a parking benefit district in the Washington Avenue corridor was on Council’s agenda this week, but it was tagged and will wait a week while everyone gets up to speed on it.

CM Ellen Cohen

District C Council member Ellen Cohen says the city has been working with business owners to come up with a plan to test having parking meters,not only better regulate the constant influx of traffic, but:

“To deal with the issues of parking, increased crime, of safety, and neighbors live several streets off, and they walk in the evenings to restaurants and other services there. It’s a great place, but we want to make sure that it works, and so we’re gonna give it an 18 month trial and see how it goes.”

Mayor Annise Parker says contrary to some belief, they’re not creating an entertainment district.

“We’re trying to create a tool, so we can better manage the intersection between the businesses and the neighborhoods, and the public that needs to travel these major thoroughfares. I do hope that taking some of the lessons learned from creation of this parking benefit district will have 18 months to prove itself. We are not trying to create a one-size-fits-all model of this is what a parking benefit district looks like.”

Jane West is president of the Washington Avenue Coalition. She says money generated from parking meters will go to things like more sidewalks, better lighting and overall improved safety.

“This is a rare example of where members of our residential community, our business community and our development community have come together in a consensus opinion, for a proposal before city council. We’re disappointed that is wasn’t vote on this week, but we anticipate a favorable vote next week.”

See here for some background. I think this is an idea that makes a lot of sense. It’s based on the simple principle that parking is a valuable commodity, and it seeks to leverage that commodity and invest the revenue it generates back into the district. If you’ve ever tried to walk along Washington Avenue, you know how badly the infrastructure there needs work. Anyway, courtesy of CM Cohen’s office, here are some documents to help familiarize yourself with this proposal:

The PBD FAQ and flyer, plus the full presentation put together by the city. Be sure to at least read this document.

The left and right halves of the map of the area in question.

We’ll see what Council does with this, but I fully expect it to pass. What do you think about the idea?

Still more on the Heights recycling center

You may recall that the city had proposed selling the neighborhood recycling center on Center Street to the Admiral Linen business next door, and that this move was opposed by residents in the area. The city is still considering this possibility, and the residents are still opposing it.

Harold Hayes, director of the city’s Solid Waste Department, said last week the department hasn’t shelved plans to sell the property at 3602 Center St. The city’s real estate division is searching for an alternate location for the recycling center, he said.

But residents in the area, who are organized as the Washington Avenue/Memorial Park Super Neighborhood Council, oppose the idea. The coalition’s president, Jane Cahill West, characterized the idea as “a fire sale” and a “sweetheart deal,” and said selling the Inner Loop property would be like selling the “crown jewels.”

[…]

City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who represents the area, said Mayor Bill White intends to pursue the offer from Admiral Linen. He said he will host community meetings in the coming weeks to discuss the issue.

“It hasn’t been resolved where to relocate. I think that needs to be worked out. Should we sell the property, number one, and number two is, what’s the timetable to have an alternative plan? That’s where it is right now,” Gonzalez said.

[…]

Members of the Super Neighborhood coalition think the city should keep the Center Street property, lease part of it to Admiral Linen, then use the proceeds to develop a parking garage on the site which could help solve parking problems associated with the growing entertainment scene just blocks away on Washington Avenue, West said.

“Selling that property will be to the detriment of our community and to the city at large,” West said. “There’s not enough land in the Inner Loop as it is for the city to provide services we need.”

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the idea of selling this location, if there’s a good alternate location in hand and the city gets a good price for it. But there isn’t an identified alternative yet, and West is correct that this isn’t such a good time to be selling prime property like that. Surely the city would fetch a much better price for the place in another year or so, by which time there may be a viable alternative that folks can live with. In the meantime, I think it’s worth exploring the option the Super Neighborhood folks have proposed, which might just give everyone at least some of what they want.