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White Oak

Moving out of Fitzgerald’s

Big music news in Houston.

The successful concert promotion group behind Houston’s Free Press Summer Festival has secured land just north of downtown Houston to build a three-stage music venue complex with two indoor stages and an outdoor stage.

Pegstar Concerts head Jagi Katial said Monday the project has been two years in gestation. Plans for the development at 2915 N. Main and North Street were leaked onto Houston’s Reddit outpost Saturday afternoon in part from a resident who attended a meeting about the development, which lead to Katial wanting to clear the air on some details that were bandied about.

This new venue would call for Pegstar to leave its current digs at Fitzgerald’s music venue on White Oak Boulevard, and set up shop at the new site five minutes away. This new complex as of now does not have a name, Katial says. He predicts that the doors could be open by late 2015.

“It’s very much a work still in progress,” Katial says, surveying the grounds late Monday afternoon. As of now there is nothing on the property aside from a real estate sign, trees and a concrete slab. A group of tight-knit investors has been working on the nuts and bolts for some time, he said.

The property backs up to what is called Little White Oak Bayou. Katial says engineers have said that flooding should not be an issue. It’s located just a few blocks from Metro’s North rail line, which could make it easier for concert-goers to commute to the venue.

There are a handful of vacant homes on the western end of the property which will be converted into other things, like parking, farmer’s markets and storage. He wants to get Houstonians acquainted with the area when they aren’t there for a show.

Sarah Fitzgerald, who has owned the Fitzgerald’s venue since 1977, said Monday that Pegstar’s lease is up in September 2015.

Pegstar has leased it from her since September 2010, when they remodeled the venue and began booking live music and comedy on the two stages, downstairs and upstairs, most nights of the week. The revitalization of the building has been a boon for development on White Oak Boulevard, which now has a number of bars and restaurants that are full almost every night.

“This is a bittersweet thing for me, straight up, because I love Fitzgerald’s and the idea of me being a concert producer was forged at that venue years ago,” says Katial. “I’ve seen some of the best shows that I will ever see there.”

Swamplot has a view of the new location plus some design illustrations. Fitzgerald’s, which is walking distance from my house, is an institution in Houston. I have no idea what will happen to the space after the current tenants leave. The owner could make a fortune if she sold the place to developers, but I kind of hope she doesn’t. There’s not many places like it left in Houston, and I’d hope the music scene is big enough here to accommodate both Fitzgerald’s and the new place. As for the new place, it sounds really interesting, and I love that it will be near the North Line. I’m looking forward to seeing what Pegstar does with it. See this Chron gallery of 1980’s photos at Fitz’s for more.

First Sunday Streets seemed like a success

The weather was kinda lousy but there were plenty of people out on White Oak Street on Sunday.

The city of Houston closed a 2.5 mile stretch of Quitman and White Oak to motor vehicles for four hours on Sunday, encouraging Houstonians to play in the street and explore their neighborhoods pushing strollers or riding bikes.

It was the first closure in the Sunday Streets HTX pilot program, which will close stretches of major thoroughfares the first Sunday of every month. The “open streets” concept started in Bogota, Colombia, more than 30 years ago and has become more popular in American cities in recent years.

Free DJs, Zumba classes, sidewalk chalk art, booths with information on community groups and a farmers market lined the route. But unlike a street festival, the options were spread out and, for the most part, offered by neighborhood businesses rather than vendors who had set up a temporary shop.

One of the core goals, after all, is to get people moving and to see their own communities in a new way, said Laura Spanjian, the city’s director of sustainability.

“We want people to get out and exercise and bike and walk and skate, and really enjoy the open space,” Spanjian said, standing in the middle of White Oak Drive near Houston Avenue.

She smiled as a father rode past on a bicycle with his giggling son, dressed in a Batman costume, balanced on his knee.

“It’s also to have people enjoy the street in a way they aren’t able to most of the time, to see things they might not get to see because they’re driving by in their cars,” Spanjian said.

See here for the background, and the Houston Press for a photo slideshow of the event. We walked over to White Oak and had lunch at Christian’s Tailgate, and it was a fun thing to do on a dreary and wet Sunday. There was a decent amount of people out and about given the rain, but it’s hard to say what the crowd might have been like if the weather had been better. I don’t know what the city was expecting or hoping for. It’s a neat idea and we’ll try at least one if not both of the next ones, on Westheimer May 4 and on Washington June 1. I would be interested to hear some numbers after these events, especially if Mother Nature does her part. If you were there on White Oak on Sunday, what did you think?

Street closings ahead

This ought to be interesting.

Three busy Houston streets will shut down to vehicular traffic on selected Sunday afternoons in an effort to see if car-bound residents will walk, bike and explore each block rather than simply drive through.

The program, called Open Streets, originated in Bogota, Colombia, more than 30 years ago and has been spreading fast across the United States in the past decade. The idea is to close streets to cars and open them to cyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians – anybody using their own brawn to move. So, no horses.

“You can bring your jump rope and you can bring your Hula Hoop,” said Regina Garcia, president of Bike Houston.

The pilot program announced Wednesday will begin April 6, when 2.5 miles of two connected streets, White Oak and Quitman, will be closed to automotive traffic between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. In May, a mile-long stretch of Westheimer in the Montrose area will be closed to vehicles. Two miles of Washington Avenue ending at Market Square Park downtown will be closed in June.

Officials said the project would encourage residents to exercise and explore Houston’s neighborhoods.

“It is a way to acquaint ourselves with what is around those streets in a way we don’t normally experience it going by car,” Mayor Annise Parker said.

In St. Louis, where the street closings have been popular, the city found nearly three-quarters of attendees spent money along the route.

[…]

Many businesses pushed for the closings, hoping to generate interest in the neighborhood around them, said Travis Adair, owner of Lucky’s, a bar along the White Oak closure route who worked with the city on the plan.

Though cars will be off-limits in the parking lot of his bar, Adair said he’s planning to have plenty of bike racks and other attractions to draw customers, including possibly a band.

See here for the Mayor’s press release and here for the Sunday Streets HTX webpage. Any time you try to do something that involves the people of Houston traveling by means other than a car, there’s going to be skepticism. I have no idea what to expect from this – I wonder what metrics the city has in mind to determine if this is a success or not – but White Oak is close to where we live, so I’m sure we’ll wander over and check it out. What do you think about this?

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.

Another reason why bike parking matters

This comment of the day on Swamplot points out a salient fact about bike parking.

In all honesty, I only ride my bike for fun with the family on the weekends. However, after a couple of very frustrating attempts to park around White Oak to go out to dinner, I recently rode my bike down there with the family for dinner at BBs. While there is a dearth of bike racks, it was so easy to just hop on the bike path, lock up the bikes and go to dinner than weaving in and out of parking lots and side streets trying to find a space for parking. And that is why cycling will eventually become an essential for Houston. We are piling people inside the loop at an unprecedented rate. There is not enough parking in a number of hot spots (Montrose, White Oak, Washington Ave, etc.). People now live close enough to ride their bikes to go out to eat in these areas but don’t because bike amenities are woefully lacking. Or, to put it another way, if you love your car, you should support cycling so there are more parking spaces available for you.

Public House on White Oak

That comment was left on this post. Like this person, my preferred way of getting to White Oak establishments is by bike. I live close enough that driving there should be the exception, but I totally agree about the convenience of bike parking versus the hassle of car parking. The point, though, is that for places on White Oak and Washington and other high-traffic/crowded parking areas, there are basically two types of people: Those that can get there by means other than cars, and those that can’t. It’s very much in the interest of those who have to drive and park to make it as easy and convenient as possible for those that don’t have to drive so that as many of them as possible choose not to. Every one of them who chooses to walk or bike is one less car taking up a parking place, after all. The same is true for places like the Medical Center and midtown, where everyone who arrives via light rail is one less person competing with you for a parking place. The people who have to drive to these places should be the most vocal supporters of pedestrian, bicycle, and transit access to them, and the steady progress of rail line construction should should be taken as especially excellent news. It’s for their own good even if they never use those arrival methods themselves.

Along those same lines, the arrival of more bike share kiosks is as good a thing for the drivers as it is for everyone else.

With the opening of the Ensemble stop and the additional bikes, riders can for the first time check out or return a bike to a station outside the central business district. Previously only three locations — City Hall, Market Square Park and the George R. Brown Convention Center — featured a B-cycle kiosk.

According to a map on the Houston B-cycle website, a station at the Houston Zoo is coming soon.

Hair Balls has more on this. The point I’m trying to get at here is that being an occasional bicyclist is a good thing in and of itself. It’s good for you, and it’s good for the people who are driving to the places you are biking. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing. Along those lines, if you look at those two Swamplot posts above, you’ll see the inevitable comments from those who claim it’s too hot in Houston to ride bikes. Well, it’s not too hot right now. In fact, it’s not too hot about nine months out of the year. Personally, I find that even when it is hot out, the nice thing about riding a bike is the cool breeze you get while riding, and at no time were you sweltering in a car that had been left out in the sun. I would also note that one of the most successful B-Cycle cities in America is Minneapolis, and their winters are at least as long and unfriendly to biking as our summers are. But so what? Like I said, this isn’t all or nothing. Bike when the weather is agreeable to you. It’s all good.

More on Ashby Heights

That’s not this project‘s name, but it’s how I think of it.

Canadian developers of a condominium project on a wooded 1.4-acre plot near the Heights Bike Trail and White Oak Bayou late have dropped their request for a variance to develop the site – thereby allowing the city of Houston far less control over their revised plans.

Suzy Hartgrove, spokeswoman for Houston’s planning & development department, confirmed to The Leader that The Viewpoint at The Heights, L.P., altered its plans for “Emes Place” and will now construct a public street over a bridge and install a cul de sac. Earlier plans had called for a private street that would have required a variance and allowed the Planning & Zoning Commission some latitude in approving the project.

Now, said Hartgrove, if the plans meet minimum standards of Chapter 42 of the city’s Code of Ordinances, the commission will have no choice legally but to approve it.

While the initial plans for the property, which borders the hike-and-bike trail and Fifth Street, were for 84 condo units, Hartgrove said the new plans have not specified the density.

City staff was reviewing the new plans to make a recommendation to the Planning Commission, and Hartgrove said she expected it to be on the agenda on Thursday of this week.

See here for the background. I have heard that folks in the neighborhood are pushing for the Planning Department to defer this decision for a month to investigate the developer’s claims about meeting Chapter 42 standards. I think that’s a fine idea, because there’s no other mechanism to put a check on this unloved project if one is needed. Surely it’s part of the process for the city to verify claims about meeting code standards, right? It’s on you now, Planning Department.

On a tangential note, in the event this thing does eventually get built, I have to wonder about the type of person who would want to buy a unit in it. As with the Ashby Highrise, any cursory research on a buyer’s part would make them realize that the vast majority of their new neighbors-to-be despise the building they’re about to move into, and probably will not have very warm feelings towards them as well, at least at first. Maybe it’s just me, but I would feel like that’s a significant negative, more than enough to make me consider other options. These are nice neighborhoods, but they’re not the only nice neighborhoods, and if you can afford a condo in either of these developments, you definitely have other possibilities available to you. What do you think?

UPDATE: Via CM Ellen Cohen’s office, this is what the Planning Department has said regarding Emes Place:

Inner Loop has now revised their plans in order to comply with Chapter 42 of the City’s Code of Ordinances, which governs this type of development. PD has determined that their application now meets the minimum requirements for Planning Commission approval, and the Commission is required by law to approve a subdivision plat application that meets these minimum requirements. This item will be considered by the Commission for a final vote this afternoon and, due to deadlines established by state law, cannot be deferred until a later date.

However, the subdivision plat is only the first step in the development process and any development moving forward must still meet all applicable City requirements. For instance, plans for the street build-out must meet the Public Works and Engineering (PWE) Department’s Infrastructure and Design Manual criteria. No plans for the street have yet been submitted, and when they are, PWE will evaluate to determine if the criteria are met (it is not in the Planning Commission’s purview to determine whether those standards are met.) This will give the City another opportunity to examine whether the developer meets the necessary requirements.

Additionally, the indication on the submitted plat of “future right of way” is being removed. No such right of way has been dedicated, and the City has no intention of buying or condemning any right of way for a private project.

So there you have it.

Ashby Heights

Here’s the next frontier in unwanted development.

A residential development proposal that’s been on and off in the Heights since 2004 is back on, reviving neighborhood opposition to the project and catching the attention of the mayor.

Canadian developer Group LSR is requesting a multi-part variance that, if approved, would allow it to move forward on a building with as many as 84 units along the hike and bike trail. The site is at the east end of E. 5th Street, which dead ends just after it intersects with Oxford.

On Thursday, the planning commission, which votes on such issues, is expected to delay taking action on the variance for two weeks so it can have more time to consider the details.

When the developer first bought the land for the project in 2004, neighbors launched a grass-roots campaign hoping to stop the project. They said it would cause traffic, flooding and safety problems as well as threaten the urban bird and wildlife habitat. They set up a website and signed petitions.

This time around, the neighborhood has been working quickly to fight back, placing protest signs in their yards and making calls to City Hall.

The Heights Life has the details on the current fight against this development, which I have written about before. The photos in that first post have been archived; sorry about that. The main difference between this and Ashby is that this development can’t happen without variances, which Mayor Parker doesn’t seem inclined to support. One of the variances involves building a bridge from where 5th Street dead-ends at Oxford to where the condos would be. The full Chron story has a few more details.

One of the reasons for the request is that the developer owns only 35 feet of frontage along East 5th. Typically, 60 feet of frontage is required, though variances have been granted with far less than even 35 feet of space, according to the city’s Planning & Development Department.

[…]

The developer has considered other options, like accessing its site through Frasier Street, which connects to White Oak. But the city had concerns over that plan.

“We think the conditions of Frasier have changed,” said Suzy Hartgrove, planning department spokeswoman.

Hartgrove was referring to the explosive growth in new bars and restaurants that has occurred along White Oak.

Traffic there and along intersecting residential streets already has increased considerably, creating tension between homeowners and businesses.

Yes, traffic on White Oak was a concern when this project, whose name has apparently changed from Viewpoint In The Heights to Emes Place, was first proposed. Needless to say, with White Oak having since transformed into Washington Avenue North, that concern is even greater now. Frasier Street remains too narrow to handle any consistent traffic load. And then there’s the very popular Heights Bike Trail, which passes right by the proposed bridge location at 5th and Oxford. There’s a lot to be concerned about here. We’ll see what the planning commission has to say, but until then send some email and let your voice be heard.

Petition for safer walking and biking

From Marty Hajovsky:

Stephanie Riceman with the Heights Kids Group, a 900-strong (at least) group of families in and around the greater Houston Heights, has put together an interesting online petition that says as much about how many new families there are in the Heights as it does about the need to make streets safer for bike riders and  pedestrians.

The petition, entitled Safe Walking and Biking in The Heights, is aimed at Houston Mayor Annise Parker and District C Houston City Council Member Ellen Cohen and hopes to gather momentum to have intersections more safely managed throughout the neighborhood.  Here’s the very well-crafted preamble to the petition:

The Heights neighborhood is known for its small-town feel close to the heart of Houston. This community has cherished its tree-lined streets and preservation of walking and biking trails. These amenities sustain relationships among neighbors, make it easy to walk, jog, and bike to local businesses, or simply exercise.

Urban density is rising and a recent investment in roadway repaving has resulted in a greater volume of commuter traffic traversing our neighborhood at alarming speeds. In 2011, a young mother and wife was killed on our neighborhood’s walking trail while out for a jog because the signalized intersection at 11th Street and Heights Boulevard had not been properly managed for active pedestrian use.

Safety and mobility are a priority for our historic neighborhood. Heights residents want safe crossings for all pedestrians: fitness enthusiasts, dog walkers, parents with infants in strollers, children on bikes, senior citizens and others with mobility challenges that require greater consideration.

It is time for the City of Houston to invest in traffic management measures that provide for pedestrian, not just vehicular, movement and put the safety of our residents first.

And here’s the text to which organizers are asking people to affix their names:

We, the undersigned, call on the Mayor and Council for the City of Houston to perform these traffic calming measures:

1.    Installation of Pedestrian-Operated Signalized Crossings {Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon (PHB), HAWK System or equivalent} where the Bike Trail intersects with 11th, Yale and White Oak Streets.

2.    Implementation of a Barnes Dance (Pedestrian Scramble) intersection management plan at 11th Street and Heights Boulevard to ensure that no cars enter and idle in the four-lane boulevard and allow for the safe passage of pedestrians.

3.    Installation of a Pedestrian-Operated Signalized Crossing at Studewood and Bayland Streets.

We furthermore ask the City of Houston to make these pedestrian safety installations a priority to ensure the protection of our children and all pedestrians.

As someone who frequently crosses with his kids on bikes at the Nicholson/SP Bike Trail, I am proud to say that I have signed this petition and hope you all consider to so at well.   Crossing West 11th as an adult pedestrian at any point can be scary enough, but doing it with my kids, who are 12 and 15 and thus somewhat older, is downright terrifying.  If I imagine that my kids are younger and on bikes, I start to get extremely nervous at the mere thought.

I’ve signed it as well. Marty also plumps for a signal on 19th at the bike trail. I’d ask for the addition of a protected left turn from White Oak onto Studewood as well, as was finally done at West Dallas and Studemont. A side effect of the boom on White Oak has been the increasing difficulty of making that turn onto Studewood, even in the morning. There’s a lot of pedestrian traffic at this intersection now as well, as many people have to park east of Studewood to get to Fitzgerald’s or wherever, and having that would help. If you live or play in the area, please sign the petition as well. Thanks very much.

Eating good in the neighborhood

The Chron rounds up a bunch of restuarant openings and soon-to-be-openings in and near the Heights; they hedge this a bit by declaring the area of study “Super Heights, which includes the Washington corridor and its fringes, where owners are self-identifying as a ‘Heights-area’ business”. The comments are entertaining to read as well – it’s one part complaining about what actually constitutes “the Heights”, one part complaining about places that didn’t get mentioned, including a couple on White Oak, and one part complaining about the types of cuisine on offer. We do like to complain, don’t we? Anyway, I agree with Marty Hajovsky that while there have always been decent places to eat around here, there’s a lot more now. Check ’em out.

Washington Avenue lite

That’s what someone thinks White Oak Drive is becoming.

Is White Oak Drive becoming a cozier, more walkable version of nearby Washington Avenue as a restaurant-entertainment hub?

One local real estate agent thinks so.

White Oak is more concentrated with restaurants and bars in a much smaller area, said Jeff Trevino, a local commercial real estate agent who has done work on both streets.

Washington is three miles long and the restaurants and bars are spread out, he said. By comparison, White Oak is about a mile long, and many of the restaurants are popping up along a quarter-mile stretch between Studemont and Oxford.

BB’s Cajun Cafe recently announced it will open a new location on White Oak at Studemont.

Tacos A Go Go, D’Amico’s Italian Market, and Christian’s Tailgate are also planning to open soon there.

Already on White Oak are Onion Creek, a cafe and bar; Fitzgerald’s nightclub; Jimmy’s Ice House and Beer Island.

Most of the new restaurants are in old buildings, Trevino noted, which gives the area charm. A greater percentage of bars and restaurants along Washington are in new strip centers, he said.

It’s a little hard for me to judge the comparison, since none of these places are open yet. I’ll say this much – I have no idea where all of the patrons of these future eateries are going to park. The properties that are being rehabbed for the new venues didn’t have much parking space on them, and street parking is already at a premium thanks to Onion Creek. And if you look at a map of the area, there’s not much available on other streets nearby for the Studewood to Oxford area. If the Washington Wave were to extend service to White Oak would help some, but I don’t know how much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted to have all these places opening up so close to where I live, I’m just wondering how they’re going to deal with that.

More on Lonnie Allsbrooks

Lonnie Allsbrooks, the most recent entrant in the race for City Council At Large #1, sent a missive to Swamplot about problems he’s had trying to open a second establishment with a beer and wine license. It’s not easily excerpted, so just go read it for yourself. Two things I have to say:

1. What I know about the Heights being dry is that it’s because the formerly independent city that once was the Heights was dry, and that its annexation by Houston didn’t change that. As far as I know, an election would need to take place to overturn that. I remember seeing a map once that showed the dry/not dry boundaries, but I don’t recall where I saw it. If anyone can shed a little light on that, I’d really appreciate it.

2. The race for At Large #1 is now officially more fun than it was before. Read the Swamplot post and you’ll understand.

UPDATE: An email to Whitmarsh’s list reminds me that Beer Island had a Tommy Thomas sign on it last year. That wasn’t exactly in touch with area sentiment.

Another contender for At Large #1

The following press release hit my Inbox today:

Lonnie Allsbrooks announced his intent to become candidate for At-Large Position 1 for the City of Houston.

Lonnie Allsbrooks, a successful small business owner from the Heights, has decided to run for the City of Houston At large Position 1. As a resident of Houston for the past 38 years, Lonnie Allsbrooks has come to value and appreciate this community, but has realized there is the potential for growth and change.

Lonnie stated, “The reason I am running for this position is to give the people of Houston a representative that is fair, honest, and genuinely willing to take the time to listen to the needs of the citizens of this community. I am that person.”

Lonnie Allsbrooks currently resides in the Heights where he owns and operates his small business, Beer Island. He is also in the process of opening a small café in the Heights called The Trail Mix. After the encouragement and support from other small business owners, Lonnie is excited about his decision to run for city council and the possibility of making a difference in the Houston community.

Beer Island, for those not familiar with it, is on the southeast corner of Studewood and White Oak, catty-corner from Fitzgerald’s. I attended a meeting of the Woodland Heights Civic Association a couple of years back after Beer Island and its across-Studewood neighbor the Sixth Street Bar and Grill opened at which the topic of discussion was the loud live music being played at those locations. I live about six blocks away, and there was one night I recall where I could sing along with the band from my front porch. The meeting was a bit contentious, but in the end everything appears to have been worked out – at least, I’m not aware of any current complaints, and I’ve not heard any more music from either of those location. That’s all I know about Lonnie Allsbrooks, who joins a field that includes Herman Litt, Steve Costello, and fellow Heights resident Karen Derr.

The Freeland Historic District

I drive down White Oak every day to take the girls to preschool, so I’ve been going past a bunch of houses that have signs with “save our bungalow” messages on them, but I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. Now I know.

Jack Preston Wood isn’t sure now if his dream home is compatible with the property he made an offer on last year near the Houston Heights.

What Wood didn’t know when he entered a contract to buy the 1929 bungalow at 536 Granberry was that it is located in the recently designated Freeland Historic District.

The small neighborhood off White Oak Drive was platted by some of the developers of what is now the Heights Historic District. But what makes it unique in the city of Houston is that Freeland’s original bungalow-style homes are virtually intact; only two of the original 37 have been lost.

Residents in the neighborhood are fighting to keep it that way. When word got out that Wood, a residential designer, wanted to tear down the bungalow, subdivide the lot and build two, four-story homes, neighbors organized a campaign to stop it.

The group spoke against the plans when they reached the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission in March, put out “save our district” signs and have since staged weekly protests at the corner of Granberry and White Oak Drive.

Even though city laws won’t stop the redevelopment, Wood said there’s no way he’ll go through with those plans after speaking with some of the neighbors. But if they aren’t amenable to something different, something he would consider compatible with the existing homes, then he may pull out of the deal altogether.

“If we can’t find a way to get our dream to fit in there, then we won’t close,” Wood said.

Which, judging by the comments at Hair Balls and Swamplot, would clearly suit the remaining residents just fine. I just want to add a couple of points to the discussion.

One, in all of these homeowners-versus-developers stories, there are always a few people who advocate the position that folks like Jack Preston Wood should be free to do whatever they want with their property. The point I would make is that even in no-zoning Houston, we do have limits. It would be illegal for him to build, say, a strip club or a chemical plant there. Plenty of commercial projects get blocked or need to be drastically altered because of numerous regulations covering such mundane things as the number of available parking spaces. It’s residential development that’s far looser, and that’s where these battles often erupt. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to believe there ought to be more restrictions on residential development, in a similar fashion to commercial development.

Second, the character of a neighborhood like the Freeland District has value to its residents. By tearing down a house that fits in with the neighborhood and replacing it with something completely different, some of that value is lost to the other residents. Again, those who would defend the developers in these scenarios often talk about their right to maximize the value of their properties. But how do you compensate those who believe their own values get diminished by that?

Finally, the Freeland Historic District (PDF) abuts the site of the long-controversial Viewpoint development – Granberry, and Frasier one block to its west, both terminate at the north end of the land where Viewpoint would be built, if it ever is. As such, I can’t really blame the folks who live there if they feel like they’re under siege.