Friday, September 17, 2010

So Here's What Happened on Wednesday At The Mayor's Office ...

On Wednesday, we were received by Mayor Parker, Councilman Gonzalez, Mr. Andy Icken, and Mr. Adam Harris.

We presented our Development Recommendations to the city, along with the complete list of Community Feedback that was received by emails, and collected by us in person at Civic group meetings and at gatherings.

We had some back and forth discussion, some clarifications of points etc.  We clearly stated to the city that we want a development to happen.  We also clearly stated that there were concerns that could be helped if they were tied into the 380.  A few minutes in, we simply asked kind of a general question, 'Assuming that we were able to come to an agreement on items for the community, how much of this could be tied into the 380?'

My personal impression of the discussion that followed was that it was going to be difficult to get changes made.  Mr. Icken clarified that they had already chosen to update the drainage requirement and not simply 'grandfather' the old site's requirements after conversations with Kevin Shanley of the Bayou Preservation Association, so there's a bit of a win.

So, we started going down the list, looking at how the city could discuss with the developer to bring in some more elements of mixed use urbanism.  If something like this changes, then its a win, as it gets the development away from strip center type design as it is now.  We talked about the possibility of creating 'architectural walls' by placing the parking behind the businesses on the Koehler side, and certainly on the Heights Blvd portion of the development.  An example of this would be to incorporate some of the elements in this drawing, courtesy of SWA Group:

We had a good exchange about a higher utilization of the site, and provided Andrew Burleson's example of a very high utilization of the site.  

The purpose of this is not to propose apartments, etc, but to show just about how much can be put on that site if the developer was choosing to limit a big box design, and if the city was truly trying to maximize its potential return.  

The idea behind this is, if there's going to be an investment in the public good (the 380), make sure its the highest and best use of such an incentive to maximize all sorts of tax returns; sales, property, you name it.  A suburban big box with a giganormous parking lot just isn't. 

We then talked about some of the LID recommendations, and this is good stuff.  We then presented the Mckinney, TX Walmart, which Mr. Icken seemed extremely interested in.  The idea behind the McKinney WM is that they've tried to create the most eco friendly Big Box store on the face of the planet, and its a national case study.  We're Houston, the energy capital of the universe, so something like that belongs here, especially considering the new Houston Green movement.  

Mayor Parker was very interested in the infrastructure concerns, so we moved onto that list next.  Here's the list that I'm talking about: 

• Widened sidewalks, with Oak or Sycamore shade-bearing street trees of 4” or
greater caliper, surrounding and connecting the development to all West End
neighborhood streets and to all existing pedestrian/bike trails.
• Upgrade all West End streets by widening (where appropriate) and installing
curbs and gutters.
• Extend East & West from Yale/Heights Boulevard to Shepherd & Durham Drive
o Nolda (Chester/Smith Addressed with I-10 Feeder)
o Marina/Inker
o Spencer
o Eigel
o Koehler/Maxie
o Eli
o Schuler
o Allen St
• Extending North and South from I-10 to the Railroad tracks/Crossing
o Bonner Street
o Thompson St.
o Patterson St
o Fowler
o Parker
• Hide or otherwise bury power lines.
o Suggest: aerial utility lines – to include phone + cable.
• Bass Street Considerations:
o No truck entrance.
o No divided median at the entrance to the development. Homeowners
and emergency response vehicles must retain access approaching from
either North, or South.
o Alternate: No Access from Bass Street. No Connection to the Feeder Road.
o Bass Street should not be ‘encouraged’ as an entrance to the north of the
• Consider refurbishing/utilizing old Rail Road Bridge north of Koehler/West of
Yale as new pedestrian walk/bike trail to encourage connection to ‘Heights
Bike Trail’.
o TxDOT does plan to remove some of this structure (either the concrete or
wood portion) as part of the current frontage road and bridge project. The
380 would be taking out what TxDOT leaves

Mr. Icken asked about making the roads in the West End one way as a way to mitigate traffic.  We all agreed this would be a difficult process that would need to include the West End Civic Club in the decision making, as it would most impact the residents there.  

I strongly expressed, however, that regardless, there would be a pickup in the amount of traffic, and that all streets would need to be addressed.  As most streets in the West End are roughly between 18'-25', an extra 2' of paving, curbs, and parking only one one side of the street would help to alleviate.  The city seemed to accept this as a reasonable approach. 

At about this time, Mayor Parker had to leave; she had sat with us for roughly 45 minutes (our meeting was only scheduled to be 30).  Mr. Icken, CM Gonzalez, and Mr. Harris sat with us for another hour or so, and we continued to discuss, nearly point by point, the infrastructure list, and community impact concerns. 

The biggest points that we asked for were:
-Traffic mitigation solutions
-Limiting the operating hours of the store (Austin did it, why can't we?)
-Limiting the size/scale of the store (Austin also did it, why can't we?)

Mr. Harris extended a compliment at the level of organization that RUDH has taken on.  Mr. Icken asked for a couple of days to get back to us with some details.   At the end, I again asked how much of this could be tied into the 380; that would give teeth to the proposal, and guarantee that the public benefit would be served.  Mr. Icken responded that it would be something that Mayor Parker would have to decide. 

As of this afternoon (Friday), Councilman Gonzalez said that Mr. Icken's team was working on an update.  Its a bit after 5 as I finish this up, and I don't have anything just yet.  I wrote Mr. Harris, and Mr. Icken respectively, both yesterday and today, and have not had a response. 

I guess we're about to find out if the City really is willing to listen and try to serve the people.  At the very least, by the time we show up at Council on Tuesday, we'll have some answers as to how this is going to really go down next week. 

We've answered the Mayor's request.  We've provided thorough, supported recommendations, and collected community input.  The volunteers working with RUDH have put in countless hours at this point in not only bringing this to the public's attention, but in doing our best to truly advocate in support of a Responsible Development. 

Today, I sent a letter to all of the council members, as well as Mr Ainbinder and Mr. Duckworth with all of our recommendations and considerations.  No answers there either.  I also followed up with a call to all Council Members, without any returns (except for CM Gonzalez). 

The weekend is here now, and we've put it all out there ... Its their move now ... 

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