Saturday, July 31, 2010

SN 22 and the Walmart People

SN 22 president Jane Cahill West and VP Tom Dornbusch met with Walmart Reps this past Friday. Here's the report from Jane and Tom:

Memo To:​CM Edward Gonzalez (and staff); SN 22 Council Members and Community
From:​Jane West and Tom Dornbusch​
Date:​July 31, 2010
RE:​Initial meeting between SN22 Council and Regional Representatives of Walmart held on July 30, 2010, from 7:30-8:30 a.m.

Meeting participants:​
SN22 Council:​ ​ Walmart:
​President – Jane West ​Kellie Duhr — Public Affairs and Governmental Relations
​VP – Tom Dornbusch​​Jerry Peacock — Regional Manager
​Christina Cabral—Neighborhood Markets District Manager

Meeting Summary:
West and Dornbusch opened the meeting by summarizing the history of civic activity in the area, the urbanization and densification of the Washington Avenue Corridor as evidenced by recent residential and commercial construction and the emergence of a growing “entertainment district.” They also described the community vision for future development as evidenced by SN 22's past and present planning efforts including SN 22's Proposed Master Plan for Transportation.

Walmart representatives stated that the proposed store will include a complete grocery that will offer organic produce and products. They stated that the proposed store will not include a gas station and/or a tire/lube shop, and that the site plan leaked to the media did not correctly convey Walmart’s concept for the site because that concept has not yet been fully developed. They explained that Walmart’s concept could not be developed before the property was under contract. They acknowledged that Walmart has contracted to purchase the property from Ainbinder Company.

Discussion focused on the site plan and form of the proposed development.

West and Dornbusch expressed hope that the project would be planned with sensitivity to the urban context and the White Oak Bayou watershed. They conveyed preferences for pedestrian access from streets and sidewalks instead of from a large surface parking lot, for structured instead of surface parking, and for use of low impact development techniques aimed at mitigating threats to area neighborhoods posed by stormwater runoff (e.g. permeable paving, detention, and filtration). West shared a site plan prepared by former CM Peter Brown that extends the existing local street grid into the site to create both a neighborhood-accessible, pedestrian-friendly approach to the proposed Walmart, and opportunities for outlying stores to face sidewalks instead of parking lots.

Walmart representatives acknowledged the need for context- sensitive plans that would address, inter alia, expected changes in traffic patterns and stormwater runoff. Duhr explained that Walmart is an evolving company that is committed to environmental sustainability through use of design features such as outdoor lighting intended to reduce light pollution, and natural lighting for the store’s interior. She also explained that Walmart has in-store recycling and has “greened” their retail model by requiring suppliers to reduce their use of packaging materials.

Walmart representatives requested a copy of Mr. Brown’s site plan to pass on to their architectural team, which West agreed to provide to them electronically.

All participants acknowledged that Walmart’s proposal to locate a store on the Yale Street site presents an opportunity for Walmart to introduce a new urban prototype that reinforces and advances Walmart’s stated commitment to environmental sustainability. All participants also acknowledged that some of the site-related decisions will be determined by the developer, i.e., Ainbinder Company, because Walmart is only contracting to purchase a portion of the site. All participants agreed that future discussions of site-related issues should include Ainbinder Company.

Next Steps:
All the participants recognized that many other community residents would like to meet with Walmart representatives to discuss the plans for the proposed Yale Street store.

West and Dornbusch suggested that Walmart representatives consider agreeing to participate in a public meeting at which community members could be invited to make suggestions for how the proposed Walmart could be designed to benefit area residents and mitigate their concerns about the proposed store. West and Dornbusch explained that such a meeting could be moderated by a facilitator who could record community suggestions on flip charts so that Walmart representatives could subsequently share the community’s suggestions and concerns with their design team. They suggested that once Walmart finalizes development plans for the site, Walmart could present those plans to the community at a second public meeting. The first such meeting could be held as soon as August 9, 2010, in lieu of SN 22's next regularly scheduled meeting.

Walmart representatives stated that they are committed not only to meeting with the community, but also to working cooperatively and collaboratively with the community on this project as it moves forward. They also agreed that a public meeting such as that described above could be beneficial, but expressed concern that due to prior commitments August 9th might not be a convenient date.

All the participants expressed appreciation for the meeting, and agreed to stay in touch and to work with CM Gonzalez and his staff towards selecting a date, time, and place for a public meeting that will be convenient for as many participants as possible.
Page of 2

\Summary of 7-30-2010 meeting between SN 22 and Walmart​

Friday, July 30, 2010

Replat, Variance, Replat ...

Yale = 70' Wide
Koehler = 60' Wide
Bonner = 50' Wide

Recieved full details of the Variances and Replats request coming in ahead of the August 5, 2010 Meeting today.  Here's the site plan:

And Here's the Koehler Street Variance Overhead, showing the future connection of Yale and Heights via an S-curving Koehler street.

Submitted on 26 of July 2010, here's the Full Variance Request Information Form:

Variance Request Information Form
Plat Name: Washington Heights Koehler STD
Company Name: Marsh Darcy Partners, Inc.

Date Submitted:
47 and 81

Specific variance is being sought and extent of variance:
A variance is being requested as part of the Koehler Street replat to deviate from the required minimum reverse curve centerline radius of 300 feet and minimum centerline tangent of 100 feet. The variance requested is to provide a reverse curve centerline radius of 265 feet and a centerline tangent of 50 feet. Chapter 42 Reference: Section 42-132(b) – Reverse curves with a tangent distance of
100 feet or less along collector streets and local streets shall have a centerline radius of at
least 300 feet. Reverse curves shall be separated by a tangent distance of not less than 50
feet. Statement of Facts:

(1a) The imposition of the terms, rules, conditions, policies and standards of this chapter
would create an undue hardship by depriving the applicant of the reasonable use of the

(1b) Strict application would make this project infeasible due to the existence of unusual
physical characteristics that affect the property in question, or would create an impractical
development or one otherwise contrary to sound public policy;
The Koehler Street replat is composed of portions of lots 11 – 14, Block 316, and a portion of Lot 1, Block 324, of the Houston Heights Addition. The Houston Heights record plat indicates 70 foot wide lots in this location for possible future roads within the plat. Existing Koehler Street west of Yale was not a part of the original Houston Heights Plat. As a result, there is an offset of approximately 20 feet between the centerline of Koehler Street and 2nd Street at Heights Boulevard; and to create a continuous through connection between these two streets with a total transition distance of 156 feet, requires the street to be constructed with two reverse curves measuring 265 feet with a tangent of 50 feet between. Chapter 42 will not allow the physical construction of the required reverse curve without a variance. Regarding Section 42-132(b), without this variance request, the street connection between Koehler Street and 2nd Street would not be able to be built. Several alignment alternatives were presented to the Public Works and Engineering Department for their review. The Department supports this proposed alternative. The intent of Chapter 42 will be preserved and the granting of this variance will not deviate from the intended purpose of Chapter 42 of the City of Houston Code of Ordinances, and will further the 2010 Major Thoroughfare and Freeway Plan by providing an additional through connection in this area. That was the intent of the original Houston Heights street pattern plan.

(2) The circumstances supporting the granting of the variance are not the result of a
hardship created or imposed by the applicant; The unique physical conditions at this location requiring this request were in place prior to the applicants gaining interest in the property. The existing 20 foot offset between the existing Koehler Street and 2nd Streets have been in place for decades. The offset of these two streets is a unique condition that was not created or imposed by the applicant and should be considered for the variance requested.

(3) The intent and general purposes of this chapter will be preserved and maintained;
The purpose of providing an option to the reverse curve and tangent requirements is to allow a continuous connection between Koehler Street and 2nd Street, allowing an opportunity to provide greater connectivity within the area. Due to the unique physical characteristics of this site, without the granting of this variance request, a continuous through connection between Koehler Street and 2nd Street will not be possible, resulting in a 20 foot offset of street intersections, and the granting of this variance will not hinder the general intent of Chapter 42, specifically Section 42-132(b).

(4) The granting of the variance will not be injurious to the public health, safety or welfare;
and The approval of this variance request will allow the construction of a through street connection between Yale Street and Heights Boulevard. This through street connection will allow for better internal flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, which could reduce congestion by providing alternative traffic routes within the immediate vicinity. The construction of this connection will also remove two (2) dead-end streets within the neighborhood. The approval of the requested variance to Section 42-132(b) will allow the street connection to be constructed, which as a result, which will directly contribute to the public welfare and in no way be injurious to the public health, safety or welfare.

(5) Economic hardship is not the sole justification of the variance.
There is no economic hardship on the subject property; the existing physical constraints of the 20 foot
offset between Koehler Street and 2nd Street dictate the need for the variance to construct the Koehler Street connection.

And to add the cherry to the whipped cream ... that 'Unresetricted Reserve A' in the middle there ... thats 694K Sq Ft of Walmart Goodness.

I'm Taking My Talents to West End

And, as suspected, the developer and Walmart will each get to take your tax dollars ...

Apparently, Walmart's ad folks along with our city government now agree that Houston is full of idiot children.  After telling citizens face to face on Tuesday that tax benefits were not being offered, the chron reports otherwise ... because two days is a big difference.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Done Deal ... Walmart Bought The Land

Chron Story on Walmart closing on the land. 

Quote from the story:

Wal-Mart has placed 16 acres of land in the Washington Avenue corridor under contract, company spokeswoman Kellie Duhr confirmed Thursday. The deal comes two days after concerned Heights-area residents voiced their opposition to the project to the Houston City Council.
Though some council members complimented the residents on their proactive efforts and passion for their neighborhood, most stressed the city can do little to stop Wal-Mart from building a reportedly 152,000-square-foot store near Yale and Koehler. Property owner The Ainbinder Co. holds 24 acres in the area and plans a retail development anchored by the Supercenter.
Mayor Annise Parker said she and Councilman Ed Gonzalez, whose District H includes the Heights area, plan to form a committee of nearby residents and businesses through which the community can articulate its concerns. Gonzalez was not present at Tuesday's meeting.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Public Information Request Response

I submitted a PIR request for information regarding the CoH and Ainbinder a few weeks back.
This is what I recieved today:

Thank you for your request on July 14, 2010 pertaining to copies of any contracts, development agreements, or permits between the COH and the following companies, groups, or organizations in 2009 and 2010:


We have contacted our Finance Department and have been advised that although the Economic Development Division is considering offering performance-based economic financial incentives to Ainbinder Heights, LLC, the concept is still in the due diligence phase and no formal agreements have been consummated.  Consequently, the Economic Development Division has no information to provide at this time.
We also have been advised that the Mayor’s Office may have some responsive information.

Next Steps?  

City Council Yesterday

I was allowed 3 Minutes to speak yesterday, and ask directly of the Mayor and City Council for some information concerning the talks with the developer.  What I got was a 'No, we can't disclose that', but there will be other times ... which frankly speaking lends an even more back-alley feel to this entire thing.

The Mayor was quoted here:

"We have a standard policy to which any developer can apply and we cannot treat them differently simply because we don't happen to like who they sell or lease their property to."
"So far, they nave not asked for anything thats not in our standard book of "you pay for something and we'll reimburse you' list."

When I asked again for clarification on the details of such discussions, the answer was:

"Its not something we concede to the public, but the public has a right to know what we're doing."

If we have the right, why would we not be allowed to know?  

There is a system of checks and balances in place for a reason.  If the public does not support the decisions of its government, then the government needs to change them.  If that is in offense to any private business (that stands to gain from utilizing public monies here), then that business can legally do what they want on their own, including go to court (See Ashby HighRise).  But thats a roll of the dice that I'd bet a jury of my peers would have a hard time finding for a developer who's trying to make a few extra million dollars.

Lets not foget here, that Ainbinder had a tennant already, and gave them up to go to Walmart.

Click Here to go to the HTV Page
Under 27 July 2010, Click on Video.  At the popup, click on 'Public Speakers (Part 2 of 4) to see the conversation once my speech concluded.  The Mayor's comments begin at the 21:10 timeline of the video.

The Press Coverage

A Lot has been made of the 'movement' as of late, and Chris Patronella at the Houston Press has been doing a pretty fair job of covering everything.  Here's his latest write up.

Click Here for the Latest Houston Press Coverage

Ruh - Roh

Looks like Ainbinder's up to something new.

The 'Heights Addition' Pre-Platting Hearing signs have now been removed from the site, and all that remains is the 'Koehler Variance' sign at the intersection of Koehler and Yale.

FB User Ronnie Thomas Posted the following:

I was walking the dog, saw him and went back to speak to him. Conversation began by asking what was going in and he confirmed Wal-mart. Other highlights of our conversation: 
*To his knowledge, not a done deal *Meeting to go on as planned but ...Walmart/Ainbinder was looking to present this a different way *Walmart is looking at another piece of land north of I-10 close to this site, but he was not sure where if this deal does not go through *Agreed that lots of work would have to be done for traffic, drainage, etc.. *Mentioned that there would be little the city could do as long as they "went by the book" *Did say we might not be able to stop it but could make it hard for them if we kept this in "their (city council) face" and it would slow things down. In order to do this he said protest and fight it, he has seen it work in the past. Amazing what you discover when you walk around your neighborhood.

Somebody at that site is balking ... whether its Ainbinder, Walmart, or both, no one is talking, and the City clearly after City Council Meetings Yesterday doesn't want to get involved at this juncture.  Time to wait a bit and see.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Public Hearings, and The Mysterious Vanishing Variance Request ...

When I left my house yesterday morning, it was roughly 8:30am.
When I returned at about noon - 12:30ish, I found these signs around the property:

In Addition, I saw another sign at the T-Intersection of Koehler Street and Yale, just south of DirtBar:

At the time, I did not take a picture of the difference, but a 'Stop The Heights Walmart' FB  Admin posted a pic shortly thereafter.  The signs were/are located roughly here.  Green = Houston Heights Addition Sign, while Blue = Koehler Street Variance Sign.

I posted the Houston Heights Addition Sign on FB, and the Koehler Street Sign was posted by another admin.  Here's the feedback we received:

RE - Koehler Street REVERSE Curve - REVERSE. A reverse curve consists of two simple curves joined together, but curving in opposite direction. For safety reasons, the use of this curve should be avoided when possible (view C, fig. 11-2).

The Koehler Street Variance Sign, as of this morning, has disappeared.

In Addition, FB Poster Tom posted the following explanation of the 'Houston Heights Addition' sign:

"This hearing is very likely the reason the leaked Ainbinder site plan was created. It shows the 3 unrestricted reserves along the Yale St. frontage as 1 pa...rking-in-front strip center + 2 drive-thru lease pads. Unrestricted reserves are tracts typically held out of new residential subdivisions for future commercial or alternate use. The hearing on the 5th will be before the Planning Commission. While it does offer another venue for public comment, speaking before the PC re: re plat applications is almost always an exercise in frustration. The hearing will be relative to the 3 reserves only....not the 15 acre Wal-Mart site. In the absence of a variance request, this will be a "shall approve" application for the Planning Commission. Meaning anything anyone has to say in opposition to the re plat or about Wal-Mart is not relevant to the PC's decision. If it's not already there, another sign like this should go up for the additional 3 unrestricted reserves on the other Ainbinder site between Yale and Heights Blvd....1 more parking-in-front strip center + 2 more drive-thru lease pads. "

Anybody have anything to add?  

Good Article from Mike Morris in the Chron Today ...

I think Mike did a good job with this article.  He goes on to quote an additional neighbor, who is in favor of the development, and I want to stress something here ... I don't know anyone who is opposed to the development.  It really comes down to how the land is being developed, and in this case, its irresponsibly. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Real Deal on the HEB vs Walmart in 77007

Got to have a talk with a very good friend close to the HEB portion of the deal today and here's the rundown on everything that could have been:

-As early as the beginning of 2010, HEB had an agreement for the land with Ainbinder.

-Over the course of the Spring of 2010, Ainbinder and HEB were working out the details on how the deal would work.

-The Land value there is High ... really high ...

-HEB planned to utilize up to 10 acres for a store that would be very similar to their 'Hybrid' store (Mix of normal HEB + Central Market) on Buffalo Speedway just south of 59 near Rice Village

-Somewhere in late Spring, Walmart came in to make their own bid (yes, this was after the developer had agreed with HEB)

-HEB officially declared their deal dead in mid June, barely two weeks before the information leaked about Walmart

-Ainbinder is making over $50.00/sq ft.  At 24 acres, thats over $50 Mil for the property in total, and over USD $30mil for Walmart's share of it. 

-Walmart purely outbid HEB, after the agreement had been made

Ainbinder had a deal, then they broke it to sell to Walmart. And while Walmart tells Spring Branch Neighbors 'its our land, we bought it, we can do whatever we want with it', HEB tells Montrose folks 'We'll spend an extra few million to give you some greenspace, and put our store on stilts, then give you three designs to choose from as a community.'

There's a novel idea ... actually working and listening to the community.

A 'Hybrid Store' (mix of Central Market + normal HEB) would have been TOTALLY out of place there (READ: More Sarcasm).

Good show Walmart.

Why on earth does the city want to do business with Ainbinder?  Really?  Is this what our local government is choosing to do with our Tax Dollars?  Really?

Wow.    Really?

I want the world. I want the whole world. I want to lock it all up in my pocket. It's my bar of chocolate. Give it to me now ...

Here is what we can look forward to ... 

Duhr and Peacock said that Walmart believes in community and has a record of being a good neighbor. They said that philosophy would continue at the Silber store. “We bought the property. We can build there,” Duhr said. “We’re here now, and it’s important to work with the community.” She said that the Silber Supercenter would not have a tire and lube shop, nor would it have a gas station. She said that Walmart has redesigned its stores with a softer look, and it’s committed to recycling and sustainability.

 Wow ... Apparently Walmart is sending a message here ... they bought it, and they can do with it what they want.  I bet Kellie Duhr was that girl in kindergarten that would bring a new toy to school for show and tell, then taunt the rest of the kids, then cry if anyone tried to touch it ...

But Ainbinder has promised the community will have an 'involvement' and a 'dialogue' ... Get ready folks ... Wally-world just showed its true colors

Supplements, Shape Ups, and a $5 Dollar Foot Long from a Dollar Tree ...

Coming Soon, to a West End Neighborhood Corner near you ...

A list of the top 10 Wal-Mart co-tenants, compiled by the Chicago-based National Research Bureau (NRB), seems to validate that notion. The listing includes three discount apparel retailers, a beauty supply chain, a dollar-store chain, a jewelry chain, and a vitamin and supplements seller.
Denton, Texas-based Sally Beauty Supply tops the list, appearing in 26 percent of U.S. Wal-Mart-anchored centers. “Wal-Mart generates an enormous amount of traffic, and we like to feed off that,” said Sally Beauty Supply spokeswoman Jan Roberts. “We do have a few similar products, but we offer much more selection. If someone is looking for specific beauty items, we are more likely to have them … like in the 400 [personal] appliances we carry, such as blow-dryers and curling irons.”
Next were Topeka, Kan.-based Payless ShoeSource and Chesapeake, Va.-based Dollar Tree, both of which showed up in 25 percent of Wal-Mart centers.
These compulsive co-tenants have not just deeper merchandise lines than Wal-Mart, but similar demographics as well, allowing them to corral the overflow of shoppers seeking styles and brands not available in Wal-Mart, says Nancy Veatch, NRB’s publisher. “There has been a lot of homework and logic behind their decisions to locate there,” she said. 

These brands identify completely with urban Houston.  When I think Memorial Park, Allen Parkway, Midtown, and Main Street, my next thought is definitely Payless Shoe Source, and Dollar Tree. 

For all the talk out there from the developers talking 'appropriateness', how can these stats really validate?  Fine ... it'll be 15 out of 24 acres in the shopping center ... which means McDonalds, Sally Beauty Supply, and Radio Shack get the other 9 acres of the 'hip', and urban centric design that has been promised to us.

More to come I guess. 

A Pretty Good Article in the Press Today ...

Here's my favorite part ... a Quote from Ainbinder ...

They're not able to because they are on the ropes folks.

Look at the media, look at your emails, look at the pressure City Hall is coming under ... The only way to meet the requests of 'input' from the city, and be responsive is to stop negotiating with Walmart.  Thats it.  Its that simple.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Understanding of What They Are Talking About ...

Have been reading up on some of the community forums, especially HAIF (really popular thread!), and I'll give you my thoughts on this to sum it up ...

Ainbinder has negotiated seriously for many months with multiple tenants to bring a development project to the site that would satisfy a couple of goals:
-Develop The Land in a 'cool' urban way
-Pay for the immediate infrastructure needs surrounding it
-Make Money, because they've owned it (the land) for a long time, and in a depressed market, now is the time to invest for maximization of future growth potential.

-On Developing the land in a cool, urban way that people will like - This is a given.  Any development that comes there will have to be done as such, because its what the inner loop demands.  There is a need for style, greenery, and substance these days, and the uproar over the possibility of a dolled up strip mall coming in is proof of that demand.  Thus, this is kind of a moot point; suffice to say, it will look nice, because if it doesn't, the developer knows it will fail, and they will lose cajillions on it over time.

-On Paying for the immediate infrastructure needs surrounding it - This is the most crucial point of the discussion.  The Developer needs to find the right mix of Tax help from the city, and tenant that can pay for it, so it narrows down the pool to a select few companies willing to pony up the cash to help them get this done.  The Developer can get the infrastructure taken care of to support it, including the drainage channeling, runoff, and street access, and they can do so in a shorter timeframe than the city could do it, but what is their motivation to do so?  Making money, and Tax help.

So what needs to be done, and what the developer is kind of showing on this diagram here ...
 ... is to say "Look, we (the Developer) can take care of this area for you at our (Developer's) expense even though the city should be doing the streets, lights, sidewalks, etc, but the tax help has to be there in order for us to do it."
So, the focus essentially becomes limited to what you see ... Yale, RR Tracks, part of Bonner, Koehler in front of the development, and the bridges sort of on the northeast corners of the development, the apartments on heights, and the proposed thoroughfare of Koehler from Yale to Heights. 

Thats fair enough, and sounds fine.  If privatization of some infrastructure points helps grow my neighborhood, then awesome ... I'm all for improvements.  The problem comes when that privatization does two things: 
-Works to Save costs on the plan + maximize profit through whatever means possible, and ... 
-Does 'just enough' to get by. 

This translates to improving the immediate streets bordering, without paying any mind to the area streets that WILL inevitably be effected, and cutting corners in the implementation, which WILL happen, that leaves the community with something less than what is promised ... and again, it WILL inevitably happen. 

NOW, we add Walmart to the discussion.  The developer selects a retail partner out of two (HEB & Walmart) that is a historically controversial company, and that does not fit with the identity of the surrounding neighborhoods (Read: Heights).  The public gets wind that HEB wanted the land.  So we have a public who is aware of what they are intending to do (Walmart), and what could have been (HEB), and thus, we have a volatile mix. 

-On Making Money - So, the negotiation then becomes a three way volatile mix, with the city deciding how to utilize taxpayer dollars to credit a developer who can help the city, but at the expense of introducing a retailer that the taxpayers don't want, but they feel can be forced down the community's throats enough for us to eventually accept it, all in the name of the Developer maximizing their profit.   And THATS what their needs to be transparency about.  The developer has a right to make money ... but that money needs to be in a form that the taxpayers will be happy with, because you are asking of the taxpayers, by way of the city, for assistance in your business to make that money.  It happens every day, in other parts of this town, and in other cities across our great nation, and it is called compromise.  

HEB may not be able to, or may not have been willing to pay as much as Walmart to get these improvements done, but the question remains if we really need to dance with the devil as a community in order to get the improvements sooner rather than later?  

I say no ... get it done with the right partner, and if it takes more time, then take the time to do it correctly.  Our society and economy is based upon instant gratification at the cheapest possible cost, and that is purely a recipe for long term disaster.  The development will happen.  I haven't heard of one person yet that says they don't want development to happen.  The only objections I hear are those that don't want a controversial retailer (Walmart), with a horrible labor and insurance track record, to come in, increase crime, lower my property values, devastate the real estate revenue pool in the area, cannibalize and pay less for local jobs in the area, and generally screw things up for the community.  While the numbers exist to support all of these ideals, just the very public perception of the negativity will hurt everything; politicians should understand that more than anyone out there. 

They argue that they are taking care of it, that they will come to the community, blah blah blah ... but the reality is, if Walmart makes an investment now, it will be far more difficult to stop it in the future.  And for all I know, the purchase agreement is already signed, and this may already be a taller mountain to climb.  But you know what?  I'm willing to get that done, and I bet there are 82 Gazillion out there that would say the exact same thing. 

A Compromise, in this situation, does not include a Walmart. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Illustrating the Street Problem II (Update)

Thanks to a concerned citizen, I can now provide you with what is widely accepted to be the more prevailing plan as an update.  This doesn't change the street flow issues highlighted in the earlier post however.  It does encompass all of the Blue Outline + Yellow blob on my first map.

Illustrating the Street Problem

Here is an overview of the street concern with this potential development.  There has been a lot of talk about the amount of traffic this will generate, etc, and some explanations.  I'm hoping this is the clearest, so you all know what we're talking about here ...

Here's a map of the West End, and the potential development area:

I've taken the liberty of color coding this thing for easier explanation:

-Yellow = Proposed Walmart site
-Blue Outline = Property bordering proposed Walmart site that is owned by another developer (Orr Commercial)

-Green = These are the thoroughfares that connect the major streets.  Yale could also be green, but its red, and I'll explain why in a minute.  Since the Train Horn thing passed, the only streets that go through to one another from I-10 to Wasthington and connect traffic flow over the train tracks are as follows:

North / South (From Left to Right) - Durham, Shepherd, Patterson, Yale, Heights - 5 total
East / West (From top to Bottom) - I-10 Feeder (future), Koehler, Washington - 3 total

-Light Blue = Future Roads that are definitely being built by TxDOT

-RED- Planned Access roads for the Walmart Site.  What is outlined in Red is Koehler, Yale, Bonner, and Bass.  As you will see, Bonner does not go through to the feeder road (but might after the little jut eastward in the future), Bass will be widened to go through a little bit, Yale will be the largest road to border at least a portion of the development, and then there's Koehler ... and here's a picture of Koehler:

Koehler is obviously ready to handle the traffic load of being one of only two through streets (Yale & Koehler), and 1 of a total of 3 streets that will access the site (READ: Sarcasm).

The figure thats out there is an additional 10K cars per day in the area, that area being Koehler Street and Yale street, and that figure being based off an average sized Walmart Supercenter, because Ainbinder won't give any details out to the public they care so deeply about until they have their money from Walmart.

I found Orr Commercial's site to be very helpful regarding vital stats for the area including traffic demographics:

Traffic Counts:
Washington west of Waugh    = 14,010 cpd
Waugh south of Washington    = 14,74 cpd
Shepherd south of Washington = 33,700 cpd
Washington east of Shepherd  = 14,010 cpd
Washington east of Bonner      = 14,010 cpd
Washington east of Patterson  = 14,010 cpd

So yeah ... add about another 10K (on average) units to each of those, pencil in about double for Christmas time, and thats what you're going to have, on two thoroughfare streets, Koehler and Yale ... Awesome ... And most Supercenters are 24 hours, so maybe that will help evening out the number of cars that will be on my street to an all day and night sort of thing instead of just peak hours.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Breaking Down the Walmart Houston Ad-Campaign ...

Mr. Rollback is the new national spokesman for Walmart.  Walmart's ad firm wants to appeal to your heartstrings apparently ... He's a real Walmart employee, and has found recent stardom.  Recently, more people stood in line to meet Mr. Rollback than they did Tim McGraw. 

If you live in Houston, you have undoubtedly seen the Houston-centric commercials playing every five minutes on local TV outlets.  That said, lets break down the most prominent Houston aimed ad:

1 - "Hey Houston!" - Just to show that its not canned, the ad shows a blue explorer driving up 45 South in front of Downtown ...

2 - The Ad then moves to Darrell (Mr. Rollback) displaying an amazing ability to drive in Houston traffic with his eyes closed ...

3 - He starts talking about how there are a lot of billboards in Houston ...He's actually further back of where he was driving in the first scene (thats the Scott Street exit there on the right)

4 - He points out a Kroger Billboard, now on I-10 moving east towards Downtown ...

5 - He then tells us we are all wrong, because we do not shop at Walmart, and tells us to follow him so he can show us what a Walmart looks like ... but we totally believe him because he's a regular guy ...

6 - He then pulls into a Walmart parking lot ... 50/50 chance its in a Houston suburb ... apparently its new because there are still supports on the newly planted trees there.  There are so many Walmarts in the greater Houston area though, that I have no idea where this one is ...

7 - And there it is ... boom goes the dynamite ... because I wasn't entirely sure this was a Walmart commercial.  Glad Darrell settled that for us ... 

8 - And of course, the 'Fun Fact' ... that you can save $82.00/month if you shop at Walmart ...

9 - ... But wait ... what does the info say?  'Based on consumer reported savings from BIGresearch Walmart Savings Perception Survey' ?!?!? ... Apparently, Houston is the land of idiot children, because they're flashing a graphic on the screen of a monthly savings, which is based upon people's perceptions ... thats like asking my neighbors if they are totally ok to drive after they walk out of a Washington Ave bar on Saturday night ...

Me - "Hey Man, you ok to drive"
Neighbor - "Doog ... tothallly fineg ... gimme keysth"
Me - "How's your perception of your drunkenness"
Neighbor - "I'm noth drunkt doog ... Tothally NOT drunt"
Me - "Oh (Dialing 911)"

10 - Wow ... making up figures based upon perceptions and putting them on commercials seems fun, let me try ...

11 - Finally, it cuts to the Walmart logo, which is trademarked so I won't post it, then it shows him trying to find the store with his eyes closed again.

And there you have it folks ... The Walmart Houston Ad Campaign in a nutshell ...

Mayor Parker Responds via Email ...

To FB User Trisha Price Kincaid, and reposted on Stop The Heights Walmart FB Page ... 

Dear Ms. Kincaid: I want to clarify that the City is negotiating with the developer rather than with any individual retailer, including Wal Mart, in terms of the development proposed for the property at Yale and Koehler. The property has been assembled by the current owner fo...r a major retail venture. When that moves forward, there will be a careful review for impact on traffic, mobility and city infrastructure. I am encouraging the developer and Wal Mart or any retailer interested in being part of the development to open dialogue with the Greater Heights and Washington Avenue Super Neighborhoods 15 and 22 as well as other neighborhood groups and civic clubs in that area so that neighborhood concerns, including yours, may be heard.


So my question now is, what is the city 'negotiating with the developer' for?  Anytime a developer, regardless of the retail anchor, asks of the city, then they ask of the city's people.  More realistically, they ask of the city's taxpayers ... thus, this is well justified as a community issue. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Got A Call From Walmart Today ...

No Joke.  Couldn't believe somebody returned my first call from the other day ... 

I can summarize the conversation as follows

-The Contract is imminent.  They expect it to be returned, signed, by either today, or tomorrow.
-The Contract is for a 'simple Purchase Agreement' of the land
-The Contract is with Ainbinder
-Walmart has not entered into any tax discussion with CoH yet
-Generally, Walmart does not do this until they have some time of purchase agreement in place, although it is part of the normal process for them.
-They want to talk to the community
-They will talk to the community when it is facilitated by Ainbinder
-They plan to do more through Ainbinder, because they will not have street space on Yale
-They're understanding is that it will be behind other development structures which will be on Yale st directly.
-They other development structures will be Ainbinder's
-It is proposed to be a Walmart branded Supercenter
-It will be considerably 'smaller' than their other Supercenter's; only about 150K square feet.  Most suburban Supercenters are 200K+ Sq. Ft.
-It will be of a newer concept design for their Supercenters, so probably something similar to this ...
-Ainbinder is the lead on all of this

-Ainbinder information leaked early; they are not happy with Public reaction
-Ainbinder has been quiet, because they are trying to get the deal done really quickly ...
-This will cost taxpayers more down the road ... big projects & contracts getting rushed = irresponsibility + you getting screwed ...  but who cares about the taxpayers anyway, right?
-Walmart was highest bidder
-It was Ainbinder all the time, and Ainbinder is performing/benefitting from any tax negotiations to have ready for their contract with Walmart
-Ainbinder wants to make it aesthetically pleasing, but most likely does not care whether the community accepts it or not ... they can make the most $$ with Walmart, so community be damned ...
-If they cared to make a difference, City Council + Ainbinder would say something of substance ... but alas, no ...

Friday, July 16, 2010

UNLESS ... (Purely speculation folks) ...

Uh Oh ... Could it not be a Walmart at all?  With all the attention that has been paid to Grocery here, its one of two things;

-They either hear the public calling for an HEB
-They're introducing their MARKETSIDE Brand to Texas ....

No freakin way ...but I can't imagine that a Walmart MARKETSIDE Store would take up a 155K square footage footprint ...

Click2News Last Night

HERE's the link to last night's news coverage video ... 

Couple of points off of this video ...

"I think that the developer is deeply committed to making sure that any development, again, is going to be appropriate for this area ..."

Houston City Councilman Ed Gonzalez
On Channel 2 News - 15 July 2010

I'm sorry but, since when is City Council, or a developer working with the city, responsible for telling me what is an appropriate business in my area?  Is this the power you want your government to have?  When you make an investment in a home, and set down in a neighborhood, it used to be that you would have the power to help change that neighborhood, or at least have a voice in what is done in regards to your home.  Apparently, thats not the case here ... 

-Walmart finally made a statement:

We are pursuing bringing a store to our customers at that site.  Customers living in that part of the city want more affordable options for grocery, and we want to be a part of that solution.

Walmart statement - 15 July 2010

So I have two forces telling me what I want ... My councilman supporting what is appropriate, and a business my city supports telling me what I want to buy ... I had no idea we had given up so much by making an investment in a home.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Couple of News Stories From Today ...

ABC 13 - Houston, TX came out to my street today, and did a short interview.

You can find the news story HERE ...

Channel 2 Houston also came out, and did a story this evening with several folks from the FB page.

You can find that story HERE ... just kidding, its not posted yet ... check back tomorrow ...

Wow ... Got Quoted And Everything

SWAMPLOT ran a big update on the site today, and quoted a bunch of stuff I put on the blog here ... awesome ... thanks for the nod Swamplot!

I am totally internet famous now ... but they're still building a walmart on my street ...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Walmart's New 'Soft' and 'Caring' Aesthetic ...

Digging a bit deeper into what plans we are ultimately going to be exposed to, and based on some of the information Ainbinder has given on what this is supposed to look like, here's an explanation on Walmart's new approach to design, and architecture ... 

In practical terms, some of the changes to the architecture that arose included more depth to the store façade, a sort of return to the "cityscape" design of that 1899 Kresge store, or the original Macy's location. The new design would be modeled slightly on residential design, with greenery out front and different colors of brick.

The end result sees the store's façade divided into three visual zones. The "customer zone" stretches from ground level to 8 feet up. This area is filled with elements and materials that tie the store to the community – local building materials, architectural flourishes and designs that reflect other prominent buildings nearby. The "approachable zone," from 8 feet to 16 feet up, includes friendly and functional elements like awnings and signage that tell shoppers which entrance is which. Everything above 16 feet is reserved for Walmart's brand elements.

The result, Spinks said, is an "approachable, caring, soft approach to our building … an inviting streetscape."


'Caring and Soft' ... Really?   

Wow ... well, this is what the developer in partnership with Walmart is hoping that y'all will go for, so, ok then.  You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig ... 

Look forward to those official renderings of a new, caring, soft Walmart, with local stone + tinny type feel, and stuff, and all ... whatever ... 

Concept Walmarts ...

I'm going to state this very clearly ... these are NOT renderings/pictures of the proposed Walmart.  These are simply renderings/photos I've found out on the internet for new Walmart concepts.  For all the talk of different aesthetics as of late, I figured it was worth some research.

Again ... these are NOT official renderings ... These are taken from WD Research.

3 Nov Update - Asked to remove the images from WD Research. Link cited above should be active.


Walmart is Out to Better Its Image ... in Texas ...

Wal-Mart is on a mission to make its stores less cluttered. Out are towering shelves and narrow aisles. In are bold displays popping with trendy colors and the latest and greatest in consumer electronics.

Walmart's proposed site on Yale would have a full grocery.  Better image or not, Walmart is hurting Texas companies ... 

Big Time Meeting with City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, and Ainbinder ...

I was given the opportunity to sit in on a meeting with Ainbinder folks, and Councilman Gonzalez as a concerned citizen.  The meeting was extremely informative.  Here are the notes: 

-Meeting Attendees were a mix of Heights, and Greater Heights neighborhood leaders, Councilman Gonzalez, Jesse Dickerman, and Mr. Bart Duckworth, and Mr. Michael Ainbinder of Ainbinder Development, and me ... because, They are building a walmart on my street ... 

Mr. Duckworth of Ainbinder opened the meeting with the following points
-Ainbinder is happy to talk to the community at this point
-They apologized for the way the information got out to the community, and has been disseminated
-They are confident a deal is imminent, although it is not yet complete.  Legally, they cannot state Walmart, but it is Walmart.  They indicated all talks with other major parties and/or potential buyers have ceased.
-They are confident that this is a matter of 1-3 weeks from being complete
-Ainbinder has owned the land for 3 years
-This has been in the final planning stages for months
-They realize that there is a community concern
-The retail customer (Walmart), intends and wants to meet with the community
-Smaller scale meetings are presently appropriate for the time being
-They want to ensure that the project is the correct size/scale/Aesthetics for the community
-That the project is not a 'typical suburban' project and has the proper aesthetics has been their #1 concern

A Q&A Session was then opened up, and the conversation continued with this Q&A session for the better part of nearly an hour.  Important points from the Q&A are: 
-Uncertainty does not help 'panic' in the community
-Ainbinder wants to make an effort to calm any uncertainty
-The Community leaders need to be able to ensure their neighborhoods that they've done their best to bring up the fears and concerns to the City, and the Developers
-Traffic, flooding, crime, and a general distaste for the Walmart brand are all real concerns
-These meetings will not be the only meetings
-They are planning a series of meeting with the community once the deal has been finalized
-The retailer (Walmart) wants to meet with the community
-Ainbinder does not agree that Walmart = an increase in area crime
-The community is urged to look deeper into their research on Walmart related facts
-They want to let Walmart address the concerns that the community has with Walmart; Ainbinder's role in this is develop the retail plot of land as a whole
-There is a deep concern around the area neighborhoods of how this will end up looking aesthetically
-Ainbinder assured that once the public sees the plans/renderings, then they are confident that some will be convinced 
-Ainbinder feels that this development on the whole has the chance to transform the entire area for the good
-There is no decision on how this will look just yet, but they expect renderings in about 3 weeks
-Aesthetics = #1 concern of the developer; Retail anchor must 'fit' into the entire retail plot design
-There is a set 'warehouse' type of architecture; they noted the 'Core' apartments, and 'Berger Iron Works' on the corner plot of land.  They intend to keep that type of neighborhood feel to the development
-It was described as a more modern warehouse/urban type of feel
-The retail anchor (walmart) has had no resistance to these requests
-Ainbinder assured that the infrastructure of the land, and surrounding, would be brought up to appropriate specs to support. 

At this point of the Q&A, Michael Ainbinder joined the conversation.  Both Mr. Duckworth, and Mr. Ainbinder continued to field and answer questions: 
-Ainbinder confirmed that the apartments on Heights (Across from the WE Multi Service Center) are presently under contract to Ainbinder, and they expect the contract to close in the Fall of 2010.   That land will become part of the development overall
-The vision for the area is to be redeveloped into a district with a similar feel to it all
-HEB was talked to, but it is no longer a possibility
-They are unlikely to return to talks with HEB
-The total development will be 24 acres; 15 acres of it will be Walmart
-The old 'Sons of Hermann' site is not included in the development.  This is being developed by Bobby Orr.
-There is no plan for hi-rise, or mid-rise development
-Ainbinder/City are in the process of finishing traffic studies now
-Streets around the property will be widened/improved
-They are including plans to improve the Yale St. Bridge just south of I-10; they acknowledged that the bridges need to be renovated
-They are treating Heights Blvd. as a signature street in the development, central to Houston
-They are presently in the middle of all of the improvement plans
-Ainbinder has no information on delivery truck routes/planning/times
-Specifically, Yale, Koehler, Bass, and Bonner will need to be improved/widened.  The current plan is to improve Koehler street up to Bonner, and Bass st. up to Bonner
-They are confident that the plan will decrease flooding in the West End
-There will be green spaces included in the plan; specifics are not finalized
-Concerning traffic studies; they have not defined how far back into the West End they are studying, nor onto/into what streets
-The plans do not call for water detention areas
-They did not have answers for whether White Oak Bayou can handle overflows upstream

-Concerning opinions on Walmart
     -Ainbinder's opinion is that Walmart is not so different from Target in the area (Studewood/I-10)
     -They sell competing products
     -There will be a full grocery in the building
     -They asked the community to try to give Walmart a chance to prove themselves
     -The development will surpass codes for parking

-Ainbinder clarified that Walmart will have 15 acres of the 24 acre site; they suggested the public look to the 4-5 acre site 'Center at River Oaks' as  proof of their commitment to the neighborhood.
-They asked the public to have confidence in the city, and the developer, to make the correct decisions
-They understand that there are opinions, that they won't satisfy all of them, and wished they had more time to have a better announcement of the project.
-Their goal is add a needed shopping center to the neighborhood.

-Ainbinder has restricted the design so that Walmart cannot change the aesthetics
-They will control future aesthetic enhancements
-Most of Ainbinder developments have been suburban projects
-Walmart will own their parcel of the land (15 acres)

-Walmart has been exploring mature tree planting as well for the parking areas/landscaping
-Walmart has more 'green concept stores'

-Ainbinder's motivation is for it to look different than other Walmarts

-The Timeline for this project is for an opening to happen in the 1st or 2nd quarter of 2012
-14-18 months will be used for infrastructure improvements, and some parallel construction

Councilman Gonzalez said a few words on the goals of listening to the community:
-Councilman Gonzalez committed to having more community meetings
-It is hard for City Council to dictate to business how to operate
-He is keeping in mind that this type of development is positive for the neighborhood on the whole
-He will advocate for the community
-Community needs to Drive reaction to Walmart
-He will advocate for Aesthetics
-The further goal of meetings is to provide correct information at a community level
-The information delivery must be effective
-They do not know the final look of the project
-His goal is to move FW together with the community

Mr. Duckworth, and Mr. Ainbinder then fielded a few closing questions
-Ainbinder has not done a demographic study; this should be the responsibility of Walmart
-I-10 and Silber site (Next to Marquee) is getting a new Walmart as well
-Ainbinder is focused on meeting requirements for lighting, transportation, and aesthetics
-Walmart will be the right party to address concerns at the appropriate time
-Sidewalks will be over sized
-Goal is to hear what the public wants, with the understanding that they can't change everything, and that this won't be the only time to respond
-Traffic flow concerns will be answered
-Bridges, and historical preservation investments are the top concern
-Aesthetics and fitting in are the most important

-Aesthetics are the top priority - Ainbinder believes that this will have a more modern, urban feel, and that the public will like it because of it.  They said on numerous occasions that they feel the public will change its mind once they see renderings of the development.   Trees, green spaces, and different materials across the entire development makes Ainbinder confident of the public accepting this project.

-Infrastructure - Improvements immediately around the development are in the plans, but it was clear that Ainbinder has not completed studies on how it will effect the surrounding areas, including the Heights, Washington Ave, and West End. 

-Councilman Gonzalez has known about the development for some months now, and he is taking a 'wait and see' approach.  It does not sound, at all, as if anyone has taken into consideration the effect on the West End it will have, and thoroughfares that will be used to get into, and around the development. 

-Ainbinder seems as if they are trying to get this finalized as quick as possible, and that Walmart will be the tenant.  I read into this as, this information got out way too quick, and now its PR cleanup duty, while trying to push finalization

-I'm dissapointed that no one in the city has been more vocal, or even responded to the public ... nearly 3000 people on StoptheHeightsWalMart FB Page, and barely even a mention in the news ...