Thursday, August 26, 2010

WalmartHouston.Com Has A New Friend

The 'Washington Heights' website is now up and running.

The website shows more Pictures of a brown Walmart, trees, and a largely empty parking lot that they released yesterday.

From the website:

"Washington Heights promises to be the impetus of transformation and renewal of an area previously occupied by industries such as steel manufacturing, oil storage and petroleum refining."

"Particular attention will be paid to attracting local and regional retailers that will appeal to the surrounding communities."

Also, there is a link to the contacts.  According to national stats, there's a good possibility that Lance Gilliam will have his hands full renting out the additional pad sites to Sally Beauty Supply, Payless Shoe Source, and Dollar Tree ...

Ainbinder Got Quoted

From an article today about last night's meeting:

During the Q&A, one Heights resident brought up an interesting scenario. What if the city denies The Ainbinder Company the grants through the 380 Agreement and the resulting Houston taxpayer money? Would they still build it?

The answer from Michael Ainbinder was, “Yes.” Except, they wouldn’t have to play nice without the 380 Agreement. They wouldn’t have to make any improvements to the drainage, traffic or plant as many promised trees around the lot.

I don't get if all he said was 'Yes', or if he went on to say the rest, or if CultureMap inferred.

So, the Chron quoted Barton Duckworth next ...

So, is this a threat; if the public doesn't agree to give tax dollars, then what?  They will build a piece of junk?  That just doesn't make much sense. 

It would seem to me that a developer would need to have successful, nice looking developments to place in their portfolio, in order to help them win future business.  This is just a reasonable conclusion; to get more business, its helpful for potential customers to be able to look at your past business in order to decide if they want to do future business with you.  Thus, its in a developers best interests to build something that looks very, very nice.  

In this case, and with this much attention, I personally have a hard time believing that a developer who has built nice developments before would build something not very nice.  And here's what else; there's no guarantee that Houston gets what's been shown anyway, which is why its called an artist's 'rendition', or 'interpretation'. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Development Will Have 4" Manholes

Yup. We were promised four and six inch manholes tonight. And trees.

Ainbinder Released Pictures of a Walmart

Nancy Sarnoff placed pictures of the proposed Walmart on her blog this afternoon ...

... which looks a lot like the Walmarts that I put up on the blog like, a month ago ...  except for this new one has a brick facade ... I kind of like the stone + stucco facade better ... I guess brick = extreme urban design.

Anyway, more pics are up on this website here for the time being.  Don't worry though, I put up the only two pics of the walmart ... everything else is pictures of like, graffiti, and The Dirt Bar, and some pickup trucks and stuff.  I guess they want to drive home the fact that Ainbinder has owned the property for a couple of years, and hasn't done anything with it up until this point.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Been An Interesting Week

Lots of Movement this week.  The folks on the other side of this thing are starting to come out of their shells.  Luckily, we've got this guy on our side ...

Fun Indeed ... and the best is yet to come ...

CultureMap 'Unveiled' an Article

Culture Map unveiled an article about the newly dubbed 'Washington Heights' project.

From the article:

The project, called Washington Heights, is planned for 23 acres near the southwest corner of Yale Street and Koehler, just south of Interstate 10 and the Heights community. Much of the project will be located on industrial land vacant land that formerly was the site of a Trinity Industries steel fabrication plant.
“We are going to take this land from a factory site to a fairly upscale development,” said developer Bart Duckworth, principal in the Houston-based Ainbinder firm.
Washington Heights will also spread onto land Ainbinder is acquiring on Heights Boulevard, south of the freeway. An old apartment project there will be demolished to make way for the new retail space, Duckworth said.

Also from the Article: 
Gilliam hopes to attract chef-driven restaurants, local boutiques and non-chain outlets to the retail space on Yale and Heights Boulevard, as an extension of the restaurant development that has occurred along Washington Avenue in recent years.
“We have really made an effort to reach out to the Houston, and also to Texas cities including, Austin, to see who that is out there would best serve this community,” Gilliam said. “We want shops that are unique and add to the community.”

Apparently it seems the plan is to extend Washington Avenue into the heights, except when you stumble out of a 'chef driven restaurant' at 2 in the morning, you will be able to shop for that new towel you really needed. 
Interestingly enough, the article addresses ground water contamination.  Additionally, it addresses the targeted amount of the much discussed '380' agreement, and puts it at $6million USD.
There is not a mention of traffic, or crime, other than to note its been brought up by the community.  There is also no mention of watershed issues. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A 380 Got Tagged

The First Chapter 380 agreement between the CoH and a private developer InTown Homes (not Ainbinder) was up for a vote yesterday in City Council.  CM Gonzalez tagged it.

You can see the Houston City Council Agenda Here.

A 'Tag' basically means the vote is postponed for another meeting.

City Council presents and 'Agenda Backup', which shows all details for such agreements that the city will make to spend Taxpayer dollars.  Here is a link to yesterday's meeting backup. 

Under that backup, here were the details of the 380:

23. ORDINANCE approving agreement between the City of Houston, Texas and INTOWN HOMES,
LTD. pursuant to Chapter 380 of the Texas Local Government Code for Economic Development
Assistance for development of three residential subdivisions in the City

Notice that there are no details concerning how taxpayer dollars would be offered, spent, or accounted for.

So the CoH offered a 380 to a developer, and offered only the referenced Ordinance to the public to support it.

Thats it.

WM Mails Lots of People ... Everywhere

Interesting Link on how WM has utilized mailers in other communities for different initiatives.   Looks eerily similar to whats going out in Houston these days.

Photo Courtesy of the Blog linked above ...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Walmart Has A Mailing Budget

These mailers started showing up in mailboxes all over the place in the last couple of days:

This is only page 2 or 3 of a 4 page mailer.  

Whole thing says: 

Page 1 - Its time to clean up this property and put it to work for all of Houston
Page 2 - Two guys about to fall on eachother, and they're extremely happy about it, and two walmart people smiling because apparently the apple has just told a funny joke. 
Page 3 - Has a Mailer on it and a picture of a guy who is pleased he is obtaining a Dora the Explorer DVD, although he may be slightly too old for it.  The other guy's pants are falling down because his walkie talkie is far too heavy + plus his belt is not properly sized. 

Page 4 is a top down view of my neighborhood.  Awesome.  Anyway, big surprise that Walmart feels they have to match up with their own 'grassroots' campaign.  At least the pictures are funny. 

What the Hell is a 380?

I've really just studied up, and read a lot on all of these goings on.  Besides the details of the deal itself, IE -the percentages that are being discussed between the CoH and the Developer (Ainbinder) regarding compensation from a proposed 380 agreement, all the other information is public knowledge.  Hell, before a couple of weeks ago, I didn't even know what a 380 was. 

What it boils down to is this: 

-Developer (Ainbinder) is asking for re-imbursements for Capital Improvements regarding the Development
-This plan is called a '380'
-A '380' is funded by taxpayer dollars, and effects all Houstonians, no matter where you live
-A '380' is not mandatory
-A '380' must be voted upon by city council

Tax Incremental Revenue Zones

-A TIRZ is designated as part of neighborhood or zip code where the CoH identifies; Here's a good overview of TIRZ.
-380's have been used by the CoH with TIRZ's in order to encourage development + growth.  A recent project of this nature is the downtown Houston Pavillions, which is where the House of Blues is. 
-A TIRZ has a BoD, and oversight on such projects + public monies
-The Ainbinder development in 77007 is not in a TIRZ
-The City has no plans to extend a TIRZ to encompass this project

CoH 380 Directly with Private Developments

-The first CoH 380 is up for a vote today.  
-This is between InTown Homes and the CoH (City Council Agenda - 18 Aug 2010 
-This marks the first time the CoH will enter into a direct agreement of such a nature with a private developer
-The Ainbinder development is the first time that the CoH will attempt to enter into an agreement with a private developer for a retail center
-A 380 Development directly with a private developer (not a TIRZ) has no BoD Oversight on utilization of Public Monies

The intention is to develop the land.

-The Developer has publicly stated that the land will be developed
-The developer has publicly stated that they have had numerous conversation with multiple potentials retail clients
-The Developer is presently in a period of time, typical of Commercial Real Estate deals wherein most parties are open to walking away from the deal at anytime.  
-This period of time is used to shore up financial, environmental, and planning details before both parties finalize their contracts
-The developer has an interest in the CoH approving a 380 agreement for this development asap, as it will be a 'deliverable' as part of the finalized agreement with Walmart

Thats the 380 in a nutshell.  Boiled Down, it looks like this: 

380 = Taxpayer dollars
380 = Given by City to Developer
Developer = Capital Improvement it has to complete anyway for largescale development
Developer = Taxpayer Dollars as part of their overall deal with Walmart

We Started a 501c4

Guess I should have posted this back a few weeks ago, but didn't know it would be such a big freakin deal, so here it goes.

I got involved in the FB group 'Stop The Heights Walmart' a long time ago.  There are several people that are admins of that FB Group.  Those folks, and some others who have been willing to donate their time and effort, realized that in order to keep this thing organized and on point, we'd have to start an official group.  So we came up with the name 'Responsible Urban Development for Houston'.  We also put up the website 'Stop Heights Walmart', following in the footsteps of the FB page fame.  You can go to the RUDH page, and link to the STHWM Pages from there.  Website for RUDH is here.

So we started notifying the media outlets that we were having a meeting, and that I was one of the group of admins, and before you know it, we've got over 5000 members on the FB page.  After the meeting, because people wanted to donate $$ to the cause, we started the 501c4, RUDH.  We did White Linen Nights in the Heights (thanks!), and have started printing signs and bumper stickers, and working on our own studies to help fight this thing.

So, that is the brief history of Responsible Urban Development for Houston, and the wonderfully fun musings about fighting Walmart.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

This Guy Said 'Unfortunate' and 'Disingenuous'

I got on the news tonight.  Sorry my shirt collar was wrinkled ... had no idea a news guy was going to ask for an interview today, and I do have a normal job when I'm not speaking on the fact that they are building a walmart on my street.

1:28 into the Video Here, Walmart rolls out this guy ...

Really?  Disingenuous, Really?  I doubt he can even spell that ... hell, I had to look it up myself.

Walmart knows who I am.  I sent their PR lady an email, gave her my phone number and address weeks ago, and I told her if she wanted to talk, then fire away.  I guess the group should take it as a compliment that we've gotten such a response from them.  After all, they make eleventy billion dollars a year.

Bravo to you all for supporting everything and being so damn vocal.  Really, its pretty freakin awesome.

Took off the bit about chewing gum.  Was informed by a reader today that this particular spokesman has a speech impediment.  If that is the case, then all apologies.

I respect that they have a job to do as PR people.  That said, I'm not advocating for an employer, I'm working to protect my family, my home, and my neighborhood.  I don't do PR full time, but I am a full time Houstonian, and proud to be one.

CM Gonzalez Said No

I was at the Bonner Street Townhome HOA Meeting tonight to present some information about Responsible Urban Development for Houston (  CM Gonzalez came out too.

He said publicly at the meeting for the first time that he is opposed to the development in its present state.  He has gathered enough information from the developer, the retailer, and the public, to come down on a side finally.

He then went over to the GHSNC meeting at the Heights Fire Station, and I went with him, and said the same there.  This makes me a bit happier, and I'm appreciative of CM Gonzalez.

Now to get the rest of the council.  Looks like its about to get super fun.

Koehler Street is Getting Defferred II

Koehler Street Variance is up for discussion again this Thursday.  Mayor's office wrote a letter today, and CM Gonzalez noted as well that Koehler street Variance is getting deferred for the second time.

Reason behind it is because there is going to be a public meeting next week, and Ain, Binder, and Wally are going to be presenting their traffic study, to tell those of us who live in the neighborhood that we don't know what we're talking about when we say a truck can't get through our 20 ft wide streets with cars parked on both sides.

CM Gonzalez Came To My Neighborhood

Last week, CM Gonzalez agreed to meet me at my house because they are building a walmart on my street.  We spent an hour, drove around the neighborhood, took in the sights, measured street widths, and talked about the traffic and infrastructure issues surrounding this development.

From previous posts, Illustrating the Street Problem, and Illustrating the Street Problem II with awesome overhead maps, CM Gonzalez rode along as I showed him my concerns on traffic accessing the possible development, and what it would do to the neighborhood.

Honestly, I thought it was a great thing that he agreed to come on out, and I'm really appreciative of it.  I would have posted earlier, but I wanted to make sure it was ok to do so first.  Tonight, he said go nuts (not literally).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Responsible Urban Development for Houston on Houston Public Radio

Nice little article and story aired this morning on 88.7, KUHF ...

You can find the link here. 

Here's the transcript of the story:

August 16, 2010

by: Jack Williams

Walmart officials could have more information this week about a plan to build a SuperCenter near the West End neighborhood in the Heights. Residents there have been hard at work organizing against the plans over the past several weeks, an effort that now has thousands of supporters. Jack Williams reports.

listen now:

On Facebook, the "Stop the Heights Walmart" page is a popular one these days. More than 5,000 fans posting nearly hourly updates on their efforts to scuttle the retail giant's plans. A Twitter feed has hundreds of followers, and listen to this. It's a YouTube video starring a friendly guy named Burrell.

"Did you know that a SuperCenter adds 10,000 cars in your neighborhood? 10,000 cars. Are you kidding me? Saving money? Living better? I'm going to work now."

The efforts against Walmart's plans to build a 152,000 square foot SuperCenter on 16 acres near Heights Boulevard south of I-10, have been quietly brewing for a few weeks now.

"My name is Colton Candler and I live off of Bonner Street."

Candler's townhome is literally a stone's throw from the huge empty lot that used be home to a steel mill until a few years ago. He says he's not surprised the grassroots effort has grown like it has.

"It's democracy. It's everyone pulling together and trying to get the city to do something about this. I think it's good. I think it shows good community, strong community support. I think that's kind of what's kept the Heights area as it is now. You know what I mean? Everyone wants to come here for a reason. People want to live here for a reason."

Nicolas Urbano is the acting president of Responsible Urban Development for Houston, the group behind the "Stop Walmart in the Heights" effort. He says it's not just about the lights, traffic and possible drainage issues the Walmart could bring.

"There have been a lot of concerns about their affect on import/export rates, their affect on percentages of US-made goods and what they do to small business and how they compensate their employees. From that perspective, no, Walmart is not the most responsible retailer for a choice there."

Mayor Annise Parker says the city's hands are tied when it comes to where businesses can set-up shop.

"I hear very clearly those who give me a reasonable and rational argument on we're worried about drainage. I'm worried about drainage too. We'll hold their feet to the fire about drainage. We're worried about a parking lot that shines lights into our bedroom. I get that. I have to look out at a damn billboard every night that shines lights into my bedroom. I get that. But, we're not going to get into a discussion of should it be target or Walmart or Costco or anybody else."

Walmart didn't return several requests for comment, but has said it could hold a community meeting, possibly on Wednesday, to discuss its plans with residents.

Jack Williams, KUHF News.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Drill Baby Drill

Just passed by the site and saw some pretty big drilling equipment on koehler street itself, so I stopped to take pictures. A site worker was kind enough to explain that they were doing some tests for the water levels for the street itself, and that the work was 'for the city'. I asked if they were doing anymore work on the site itself and he said that the property owner had already cleared with the TCEQ that any contamination on the site had already been brought down to an 'acceptable level' for the TCEQ, and that nothing further would be done.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What's He Building? by Tom Waits

What's he building in there?
What the hell is he building
In there?
He has subscriptions to those
Magazines... He never
Waves when he goes by
He's hiding something from
The rest of us... He's all
To himself... I think I know
Why... He took down the
Tire swing from the Peppertree
He has no children of his
Own you see... He has no dog
And he has no friends and
His lawn is dying... and
What about all those packages
He sends. What's he building in there?
With that hook light
On the stairs. What's he building
In there... I'll tell you one thing
He's not building a playhouse for
The children what's he building
In there?

Now what's that sound from under the door?
He's pounding nails into a
Hardwood floor... and I
Swear to god I heard someone
Moaning low... and I keep
Seeing the blue light of a
T.V. show...
He has a router
And a table saw... and you
Won't believe what Mr. Sticha saw
There's poison underneath the sink
Of course... But there's also
Enough formaldehyde to choke
A horse... What's he building
In there. What the hell is he
Building in there? I heard he
Has an ex-wife in some place
Called Mayors Income, Tennessee
And he used to have a
consulting business in Indonesia...
but what is he building in there?
What the hell is building in there?

He has no friends
But he gets a lot of mail
I'll bet he spent a little
Time in jail...
I heard he was up on the
Roof last night
Signaling with a flashlight
And what's that tune he's
Always whistling...
What's he building in there?
What's he building in there?

We have a right to know...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Urban Cowboys ... Now With Taxpayer Money!

FB User Margaret Dalton Jones recieved a response from one of the mailings from the Mayor's Office.  Here's an excerpt from the letter to Ms. Jones from the Mayor's office that was posted on the FB Group page this past Friday, 6 Aug 2010: 

I do understand your concerns about the Ainbinder development in the Heights. However, Houston does not have zoning. It is thus somewhat limited in the tools it has to regulate development. We are able to require traffic studies and ensuing traffic mitigation; flooding and environmental assessments and ensuing mitigation; some landscaping, and so forth. That is what we will be doing in regard to the Ainbinder project.

Our goal with the Ainbinder development is to make it as compatible as possible with the neighborhood. One of the tools we can use for leverage is the 380 Agreement. Under it the developer will be reimbursed from the incremental increase in property and sales tax for infrastructure projects, including streets, curbs, streetlights and traffic signals in the area as designated by the city. The development will have to be in operation a year and the projects completed before the reimbursement, in stages over multiple years, occurs.

In return, the City will get needed Capital Improvement Projects built to city standards and leverage in pressing for compatible architecture, landscaping that goes beyond minimum standards, crime control and other features. It will enable us to maintain close scrutiny of the developer’s plans as they relate to traffic, crime and infrastructure. The State is determined to widen I-10 with an exit in the area and that will require Yale to be improved. The 380 Agreement will accomplish that among other things.

I have strongly urged Ainbinder (and Wal Mart) to listen to the community. I do want a Task Force of neighborhood representatives formed to provide input to the project. I am deferring to the district Council Member as to whom should be appointed to that Task Force. I am mindful of the neighborhood’s concerns and will keep them in the forefront of the City’s discussions with the property owner.

That was last Friday.  Today, I recieved a PIR Information Request Reponse regarding the aforementioned 380 agreement (In Mayor Parker's Letter).  Here's the response from CoH:

We have contacted Planning Department, Finance Department and the Mayor’s Office for responsive information, and have been advised that we do not have any documents responsive to your request. The city has not ever entered into a chapter 380 economic development agreements before. The previous agreements have been with TIRZs.  There is no formal application on file with the city from Ainbinder. This would be the first between the city and a developer.


So, what the heck is going on then?  There is nothing written about this, no contracts, no formal proposals, applications, emails, or written discussions?!?  So who is coming up with figures, reimbursements, plans, dollars, etc? Why is the city talking about spending a single dollar on reimbursements of taxpayer money without having anything in writing about it at all?  

Per the response, the 380 agreement's have been with Houston 'Tax Incremental Reinvestment Zones', which follow the following guidelines. 

Here's a summary of what a TIRZ is: 

Per the PIR Response, the City of Houston has never entered into a 380 agreement, and now they want to start with this developer, without creating a TIRZ thus far as they have with others.  Why is that?  Why would they not carry on with business as usual giving Taxpayer benefits to a TIRZ?  Why start this now?  

And how on earth can you do so without having any documentation to back it up? 

As it stands, this looks like the wild freaking west on spending taxpayer dollars for the developer (Aibinder).  Yee Haw Houston ... 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Koehler Street is Getting Deferred

Councilman Gonzalez has noted that he has asked for the Koehler Street Variance that was on the agenda of the planning commision meeting happening later today to be deferred for further study.

Houston Planning Commission meets today anyway at 2:30pm to consider Variances.  900 Bagby Street, in the Houston City Council Annex Chamber.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ainbinder and the Magic Engineering Firm That Makes Flooding in My Neighborhood Go Away

My wife happened upon a gentleman in the neighborhood this morning who was measuring our street.  She asked what he was doing, and who had hired him.  He explained that he worked for an engineering firm that had been hired by Ainbinder, and was measuring the streets for watershed effects, etc.

The good news is that someone out there has realized that the development will effect more than just the bordering streets, and that this will be an issue brought up by the community moving forward. The bad news is what they intend to do with the information.

My wife asked the gentleman what the intentions were for the information, and whether or not the developer would be putting anything into the surrounding infrastructure; IE - our streets in the West End Neighborhood not bordering the development, but still within range to be effected ... like my street.  His response inferred that they were measuring, etc, but intended to keep the existing infrastructure for drainage, IE - the ditches that already regularly overflow.

Now, if you remember from two posts ago, the designs showed an expansion of Koehler street on the North side of the development to 60 Feet.    So, they intend to pave more, without changing the drainage, or the existing infrastructure.


They will also factually have the numbers to back all of that up, since they're clearly hiring folks to do this research.


My wife was doing her own research this morning, and measuring the width of our street less than one block away from the development.  Our street is 18 feet wide there.

So, lets put this all together now:

-Developer's requests a Variance/Replat, and submits a plan expanding Koehler to 60' wide.
-Less than a block away, Koehler is 18' wide
-Engineer today says that they intend to keep the existing drainage
-Developer has chosen a retail anchor that thousands are in opposition to


If anyone can tell me how this is good for my neighborhood or the city, please fire away.


The firm intends to pay lip service to the community to say that they have done their studies.  The firm will do nothing to encourage any infrastructure upgrades outside of the streets aesthetically effected, because it will tear into their profits.  The neighborhood will suffer a long term infrastructure decline because the developer chooses to save more money than finish this project correctly.

Listen Mike and Bart (Ainbinder guys), development is good (Retailer choice = Not Good).  Its great for that piece of land.  But I know that if I had thousands of people watching my every move, I would make sure not to make any mistakes, and I'd probably have a meeting just about every day thinking up questions that I would ask if I were opposed to it so that I could have those answers ready, if and when any of the the thousands that are already breathing down your necks come up with those questions.  So yeah, its good that you're hiring folks to measure a street, but its not good if you don't intend to address it beyond 'We've surveyed it, and its fine, or its under consideration.'  I might be putting words into your mouth, but if history is any indication of how this is going to be handled, I'm not going to be far off when you do decide to address this.

Its no surprise that a company wants to get something done as fast, and as cheaply as possible.  Sort of fits with Walmart's nature, so maybe y'all are good buddies, I don't know.  Unfortunately for you, if you do the studies just to be able to say you did them, and its been considered, then you're either ignorant, or not very smart.