For more than a decade, Heights residents have clamored for an H-E-B, officials for the supermarket chain say. Now those residents may have the opportunity to vote on it.
H-E-B has identified a potential location for a large store in the Heights/Garden Oaks area and is in negotiations to secure the site — with one big if. The four-acre property, which officials declined to identify, is in an area where beer and wine cannot be served because it continues to be 'dry' — dating back to 1912 when the Heights was a separate city.
So H-E-B has hired Austin-based Texas Petition Strategies, which specializes in alcohol and liquor local option petitions and elections, to launch a petition drive to get the issue on the November ballot. If 1,500 signatures are obtained from residents in the 'dry' area by early July, voters in that locale will be asked on the November ballot to allow supermarkets to sell beer and wine for off-premises consumption only.
Such elections are common in the Panhandle, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and east Texas, says Texas Petition Strategies' John Hatch, but not so much south of a line that stretches across the state from El Paso to Austin to Beaumont, where most areas are "wet," allowing alcohol sales.
"In Texas, we're 'wet,' 'dry' and 'damp,' Hatch says. "Most of Texas is damp."
So far "petition officers" in yellow T-shirts and light blue shirts have secured more than 700 signatures. Those residents wishing to sign the petition can do so at Coltivare, Revival Market and 8 Row Flint.
Even so, voter confusion remains. "They know the area is dry; a lot of them just don't know why," Hatch says.
In 1918, the city of Houston annexed the Heights, where alcohol sales were banned. The Texas Supreme Court later ruled that the area would stay that way until voters decide otherwise.
The area in question extends in a rectangle between the North Loop and I-10, bounded on the east by Studewood and on the west by North Durham. However, the exact boundaries are unclear, so the city of Houston is recreating boundaries for an election, with an official map due out soon.
There are believed to be around 11,000 registered voters in the area. The number of signatures needed is based on a percentage of voters in the 2014 Texas governors race.
Houston attorney Steven Reilley, a resident in the area, has spearheaded the launch of the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition PAC to support a vote. Reilley insists he is not on H-E-B's payroll; he is only interested in having more supermarket options in his neighborhood.
"Grocery stores in the Heights are not on a equal playing field (as those in other areas of Houston), so their owners are not going to invest the money here," Reilley said.
He believes the only other supermarket currently in the 'dry' area, the Kroger on 20th and Yale, will upgrade its facilities if the local option passes. "My involvement is largely just about explaining it to people," he said. "Most people want a nice grocery store in the Heights."
The ballot measure would not do away with other alcohol restrictions and would not affect the odd "private club" loophole that some restaurants use to sell alcohol. Reilley points out that restaurants have been able to take advantage of a loophole in the law to serve alcohol, but grocery stores have no such option.
Cyndy Garza Roberts, director of public affairs at H-E-B's Houston office. says that only two of H-E-B's Houston-area supermarkets allow on-premises consumption of alcohol — the West Alabama store and the Tanglewood Court store, where the full-service restaurant Table 57 is located. She declined to pinpoint the Heights property being eyed, although some sources believe that the site of the former Fiesta on 23rd and Shepherd is a prime candidate.