I love Houston, but the lack of strong safeguards to protect neighborhoods sometimes makes me think about moving to The Woodlands.
I didn’t need a crystal ball to predict that all-out war would ensue when developers plopped a mid-rise tower next to a beloved neighborhood bar near Rice Village. But I wonder why someone would purchase a place at the Robinhood Condominums and then grouse about noise at the nearby Hans Bier Haus, which was there long before the condos went up. As my CultureMap colleague Sarah Rufca noted, it’s akin to moving to Alaska and complaining about snow.
I bet the Ashby high rise near Rice University would be under construction now if it weren’t located in a pricey neighborhood where residents have deep pockets to fight it. Even with their well-financed protest, the issue isn’t settled yet because there are so few protections against such development in a residential area. Thus far, the project has been delayed by traffic considerations on Bissonnet – not strong building regulations.
I side with the neighbors who don’t want a 23-story tower hovering over their bucolic surroundings. Seems to me there are plenty of empty lots on Main Street along the light rail line that would make for a better location if developers are sincere in their desire to create denser, environmentally-friendly housing inside the loop.
In my Montrose neighborhood, we’re in a constant struggle with the Annunciation Orthodox School over their expansion plans. After the Houston City Council approved the school’s plans to buy and close off part of Marshall Street in the late 1990s over strong neighborhood objections, we petitioned for deed restrictions to preserve the character of our surroundings — a mix of older homes, small apartment complexes and oversized townhomes.
The deed restrictions in compliance with Section 201 of the Texas Property Code were approved in 2000. But about 18 months ago, the school and the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral purchased a deed-restricted apartment complex at Yoakum and Marshall street and tore it down, with plans to replace it with a parking lot.
Even though the lot is prohibited under the deed restrictions, representatives from the school told residents at a meeting last week they plan to proceed anyway. “Our interpretation is that the deed restrictions are not valid and not enforceable,” a school official said.
Actually, the deed restrictions allow the school to petition residents for an exemption. But that would set a precedent I believe the school doesn’t want to acknowledge. It owns several other homes in the area and I suspect officials are itching to tear them down in the future, too. Between the school and the church, they've already torn down the equivalent of a block-and-a-half of housing to make way for parking lots — but there's always room for more.
While the east side of the neighborhood becomes a patchwork of parking lots, on the west side the owner of a day care center at Kipling and Mulberry plans to tear down a low-slung 1960s-era apartment complex next door. Her idea of progress: Build another oversized structure and pave over the front yard with concrete.
Oh, yeah, by the way, she’s applying to the Planning Commission to replat the property for commercial use, which means anything from a restaurant to a gas station could one day grace the property.
She enthusiastically told the civic association it was a good thing because the complex was populated with “undesirables,” and some of the neighbors agreed.
But when walking my dog, I always enjoyed conversations with some of the residents. I can’t imagine the proposed project will offer similar opportunities.
The American Planning Association recently named Montrose as one of 10 neighborhoods on their “Great Places in America List.” They listed historic heritage, walkability, a variety of architectural styles and a dynamic local spirit. I didn’t see an abundance of parking lots on the list.
When most of the small, moderately-priced apartments are torn down – a trend that is accelerating – and are replaced by more concrete and fewer residents, I’m convinced Montrose is going to lose the eclectic quirkiness that makes it special.
Is this the Houston we want for the 21st century?