Despite complaints, Heights apartment project likely to get green light from city this week

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by Cynthia Lescalleet
For The Leader

While nearby residents attempt to fight a 350-unit-plus development in the Heights, many feel it's likely to be approved this week. (Graphic from Trammell Crow)

While nearby residents attempt to fight a 350-unit-plus development in the Heights, many feel it’s likely to be approved this week. (Graphic from Trammell Crow)

No speaker? No problem. When a rep from Trammell Crow’s proposed mid-rise apartment complex on Yale at 6th canceled his appearance at last Monday’s Houston Heights Association land use committee meeting due to illness, a group of neighborhood residents who had showed up for info and insights turned to each other and compared notes instead.

The lively, spontaneous forum centered on the project’s previously deferred variance request that’s up for vote again at Houston Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 14, from 2:30-5 p.m. in City Hall Annex, 900 Bagby St.

Plans submitted by Terra Associates, affiliated with several luxury Alexan apartments throughout the Houston area, show a 350-plus unit complex with 4 stories of apartment units over two levels of parking, one of which is below grade. Currently a mixed-use block in the Maple Heights subdivision, the 3.5-acre site fronts Yale between 6th and 7th, with Allston Street its interior border and the Heights Hike-and-Bike Trail to its north.

Last week, Houston Planning Commission deferred its decision on whether to grant a variance request to replat as unrestricted reserved a single-family portion of the site. Since it has twice-deferred the variance request, however, the planning commission must make a decision at its next meeting, with or without the traffic study reportedly being conducted by the developer and expected in mid-February.

Whether passed or denied, however, a version of the project is likely to advance in some form, said Bill Pellerin, land use committee chairman, who also said neither the committee nor the association has taken a position on the proposed project.

Residents, however, were outspoken on the project’s potential impact on traffic in an already-bottlenecked stretch of roadway, on access and flow, on setbacks, on sidewalks, on drainage and on the overall presence of a mid-rise building abutting an otherwise single-family neighborhood.

“The variance is the project,” one attendee said, calling for residents to give the planning commission “reasons to deny it” and to remind commissioners as well as council members that seeking a variance means something is not in compliance. “Stick to the rules,” said another resident.

Discussion also veered into a debate about Houston’s “checkerboard” of similar projects all over the city and the never-ending need for affected homeowners to become development watchdogs — whether or not they want to be.

Taking a broader view as the city gets more densely developed is the group Responsible Urban Development for Houston. Its executive director, Eileen Reed, was not at the Heights meeting but knows the project as one of several the group tracks around the city.

She explained that any project-prompted traffic studies submitted to the city’s Public Works and Engineering Department require review and lead to mitigation recommendations before being submitted to planning commission. So even if the study is ready mid-February, it will likely not be through that review before the vote, she said, as did members of the land use committee.

RUDH is encouraging developers to work with affected communities to “a balance” between their projects and the people around them. It promotes investment in public amenities, for example, and in the case of this project, a detention pond nearby could be upgraded into a public park, she said.

However, that possibility, when raised at the forum, was not necessarily something the neighborhood would welcome, residents said.

Still, RUDH’s position is that it is attempting to encourage the developer and District C Councilmember Ellen Cohen’s office “to build the best project we can get on that location.”

The project’s location, so close to I-10, means redevelopment is all but inevitable, she said.

Another redevelopment example, Pellerin announced as part of the land use committee meeting, is a 115.000-sq.-ft. retail center dubbed Yale Street Market that’s planned for the 8-acre site long home to San Jacinto Stone Co.

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