Fred Lindner has a tree in his front yard that he’s thought about cutting down.
Now the Heights resident is thinking he’ll keep it, because it might block his view of something he considers even more unwanted.
Lindner is among the nearly 4,500 people who, as of Wednesday morning, had signed an online petition called “Stop Big Tex Storage,” which aims to thwart the construction of a seven-story storage facility planned for the site of a former theater and church at 730 E. 11th St. According to the petition – which features a cartoon image of a building-like monster with a chain and padlock for a belt – the storage facility will be out of scale and character for the neighborhood, increase truck traffic and light pollution, negatively impact property values and go against the community’s push to become more conducive to cyclists and pedestrians.
“This area that I live in I feel like is one of the few places, at least in Central Houston, that has a real sense of community, which is what we love about it,” Lindner said. “Someone coming in and dropping a seven-story warehouse right in the middle of it is the exact opposite of what we want to see here.”
Houston City Council member Karla Cisneros also has expressed disappointment over a project she called “so out of character” for the community, even though the proposed storage facility would be outside of her district. The council member who serves the area, Abbie Kamin, did not criticize the project directly but pointed out Houston’s lack of zoning laws and encouraged residents to push for more neighborhood protections.
Unfortunately for the thousands of petitioners who oppose Big Tex Storage, there is little they can do to prevent the business from setting up shop in the neighborhood. The property is located just outside one of the seven historic districts in the Greater Heights, meaning developments there are not required to adhere to the design standards of a historic district.
Margaret Wallace Brown, the director of the city’s Planning & Development Department, said the property owner and developer, Bobby Grover of Grover Ventures, has followed all the city’s laws and protocols and has nearly completed the permitting process, with only the fire marshal left to sign off on it. Wallace Brown said the property was platted as an unrestricted reserve in December, with no variance request and no notification to nearby residents required.
Grover said in December, when an 81-year-old theater-turned-church was demolished at the site, that construction for Big Tex Storage was scheduled to begin in March and be complete by January 2022.
“There is nothing that will stop him unless he decides not to do this,” Wallace Brown said. “He is following all of the City of Houston rules.”
Grover, in a statement, indicated he could be willing to address the concerns of the neighborhood, saying, “We look forward to working with Heights residents and organizations on this project.” He said the storage facility is being designed to complement the architectural character of the Heights, with “honed brick, la Habra stucco and architectural metal panels,” but did not respond to a question about whether he would be willing to reduce the planned height of the structure.
Big Tex Storage has existing locations in Montrose, River Oaks and Garden Oaks, with the latter self-storage facility located at 3480 Ella Blvd.
A representative of the Houston Heights Association (HHA) said early this week that the neighborhood organization had a meeting scheduled with Grover for later in the week.
“The HHA has heard from concerned citizens about the proposed size of the structure in proportion to the surrounding buildings as well as nearby residential neighbors,” the HHA said in a statement. “We are hopeful the owner will work with our community to address these concerns.”
Even if Heights community members cannot convince Grover to reduce the scale of the Big Tex Storage development, residents have means of preventing similar projects in the future. Kamin said she plans to partner with the HHA on a presentation for residents next week that will outline the city’s planning and permitting processes as well as the tools homeowners have for protecting the character of their neighborhoods.
One of those tools is seeking a historic district designation from the city, which requires the support of at least 67 percent of property owners in a proposed district. According to Roman McAllen, the city’s historic preservation officer, such a designation likely would have prevented the demolition of the old building on 730 E. 11th St. and would have required the upcoming development to conform with the scale of surrounding structures.
“However, there isn’t a (historic) district there,” he said. “Unfortunately, the theater was not landmarked.”
Lindner said the fact a seven-story storage facility can legally be constructed in a historic community such as the Heights is an “embarrassment” for the city and reflects poorly on the city’s leadership.
He said he and his fellow community members will continue to push back against Big Tex Storage, with a protest scheduled for 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday in front of the property.
“It’s not that we’re anti-development,” Lindner said. “There’s been tons of development in the Heights. I would say the majority of it has been positive. It’s improved our neighborhood and given a chance for a large number of people to come in and enjoy the community. What we don’t like is people secretly coming in here and dropping things on the community that nobody wants and nobody needs.”