The developer of a duplex community planned for the Shepherd Forest area has asked for a variance to the City of Houston’s building code because it does not want to extend Oak Forest Drive – which currently ends at the north end of the property – through to the North Loop 610 frontage road. A representative of the developer said it also does not want to terminate the street with a cul-de-sac.
Residents of the existing nearby neighborhood see eye-to-eye about that, with a member of the Shepherd Forest Civic Club saying they would prefer to keep Oak Forest Drive closed off so there are no increases in traffic and street parking.
But it appears that neither group will get what it wants in that regard.
The latest plan submitted to Houston’s Planning & Development Department calls for Oak Forest Drive to extend into the 3-acre duplex community and stop with a cul-de-sac – which would be the only access point for the proposed Marigny Heights development, which is slated to include 60 rental units on 37 lots. The original plan submitted on behalf of the developer, 1900 N. Loop Development TS, LLC, called for access from the south on an existing driveway that connects to the Loop 610 frontage road.
According to Aracely Rodriguez with the planning department, the developer amended its plan after being told the existing driveway that connects to 610 – which feeds into adjacent office buildings – could not also be used as a private street for the planned duplex community.
“It is not what I want,” a representative of the developer, who asked to remain anonymous, said of a cul-de-sac. “It is what the city wants. I am losing nine units because of this change.”
The original variance request asked to avoid extending Oak Forest Drive or terminating it with a cul-de-sac. Even though the developer is now proposing to do the latter, Rodriguez said a variance is still needed to satisfy the part of the building ordinance that aims to ensure adequate access to major thoroughfares.
The city’s intersectional spacing requirements call for there to be no more than 1,400 feet between two collector streets along a local street, or more than 2,600 feet between collector streets along a major thoroughfare, according to Rodriguez. The collector streets in this case are East T.C. Jester Boulevard and Guese Road, with there being about 2,900 feet between them along Ansbury Drive – the Shepherd Forest street immediately to the north of the planned development – and more than 2,600 feet between them along the 610 frontage road to the south.
The Houston Planning Commission is set to consider the variance request at its Thursday meeting, with the option to approve or deny based at least partly on a recommendation from the planning department. Rodriguez said the planning department will recommend that the variance be granted, which would allow the project to move forward with its current configuration.
Planning commissioner Sonny Garza said during the June 9 meeting that Chapter 42 of the municipal code of ordinances, which spells out the requirements for development in the city, calls for streets such as Oak Forest Drive to be extended in the interest of increased connectivity.
If the variance request is denied, the representative of the developer said Oak Forest Drive will be extended through the proposed neighborhood, connecting with the 610 frontage road.
“We are supposed to put the through street in. We’ve faced these before,” Garza said. “I use the metaphor of alligators and moats. Every neighborhood would like to build a moat around it and fill it with alligators. But our charge is to follow Chapter 42 and the spirit of the ordinance.”
Shepherd Forest Civic Club president Patricia Williams said during the June 9 meeting that she had not heard from a single neighborhood resident who wants Oak Forest Drive to be extended or terminated with a cul-de-sac. Fellow civic club member Delinda Holland told The Leader that either scenario would be detrimental to the neighborhood, which already has experienced increases in traffic in recent years.
Holland also said Oak Forest Drive is not an ideal entry and exit point for the planned development, even though it provides access to West 34th Street, because the sidewalk north of Stonecrest Drive is in disrepair.
Several Shepherd Forest residents spoke about the project and its potential impact on the neighborhood at the June 9 planning commission meeting, and Holland said many are expected to speak at Thursday’s meeting as well.
“It’s something the neighborhood is really, really upset about, because of how detrimental it will be to the neighborhood, especially when they have options,” Holland said. “There are other options. They’re just not pursuing those options.”
Rodriguez said the development also could take access on the existing drive that connects to the 610 frontage road, but only if the existing access agreement with the nearby office buildings was not in effect. That would allow that driveway to be used as a private street, she said.
Rodriguez said the plan for an Oak Forest Drive cul-de-sac was not a requirement from the planning department, describing it as a choice by the developer once the city determined the existing driveway on the south side of the property could not be used for both residential and commercial purposes.
When asked about the possibility of amending the existing access agreement, the representative of the developer said, “I can’t imagine the owner of the office building would give that up.”
Rodriguez said the planned duplex development cannot legally take access through the office complexes immediately to the west of the Marigny Heights site – one of which houses the office for The Leader.
“If they want to have another access point to the frontage road, they will have to figure out how to modify the agreement,” Rodriguez said. “That’s on them, not us.”
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