A developer is moving forward with its plan to build an apartment complex, and there is little Kasia McCormick and her neighboring homeowners in the Heights can do about it.
But they’re well on their way to making sure no other multi-family dwellings infiltrate their immediate area.
McCormick and fellow homeowner Paulina Sergot submitted a Special Minimum Lot Size Area (SMLSA) application to the City of Houston’s Planning & Development Department in March. If approved by other property owners within an area that is two blocks from west to east and three-and-a-half blocks from north to south – and then by the Houston Planning Commission and the Houston City Council – the measure would require all single-family lots to be at least 6,230 square feet, which is the average for the area in question. It also would ensure that all vacant, unplatted lots be used for single-family homes.
Urban Genesis, a Houston-based developer that plans to construct a 66-unit apartment complex called White Oak Highline at the northeast corner of 6th ½ Street and Oxford Street, would not be bound by such requirements because it platted its property as an unrestricted reserve before the application was submitted. An unrestricted reserve can be used for a commercial property or any residence that is not single-family housing. Land already designated as an unrestricted reserve, as well as for a multi-family residence or commercial property, could continue to be used for those purposes.
“We don’t feel like our streets are supportive of that much occupancy, so future things like that we do want to prevent in this zone,” McCormick said. “We want to preserve the single-family home.”
That sentiment has been shared by many homeowners in the Heights, where several SMLSA applications have been approved over the years. City planner Davonte Caldwell said 206 areas in Houston’s original suburb have been restricted through the process – which serves as a zoning mechanism in a city without zoning laws – since 2002.
Another is on the verge of going through. The SMLSA application submitted in December by Heights homeowners Rebecca Abel and Donna Bennett – for the area between 4th Street and White Oak Drive and, from east to west, between Oxford Street and Harvard Street – already gained the required support of property owners representing at least 55 percent of the total land area.
Margaret Wallace Brown, the interim director for the planning department, said the application still had some protests and was therefore tabled at last month’s Houston Planning Commission meeting. The application is set to be reviewed at Thursday’s meeting and, if approved, will go before the city council for final approval. If the council signs off, the SMLSA becomes city ordinance.
“Given the level of support, my understanding is the commission will vote yes and it will be sent to the council to vote on,” Abel said in an email.
The SMLSA application submitted by McCormick and Sergot applies to an area immediately to the northeast, between 6th ½ and 9th streets as well as between Oxford and Studemont Street. A public hearing regarding the application was held May 15, and property owners within the boundary have until June 28 to voice their support or opposition.
McCormick said she hadn’t heard from any homeowners who oppose the application. But it does not have the support of Urban Genesis even though the developer’s project wouldn’t be affected. Founding member and principal Matt Shafiezadeh said he told the city he was against it because there is a need for more high-density, lower-cost housing in urban hot spots such as the Heights and the area already is bordered by a string of businesses along White Oak Drive.
Shafiezadeh said Urban Genesis, which plans to break ground on its four-story building of one-bedroom apartments before the end of the summer, has two other complexes planned for the Heights area. One is at the corner of 20th Street and Ashland Street, and the other is between I-10 and Washington Avenue.
Shafiezadeh said his company, which also has developments in Austin and Dallas, typically offers lower rent than complexes of comparable size and location because it does not utilize common amenities such as exercise rooms or swimming pools. He said Urban Genesis plans to provide 1,500 apartment units in Houston by the end of 2020.
“I understand why the neighborhood wants it,” Shafiezadeh said of the SMLSA. “We formally voted against it, just because I believe Houston needs more apartments, particularly in urban infill areas to give people more access that they can afford.”
Abel and McCormick want their part of the neighborhood, which is not considered a historic district like some other portions of the Heights, to be filled with single-family residences as opposed to apartment complexes. Both said the desire to block such developments provided the impetus for their SMLSA applications.
Brown said the longstanding, citizen-driven initiative is a tool the planning department is glad to provide.
“We encourage neighborhoods who are concerned that in their mind, inappropriate development might change the character of their neighborhood, to contact us,” she said. “We’re happy to work with them through all the options we have available.”