A deal was in place that would have given the Frank family $3.6 million for its property in the Heights.
It was thwarted in part by a group of homeowners that want the land – which includes a vacant commercial building and adjoining vacant lots – to be used for other single-family houses instead of an apartment complex. The latter use was the plan by Chicago-based Brinshore Development, which entered into a contract for the land last December and earmarked it for at least 60 affordable housing units.
That deal fell through, partly because Brinshore failed in its bid to receive federal housing tax credits through the state of Texas and also because nearby homeowners succeeded in securing an ordinance from the City of Houston that requires undeveloped land in the area to be used for single-family residences.
Mike Frank, whose family estate owns the land at the northeast corner of 4th Street and Columbia Street, still can sell the majority of the 46,000 square foot property to a developer that wants to build a multi-family residence. And that’s his intention.
“They busted the Brinshore deal up,” Frank said of homeowners in the area. “I’ve still got 33,000 square feet of lots that’s commercial that I hope to use as a high rise that I want to put right in front of their face.”
Heights homeowner Donna Bennett said it’s “unfortunate” that Frank is taking such a stance. She and Rebecca Abel were co-applicants for a Special Minimum Lot Size Area (SMLSA), which garnered adequate support of property owners between 4th Street and White Oak Drive and, from east to west, between Oxford Street and Harvard Street. The SMLSA, which serves as a zoning tool in a city without zoning laws, was subsequently approved by the Houston Planning Commission and enacted as an ordinance by the Houston City Council in early September.
Bennett said she and other nearby homeowners knew all along that the Frank family’s southernmost lot, where it operated its Houston Carpet Service business from the 1970s until two years ago, would be exempt from the SMLSA. The homeowners hoped the rest of the property would be required to be used for single-family residences, but the Frank family came to an agreement with the city that half of the lot immediately to the north also would be exempt because it had been used as parking for the business.
Among the seven contiguous lots owned by the Frank family, two must be used for single-family residences and the other five are now considered unrestricted reserves, which can be used for commercial purposes or multi-family residences.
“At the end of the day, it was the best compromise we were going to get,” Bennett said. “We wanted to protect as much residential as we could.”
The Frank family recently made a variance request to have all of its property – valued at $3.02 million by the Harris County Appraisal District – exempt from the SMLSA. The planning commission recommended denying the variance at its Oct. 31 meeting and deferred the item until Nov. 14, when the request was withdrawn.
Mike Frank said Nov. 15 that the SMLSA ordinance has resulted in offers from prospective buyers that are lower than they were before, by about $400,000. He said he had offers on the table but nothing under contract.
“We’ve discussed selling the commercial stuff to a high-rise builder. We may put a couple double-wide trailers on the other two lots,” Frank said. “I don’t have to sell the property. … They want single-family there. They may get a couple double-wides for rent.”