To Momin Naushad, who goes by Sam Momin, and wife America Torres, the central issue in the dispute with their tenant involves parking. The owners of the Alba Food Mart and the center where it resides showed The Leader numerous photos of a tight parking lot on more than one occasion in recent months. And while some might argue that there is no need for more parking in an 8,000 square foot structure with only two tenants, the couple said it won’t remain that way for long.
Momin confirms the COH permit records which indicated that plans were submitted in October for a “8,000 square foot retail storefront and remodel” of the property.
“We have to upgrade it, for ourselves, for the neighbors, and for the community,” said Momin, who noted that the taxes on the building continue to go up. HCAD appraised the property at $369,279 in 2013. By 2016, the appraisal was at $600,000 and last year it was $796,467.
Momin showed The Leader plans that had been drawn up by their architect and said they are in the bid process for a contractor to take on the job. He said they are prepared to spend up to $1 million on the remodel. With Alba Food Mart as an anchor on one side and Slowpokes on the other, there is 4,000 square feet of space between. Momin said this could be four different tenants at 1,000 square feet each, or a different configuration depending on the tenant.
“We need to renovate it to attract more good tenants,” said Torres, who noted that the transformation of the area in recent years was a driving force in their decision to renovate the building.
The center has been owned by the Momin family since 1992. They say in the past the center has housed a flower shop, a church, a washeteria and a hair salon, although it has been vacant in recent years.
“The reason they left is because rent went up, because the taxes went up,” said Momin. “We didn’t kick anybody out.”
Momin said that he has been approached by numerous developers over the years to sell the property, and that he has no intention of doing so.
“We love the neighborhood,” Momin said. “We don’t want to sell it.”
Momin said that when Slowpokes was first signed as a tenant he gave them the 4,000 square feet patio for free.
“We gave them the patio because we wanted them to be successful,” said Momin. “We wanted them to build their business.”
Momin said he understood the patio was going to be more on the scale of a Starbucks patio, with a handful of tables and chairs. He said he was surprised at what the patio became as a driver for traffic. Momin lists the movie nights and other events, such as goat yoga, as events that would continue to fill up the parking lot. Later, Momin said that Slowpokes offered them $250 a month for the patio space after they told their tenants that parking had become an issue.
“It is not about the money,” said Momin. “It’s about the principle of the agreement.”
Momin said that Slowpokes is having 8 to 10 parties a month. “I feel like they got greedy,” said Momin. “When we add more tenants, there will be no room left for parking.”
As for Slowpokes problems with the state of the current building, Momin contends that when the tenants signed on they made the choice to take the building as it is. He also disputes that the lease price for any interior spaces was going to be $45 per square foot.
“We never told Slowpokes about a lease price,” said Momin.
Finally, he says he paid the Slowpokes owners back for the plumbing work they had done in the building. And he says that he has never approached the Slowpokes owners or their real estate agent about renegotiating the lease.
What is in the contract, according to what Momin showed The Leader is a provision about who owns the patio: “Tenant shall have the right to procure and exclusively use the outdoor, green area and 4 parking spaces directly south and adjacent to the Leased Premises for patio space and children’s playground. Landlord shall have the right to recapture the outdoor space with 6 months’ notice, only if Landlord is going to make improvements or expand the retail center building or parking.”
What is not in the contract is any parking stipulation about the rest of the building’s parking spaces and this, from the couple’s perspective, is what has caused the current impasse.
“We asked them on three to four separate occasions not to block the gas station parking,” said Momin. “They told us that parking was not in the contract.” Momin also showed The Leader photos of what they believe is a car belonging to one of the coffee shop owners directly in front of their store.
“They were purposely blocking it to harass us,” said Momin.
Momin also says that Slowpokes and their lawyer told the couple that they could not put up ‘no parking’ signs at the gas station.
Momin said that Slowpokes was given 48 hour notice to clear their own patio but that when it wasn’t done, he sent a crew to do so. Momin said he spent between $5,000 and $7,000 to clear the patio this weekend. He is aware of Slowpokes contention that he didn’t have proper permits, but says he called the city two weeks ago and was told that since the patio was not attached to the building, he didn’t need permits for the work. He said he wouldn’t hesitate to get the $200 permit if he had been told he needed one.
As for the trees, which are adjacent to the patio, Momin said he has no plans to cut them down at present.
“Those trees have been there since we owned it,” said Momin. “If we wanted to cut them down before now, we would have done it.”
Momin and Torres say that they don’t use Facebook but they have heard about what is being said about them from friends and family.
“We wanted people to know what our plans are,” he said.
Slowpokes documented the dismantling of their patio on their Facebook page during the weekend. Slowpokes co-owner JC Rubiralta said that the city arrived Monday morning and red tagged the demo site requesting the landlord contact them.
Rubiralta said that their current plan is to stay in the center. “We have been approached by a few of the developments nearby who are interested in working together,” said Rubiralta. “We also met with Revive last week. They wanted to squash any rumors of them being involved in the current situation. They kindly told us that this is not the case… It was an appreciated conversation.”
Revive, who is developing the property adjacent to the center, released a statement on their Facebook page regarding the matter that read in part: “We’ve also heard from more than a few neighbors concerned that our Stomping Grounds development was impacting the Slowpokes situation. We’d like to emphatically assure you that this is completely untrue. We don’t personally know, or have had any interaction with the developer who owns the Slowpokes property. There are NO plans to connect the two spaces. The only access to our development will be through 34th. Not Alba.”
Rubiralta said that some neighbors are storing some of their benches and sheds.
“We can’t thank the community enough for their support. We are humbled to serve it any way that we can for years to come.”