This past year brought plenty of new community issues to the forefront, and seemingly consisted of much community controversy, or seemed that way with a quick scan of 2018 Leader headlines – but the year also brought plenty of positive developments on many fronts.
Our top stories of the year compiled by our staff, though highlighted by plenty of hot button topics that caused quite a stir within the community, also brought news of a constantly-evolving development landscape and continued Harvey recovery efforts. From GOMO’s bankruptcy battle, the Houston-to-Dallas high-speed rail, and HISD controversy to several Heights staples calling it quits, a continued development boom, progress on flood mitigation and more, 2018 showcased a wide array of stories that didn’t discriminate in defining this past year.
The stories chosen were not placed below in any particular order, but we did our best to place the most relevant near the top.
High Speed Rail likely coming to NW Mall site
Texas Central and Mayor Sylvester Turner announced in February that the old Northwest Mall site at the corner of Highway 290 and Interstate 610 had been chosen as the preferred site for the Houston-to-Dallas bullet train, which could begin construction next year.
Unrest and trepidation greeted the announcement and persisted throughout the year regarding the Houston terminus and project at large, with residents concerned about increased congestion around the Houston station as well as how the route would impact landowners.
The Federal Railroad Administration is currently in the process of conducting its final Environment Impact Statement (EIS), with a target date of late 2019 of release for public review, and March of 2020 for a final decision on the project.
GOMO bankruptcy stretching to 2019
GOMO officially declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 11, kicking off what has been at times a contentious battle between the organization and the Creditor’s Committee.
Bankruptcy court judge David Jones initially instructed GOMO to present a restructuring plan Dec. 14, ahead of a hearing scheduled for Dec. 20; but that hearing has been rescheduled for Jan. 8. Jones ordered GOMO to stop collecting transfer fees in a previous August ruling.
Heights Design Guidelines make the cut
Following years of public meetings and countless hours of discussion, a new set of design Guidelines for the historic Heights District passed its final test. The city’s planning department presented the HAHC recommended Design Guidelines to the Quality of Life Committee June 28, and city council later passed the final draft. The New Houston Heights Historic Guidelines went into effect Nov. 13 according to the city’s website.
Flood recovery/prevention bonds pass
In late August, voters approved the Harris County Flood Control District’s $2.5 billion bond aimed at more than 200 potential flood risk reduction projects throughout the county. More than 40 of the proposed projects are within Garden Oaks. Oak Forest, the Heights, and other local neighborhoods.
Just two months later, voters overwhelmingly approved the City of Houston’s Prop A, which kept in place a “lock box” that allows revenue from a city drainage fee to be spent solely on street and drainage improvements to mitigate flooding effects.
Development landscape continues evolution
Meanwhile, Braun Enterprises continued their takeover of the Heights and Garden Oaks/Oak Forest in 2018, announcing several new developments and endeavors. In April, the company announced leasing of a roughly 12,500-sqaure-foot development on 2522 Yale St. near the Whole Foods 365 now open on Yale Street. A few months later, Braun bought long-time Heights staple Hickory Hollow, which is now being marketed for lease as a restaurant space.
Finally, in November, Braun announced the purchase of a shopping center off North Shepherd Drive, which is being branded as Shepherd Row in the Heights. The existing center is approximately 18,506 square feet, and renovations are expected to be complete by mid-2019.
Additionally, Capital Retail Properties has another project in its pipeline – this one at 802 W. 18th Street. According to Capital, the 10,000 square foot lot will feature a 3,000-square-foot retail project, dubbed 18th Street Bungalows.
Concrete batch plant meets strong resistance
Soto Ready Mix first applied for a permit at 3411 Desoto St., just off TC Jester Boulevard, back in March, but the permit was voided in April. Six months later, Soto re-applied, and it was again met with severe unrest from residents of nearby Acres Homes – though Soto representatives insist they have taken all precautions to mitigate environmental effects. Following a public meeting Oct. 22, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is currently reviewing requests for contested hearings.
The March news that former superintendent Richard Carranza departing for New York barely 18 months into his tenure with HISD was just the tip of the iceberg for the district in 2018, which endured its share of ups and downs and rocky situations.
In August, a potential teacher pay freeze – which would’ve kept teachers’ salaries at the 2017-2018 level for next year – was narrowly shot down by a 5-4 vote amidst controversy on the board. Trustees then walked back an initial October vote to replace interim superintendent Grenita Lathan with former superintendent Abe Saavedra.
Grocery revolution makes initial footprint
Initially, it was thought that the Heights H-E-B on Shepherd would present the first major grocer in the area since the old Fiesta, permitting issues and a host of other setbacks paved the way for Whole Foods 365 to claim that honor. The store opened Aug. 22 as the first in a potential trio of grocers soon to be making their way into the area along with H-E-B and ALDI.
Meanwhile, construction crews finished up work on the Garden Oaks Shopping Center storefront off North Shepherd. Work was related to sprucing up the storefront in conjunction with multiple new tenants in addition to German grocery giant ALDI – which Hartman Management announced will open in 2019. An H-E-B spokesperson told The Leader that H-E-B’s opening has been pushed back to an early 2019 timeline.
Historic venues closing their doors
The long-time comfort food staple will be consolidated to a location outside the local neighborhood in early 2019. CultureMap reported in August that owner Tony Riedel has sold the Hickory Hollow property in the Heights to Braun, but that the Fallbrook location will remain open. Along with it, this week will be the last hurrah for Fitzgerald’s, which has rocked the Heights for more than 40 years. The venue is closing its doors at the end of December. Tthe final show will be a New Year’s Eve bash featuring Austin act Skyrocket! the Band.
Reconstruction project looks to expand Shepherd/Durham
Back in October, The Memorial Heights Reinvestment Zone (MHRZ)/TIRZ 5 put in an application for federal funds that would support a road reconstruction project along both Durham and North Shepherd Drive. The proposed project would purportedly run from north of the bridge over White Oak Bayou (around 6th Street, though that location is not yet fixed) to the 610 Loop. It would essentially aim to enhance pedestrian and vehicle travel along two of the Heights’ main thoroughfares.