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Houston: High-End Mixed-Use Project in Upper Kirby Passes Planning Hurdle

Feature Illustration (above): Transwestern Development Co. concept rendering of a retail center in The RO.

Posted: 8-26-19

by Edmond Ortiz

Houston (Harris County)— A proposal to transform the former ExxonMobil research campus in the Upper Kirby area into a mixed-use community recently took a major step forward.

The Houston Planning Commission unanimously voted Aug. 22 to recommend the River Oaks Green project – also called The RO in marketing materials – for approval with a 15-foot building line along the western side of Buffalo Speedway.

A joint venture between San Francisco-based Spear Street Capital and Transwestern Development Co. owns the 16.8-acre tract at 3120 Buffalo Speedway. The two developers are advancing their project under the special purpose entity name of 3120 Buffalo Speedway Associates LP.

The two-phased River Oaks Green redevelopment would cover eight parcels. Phase I would involve a retail/office building and a retail/multi-family structure.

Spear Street and Transwestern propose dedicating the first floors of both initial structures to retail use, capitalizing on the presence of tenant residents as well as pedestrians using Buffalo Speedway and West Alabama.

Some of the project elements described in an online marketing flyer for The RO are:

  • 310,000 square feet of office space
  • 65,000 square feet of restaurants and retail space
  • 644 residential units
  • 200-room hotel with 175 living units

The property, which measures a total of 730,370 square-feet, sits west of downtown Houston between the River Oaks and Upper Kirby neighborhoods.

Concept site plan for The RO, a 17-acre mixed-use development in Upper Kirby by Spear Street and Transwestern.

It was home to the ExxonMobil Upsteam Research Center from the 1950s to 2015. The research center buildings were razed by Spear Street and Transwestern after the two companies acquired the land in 2017.

Spear Street and Transwestern had sought from the Planning Commission a variance to allow a 9.5-foot and a 10.5-foot building line along the west side of Buffalo Speedway to better accommodate certain architectural features, overhangs and a cantilevered habitable building area on the development.

But they dropped the shorter setback requests and decided to go with a continuous 15-foot building line along the same road. The city was requiring a 25-foot building line.

The redevelopment is designed to turn West Alabama Street and Buffalo Speedway into “an aesthetically pleasing pedestrian realm to serve and enhance the commercial and residential uses,” according to the variance case on file with the city.

Houston-based BGE Inc. is the project engineer. No construction timeline or cost has been provided.

A conceptual rendering of a planned mixed-use development at Buffalo Speedway and West Alabama Street. Image: 3120 Buffalo Speedway LP/City of Houston