Houston Museum District Residents Oppose 33-Story Tower
Feature Illustration (above): The west side perspective of a proposed 33-story tower in the Museum Park District. Courtesy: City of Houston public records.
by Adolfo Pesquera
Houston (Harris County) — Museum Park District residents came downtown in force last week to oppose a proposed 33-story residential tower they claim is drastically out of place for the neighborhood.
The Planning Commission deferred for two weeks their decision on X Houston during the July 11 session to give staff more time to evaluate the project. The deferral had to do with three issues:
Giving Houston’s Urban Forestry time to assess the many large trees on site.
Consulting with CenterPoint Energy about power lines in the vicinity.
Getting an assessment from Public Works about a request for a drop-off area along Calumet.
The East Coast developer, PMG, rolled out a new multifamily concept in the summer of 2018 called X Social Communities. It’s being marketed as a live-work-play lifestyle community with an accessible price point. Multi-Housing News said the concept combines residences with co-working spaces, common-area amenities such as a fitness studio, cocktail lounge, and sky dog park.
The Chicago-based architect, Lamar Johnson Collaborative (LJC), submitted elevations for a 33-story tower (34 levels and 370 feet-two inches with the mechanical penthouse) that includes a perforated screened parking structure from levels two to eleven. The project site is a surface parking lot that fronts Calumet, La Branch and Crawford Streets.
The Museum Park District (left) and an inset aerial view of PMG’s proposed construction site (lower right). Images: Google Maps.
The exposed materials on the residential floors include a window wall, exposed concrete slab edges, and concrete balconies with perforated metal panel guardrails.
PMG is requesting variances to allow a 5-foot building line along Calumet Street for all floors above the ground level; and to allow a zero building line for a 29-foot long canopy along Calumet to protect residents from the elements.
PMG’s representative, Vernon G. Henry & Associates, said the 5-foot building line is needed because the L-shaped lot makes designing a garage challenging: “Allowing the 5-foot building line promotes a much more efficient design.”
The reduced building line is also requested to allow the architect to design larger balconies for the residential units.
The proposed site plan showing a drop-off area with canopy center left where it fronts Calumet. Courtesy: City of Houston public records.
Sandra Stevens, president of the Museum Park Neighborhood Association, accused PMG’s representatives of mischaracterizing the neighborhood to put their project in a better light. PMG claimed the “immediate area has several high-rise buildings, so this development will not adversely affect the neighborhood character,” but Stevens noted that in fact the immediate area is comprised of low to midrise residential buildings.
The tallest adjacent structure is the six-story Il Palazzo residences that are cater-corner to X Houston at Calumet and La Branch. The nearest residential tower of comparable height is Warwick Towers more than four blocks away and that’s on a public transit corridor, Stevens said.
Bill Powell, a neighborhood association board member said the developer did not engage the community and declined to delay the process to do so. He said variances should only be allowed when true hardships exist, but there is no such hardship in this case and a developer that does not consider development standards or the community should not be rewarded.
“Only grant variances if the community receives substantial benefits in return. In this case, it does not,” Powell said.
Residents complained that such a massive structure would cast a long shadow and disrupt the light, air and open space views of the neighborhood.
Concept view of the pedestrian realm looking west on Calumet Street, as designed by LJC.
Pat Campbell, executive director of the Houston Museum District, said the neighborhood, home to 19 museums, has experienced over $800 million in expansions and completed projects, will still others on planning stages.
“These projects and improvements have respected city ordinances, added green spaces and worked in concert with the Museum Park Livable Centers (Planning) Study, and the Houston walkability and bike plans. The X Houston project does not,” Campbell said. “Allowing this project to be developed would be like dropping Ashby High Rise into historic Boulevard Oaks.”
Campbell was referring to a decade-long court battle waged by residents of the nearby Boulevard Oaks Historic District against a proposed 21-story tower at 1717 Bissonnet St. The tower was never built.
“X Houston is not, I reiterate, in the transit corridor and seems not to be aligned particularly … with the Walkable Places Committee recommendations or the character of the district, which is predominantly low and midrise buildings,” Campbell said.
Northside perspective of the proposed X Houston Tower. Courtesy: City of Houston public records.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.