Houston: Pedestrian Realm Takes Precedence in Washington Avenue Retail Project
by Adolfo Pesquera
Houston (Harris County) – The Houston Planning Commission approved setback variances that will allow a 50,000-square-foot hospitality/retail project to proceed in the Washington Avenue corridor in the north end of the Montrose District.
The developer, Lovett Commercial, is operating on this project by the name Dittman on Washington LLC. The architect is Ted Rubenstein, a former Gensler architect who left in January 2017 to start his own firm–Graphite PLLC.
Aracely Rodriguez–the Planning & Development Department staffer that presented the project at the April 12 session–said the developer initially requested a five-foot building line on all sides of the proposed new structures. At a previous meeting, the commission raised objections about the narrow pedestrian realm and Lovett Commercial opted to defer the vote and work out a more pedestrian friendly concept with city staff.
1818 Washington Avenue site plan / courtesy of City of Houston public records.
The project involves constructing two buildings, each having two-story heights, with the larger Building A configured in an L-shape and having an area of 43,480 square feet. Building B would be 5,700 square feet. The site street boundaries are Washington Avenue, Silver Street and Center Street.
The development will be across Silver Street from the Platypus Brewing and Tacodeli, and it encompasses the existing brick building that is home to the popular steakhouse B&B Butchers and Restaurant Landing, 1814 Washington Ave. B&B Butchers will not be touched, however, the surface parking lot that exists beyond its west wall up to Silver Street will be demolished and replaced with the new structures.
The B&B Butchers existing parking lot to the east will be upgraded and new landscaping introduced. Additional off-street parallel parking spaces will be created on either side of Center Street.
Because of its proximity to Platypus Brewing, the architectural renderings position an outdoor street-level patio cafe directly across the street from the craft brewery. A metal structure rises above the patio cafe scene and provides two second story patio cafes, separated in the center but extending the length of the block along Silver Street.
The downtown skyline can be seen to the southwest of the corner of Silver and Center Streets. The B&B Butchers restaurant has a rooftop dining area that provides views of the skyline and the new development includes plans to replicate that feature with new a second story outdoor patio cafe. Image: Google Maps.
There appears to be a courtyard between Building B’s east wall and the larger building.
The planning department’s project narrative recognizes that this is part of a larger project. It states, “The applicant is proposing to develop a regional shopping center spread across three city blocks that will include at least five new retail building alongside the two existing buildings that currently house the Platypus Brewing Company, Tacodeli and B&B Butchers Restaurant.”
“The applicant’s concept is a walkable, mixed-use shopping center with centralized off-site parking. By moving the main parking area to the north away from the major thoroughfare, the applicant is able to develop a dense, pedestrian-focused retail center that doesn’t waste any of the primary frontage,” Rodriguez said.
Northeast perspective of the 1818 Washington Ave. project. Courtesy of City of Houston public records.
A Lovett Commercial marketing brochure also shows that an elongated rectangular surface parking lot the length of at least two city blocks is planned to the north of the development. When completed, it will hold 542 vehicles. A lot that size would more than compensate for the surface parking being removed and provides a parking allowance that could be credited toward future retail development.
Aerial perspective of project site with parking lot. Courtesy of Lovett Commercial.
According to the sidewalk schematics submitted, the compromise on setbacks provides pedestrian realms that are about 20-feet wide along Washington; 16 feet-6 inches wide along Silver; and 14 feet wide along Center. Each pedestrian zone breaks down as follows:
Washington Avenue: a 14-foot width of hardscape of which 10 feet is sidewalk, and a 6 foot landscape buffer to the curb.
Silver Street: an 11-foot width of hardscape of which 6 feet is sidewalk with an additional 5-foot setback, and a 5 foot-6 inch landscape buffer to the curb.
Center Street: a 7-foot sidewalk with a 7-foot landscape buffer.
Houston Planning Commissioner Ian Rosenberg. Courtesy: City of Houston video archives.
The setback variances allow the project to match the prevailing development trend on Washington Avenue. For example, Tacodeli at the northwest corner of Silver and Washington has reduced setbacks.
“The applicant’s goal for this project is to provide a cohesive, multi-block retail center that is integrated with and complimentary to the Washington Avenue neighborhood. The requested variance will enable the developer to locate their building closer to the subject streets to create a more intimate experience for future patrons,” Rodriguez stated.
Commissioner Ian Rosenberg applauded the developer’s willingness to modify their plans.
“I would just like to congratulate all parties in this process for what appears to be a tremendously positive outcome, as well as a great precedent-setting project.”
The mixed use retail project proposed by Lovett Commercial. Rendering by Graphite PLLC/courtesy of 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.