Texas Construction News from Virtual Builders Exchange
by Adolfo Pesquera
Houston (Harris Co.) – The Houston Planning Commission deferred action on three variance requests related to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s plans for a new general consulate building.
Studio Red Architects, designer for the Saudi Arabia Royal Consulate, brought before the planning commission a setback issue that affected security. Saudi Arabia seeks a variance to reduce the minimum building line setback from 25 feet to 10 feet. This is to allow more room to set up a security check point.
“The Ministry’s technical security requirements strictly dictates that access to the site be controlled at the property line by means of a perimeter barrier, a security station and a security checkpoint for vehicles accessing the property,” the architect’s request states. “Because this requirement would not provide adequate space for a vehicle in queue at the gate to pull completely out of the lane of traffic on Wilcrest Drive, it is not reasonably feasible to meet this provision.”
The security stations (there are two) would house up to three people who would process pedestrian visitors, screen vehicles, monitor the perimetere and traffic within the compound.
Saudi Arabia Consulate landscape materials plan
However, the commissioners voted on Thursday to defer the request, as well as two others, because they wanted to review the overall development plat first. They agreed to revisit the project in two weeks.
While the commissioners took no action, they did have questions on how traffic would stack up at the security station and whether it would queue into Wilcrest.
A spokesman for the project said the checkpoint was designed to accommodate two cars off-street. When asked how the consulate would manage traffic during special events that attract many guests, he said arrangements would be made to pre-screen guests so that they a processed through quickly.
As for the general public coming to the consulate for visas or other business, the spokesman said there would be 12 visitor spaces outside the compound. The general public would not have access to parking within the compound.
Studio Red was selected to design the facility in 2013. The consulate site is in the Westchase district on a 3.5-acre tract.
Saudi Arabia Consulate reflecting pool
“This consulate design is the result of great work by Studio Red Architects,” said Faisal Shah, Houston-based general counsel to the consulate. Although the architects are based in Houston, he said that was a coincidence, as the firm was only selected after a major international competition.
“We hope that this project will be a truly iconic special landmark building in the city of Houston,” Shah told the commissioners.
In an attempt to skirt city oversight, the applicant had previously asked the planning commission to consider the proposed site foreign soil. The planning commission denied that request in December.
Today’s appeal puts more emphasis on terror threats and security needs.
“The mere presence of foreign governments can serve as an impetus for negative attention and can draw potential threats from any source,” the applicant states. “A threat to the building would be a threat to the users of the building as well as the general public in and around the area.”
There is also a second variance request; this one is to reduce the private driving lane around the consulate building from a width of 28 feet to 24 feet.
The consulate building is drawn in 40 feet behind the property line, and their are several residential structures intended for staff or guest housing.
“The residential units are reserved for the use of Diplomats and Staff who are serving a fixed-duration commission from the Ministry to visit or work in the Royal Consulate in Houston. Their functional layout, includes habitable rooms for living, sleeping, cooking and eating. Two private parking spaces are reserved for each unit and are separate from the parking provided to the Consulate for employees and visitors. These residential units are strictly not available to the general public.”
In front of the main entrance is a grand reflecting pool with a waterfall feature that is flanked with palm trees to either side. Pool steps are to be finished with quartzite “Blanco Mist” slab. The reflection pool will be inlaid with sandstone, Sahara Fleuri natural finish, and dark brown glass.
A second reflecting pool is placed in the center of a courtyard behind the consulate. A variety of granite pavers (Cambrian black, Kashmair cream, Walnut dark) will be used for pathways surrounding the building.
The planting plan includes the use of live oak, Mexican sycamore, bald cypress, crape murtle, Japanese blueberry tree, Medjool palm, as well as about 16 types of flowering shrubs and ground cover. The planting plan calls for 10 street-side trees, two parking lot trees, and 100 shrubs. A third variance request asks that the applicant be allowed to forgo a requirement to provide street tress along the frontage of Wilcrest Drive.
Plans also include 79 off-street parking spaces.
The Houston consulate is one of only three that Saudi Arabia maintains in the United States.
Saudi Arabia Consulate villas