Restaurant and Bar Owners Crowd City Council Chambers In Advance of Proposed Parking Ordinance

Categories: News

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Photo by Troy Fields
The 82 stops right in front of El Real. Do you ever take it?
"I don't see anyone riding the bus to El Real," remarked James Jard, one of the 26 members of the City of Houston's Planning Commission that was gathered in City Council chambers yesterday afternoon for a public hearing.

It was just one of the many responses that the committee had to the standing-room-only crowd of some of the city's most outspoken bar and restaurant owners, owners that for the most part are diametrically opposed to the City's proposed off-street parking ordinance. If urban density and walkability are so important to the city, argued the committee, why aren't more Houstonians taking public transportation to their favorite bars and restaurants?

If passed, the ordinance would require bars and restaurants to provide significantly more off-street parking than is currently required. Advocates of the ordinance argue that it would ease parking concerns and overflow into residential neighborhoods in high-density urban areas such as Montrose and Washington Avenue.

Small business owners like Anvil's Bobby Heugel, on the other hand, are passionately opposed to any increase in parking, for fear that it will discourage growth of the city's local dining scene in favor of big-box retailers and chain restaurants, as well as discourage future growth of better public transportation. Heugel spoke to the committee along with business partner Kevin Floyd.

"The identity of what a restaurant and what a bar is in Houston is changing dramatically. It is no longer a large space, attempting to fill up with people from the suburbs. It is a localized movement," said Heugel. "You basically handicap people like me who have a positive impact on our community."

"The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau markets bars and restaurants like ours over and over again as a national identity for the city," continued Heugel, who is concerned that Houston's fledgling independent food scene will be crushed just as it's beginning to be recognized on a national level.

The large turnout at today's public hearing was due in large part to Heugel and Floyd's efforts at organizing like-minded business owners, but those efforts may have come too late.

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A public hearing drew a large crowd and a roster of speakers at yesterday's Planning Commission meeting.
"Last week was the first planning session I can remember in many, many years where members of the neighborhood came down in support of a bar or restaurant," said Jard in response to comments from David Robinson, president of the Super Neighborhood Alliance and the Neartown/Montrose Super Neighborhood, who was speaking in support of small restaurants and bars.

"Normally," finished Jard, "the people you represent are the ones who are down here every time we have a bar or restaurant asking for a variance, complaining about the lack of parking, complaining that there was a lease, but now it's gone away." Members of the small business community have had ample opportunities in the past to attend meetings, Jard said, but most haven't.

"In addition to telling us why this won't work and the damage it does to the small businesses, we'd really appreciate comments as to what do we do about those people?" asked committee member Paul Nelson. "I think that's why we're writing this ordinance, is in response to those things. It's easy enough to say what it won't do, but what we really need is some help to address those people it does affect."

While the proposed parking ordinance wouldn't affect current bars and restaurants, it could conceivably make it difficult for small businesses to get off the ground in the future: New bars would be required to provide 40 percent more parking, new restaurants would be required to provide 20 percent more, and daunting five-year leases on parking lots would be put into effect.

It was this last issue that Rachel Quan of the Houston Restaurant Association brought to the committee's attention. The HRA has worked alongside the Planning Commission throughout the construction of the new ordinance, but still found fault with several issues.

"We don't think we're going to be able to get a lot of owners to even agree to the minimum of five years for the lease agreements," Quan said. "Right now, many of them go month-to-month. Five years is a long time."

Jard pointed out, however, that most bar and restaurant owners don't go into their business thinking that they'll only last a month or two, referencing large chains like Chuy's in his statement. On other hand, he admitted: "There seems to be a disconnect, maybe in the size of the restaurant. If you have a restaurant that seats, say, 60 people. Maybe we hadn't thought of it that way."

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Photo by Groovehouse
Poison Girl has little to no parking, but that doesn't deter its customers. Should the City be able to require parking for a business that doesn't want or need it?
Committee member Sonny Garza further explained the five-year lease minimum in terms of financing: "If [businesses] don't have parking for the length of that loan, what happens? he asked. "We didn't want an inexperienced business owner to go out and assume, 'Well, in a year I'll be able to find land and do another lease agreement with them.' And they don't do it, their restaurant gets shut down, and they literally have to file for bankruptcy."

"It puts everyone in a very negative situation," Garza said. However, "both the landowner and the restaurant owner can [voluntarily] back out of their agreements," at any time, he continued.

None of this assuaged Scott Repass, owner of Poison Girl, who wrote in an email later that afternoon: "The new parking requirements would undoubtedly discourage small business development and encourage regional and chain stores. The three types of businesses who would be required to have more parking -- restaurants, bars, and barbershops or salons -- are traditionally locally owned. These are the types of businesses that individuals can start using just their personal savings and hard work. And those individuals are not likely to have the capital to buy the building next to theirs and tear it down for parking."

"I can't even begin to get into what these proposals do to the idea of a walkable city," Repass finished. "It is suburb thinking applied to the city as a whole."



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Location Info

Map

Poison Girl

1641 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Anvil Bar & Refuge

1424 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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39 comments
Ibrahim Sargin
Ibrahim Sargin

Strange, I thought America was all about personal choice and not forcing others to bear the burden of their own personal decisions. Why should a business owner be forced to bear the consequences of people wanting to drive to his/her premises and park their Dodge Ram 1500 within yards of the entrance? If you drive a car, please finance your own roads and your own parking instead of bothering others with your, well, with your crazy socialist ideas  (   :D  )

Wspringfield
Wspringfield

One more reason to support Houston rail. . . In a perfect world/city we have rail lines going out to all of the'burbs . . One day

MADDIE
MADDIE

Possible solution: "The London congestion charge is a fee charged for some categories of motor vehicle to travel at certain times within the Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ), a traffic area in London."  In otherwords, the burbies can stay in the burbs, the city can make money, and the neighborhoods can retain what little charm they have left, by catering only to those who want to be there. The money generated goes to mass transit projects. I do not know if this is the solution, but we must get creative. more parkinglot tops will  make worse our flooding as well as damage the esthetics of our hoods.

Mern721
Mern721

The real issue is that our inner neighborhood restaurants and bars are patronized by many people that live in those same neighborhoods and DO walk or bike there, so there is NO need for more parking! The suburbs aren't walkable AT ALL so the parking need IS there! I live in the Heights and walk to a lot of venues. If I go to another inner loop neighborhood with friends we carpool as much as we can! I have many friends that bike everywhere that there are viable and safe bike paths....

Elaine Conran
Elaine Conran

If folks want lots of parking, go to the burbs to eat.

WineLush
WineLush

I walk around Montrose to play, eat & drink.  I take a cab there when the weathers shit.  On nice nights I walk and do a pub crawl from Washington & Shepherd where I live and stop off at Backstreet, Red Lion, Keneallys, then trot down Westheimer, coffee along the way, a cheap shot at the now defunct Mary's, now it's El Real, Anvil, Poison Girl and so on.  Yes people in Houston can walk if they have to.  They will walk if they have to.  Cities all over the world don't have parking ordinances especially in Europe & the UK.  Get off your fat arses & walk to downtown and tell the planning commission to stuff their ordinances up their backsides.  Another closed minded reason Houston is always the big city with no respect.  I just can't wait for another restaurant with forced valet.  Cheaper now to take a cab than pay someone to tear my car up. 

discojm
discojm

you burbies need to go back to the suburbs and get the heck out of the city.

guest
guest

The High Cost of Free Parking.

Anse
Anse

I get tired of the criticism that we Innerloopers aspire to make a city like New York. I don't give a rip about New York, as nice a city as it is; I just want a more livable Houston. I don't accept this argument that our lack of quality public transit cancels out any notion of pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, either. I think the most damning aspect of all this is the fact that this ordinance will make it harder to restore existing structures that don't meet the requirements. It says a lot about the people running our city when a member of the planning commission wants to cite Chuy's, a chain, as an example of the kinds of businesses they're thinking about. It goes right to the heart of our struggle to value locally-owned and operated small businesses.

tastybits
tastybits

Most of these comments, and in fact the coverage by EOW, seem to miss the biggest issues:

1. City of Houston has no business dictating the number of parking spots an operator should have to support their business plan. City officials simply lack the ability to make such risk assessment. If a business owner believes the product will be good enough to overcome limited parking, then it should be their right to take that risk. The bar for such businesses is typically higher than your average Chuy's location, and if eventually enough of such businesses that operate at a significantly higher level level cluster together (as usually happens), some enterprising american will find a way to provide paid parking for customers that don't want to take a long walk. The Anvil crew is already creating such cluster of businesses on Montrose and their patrons will gladly walk a quarter mile to get a proper drink. 

2. The biggest question is whether residential property rights should supersede the needs of local businesses that create jobs and stimulate local economy. In this case, and especially at this time, the answer is "no". The streets residents in the Heights and Montrose are trying to protect are public property and they should be available as a public good of the city, rather serve the needs of the few property owners put out by street parking. I recognize that street parking in neighborhoods is a nuisance, but its a nuisance every major city in US has learned to deal with. In Houston, more so than anywhere else, everyone has the opportunity to live in a quiet sleepy neighborhood. Just move out of the areas where density is starting to increase and allow the city to move forward. 

There are countless talented individuals in Houston who could be launching and building their small businesses in Houston, where most operating costs are low. Our parking ordinances stifle the ability of these people to become business owners, putting us on a direct path towards being a nameless, faceless desert of big box retailers and chain restaurants. 

Parking requirements for small businesses should be going down to stimulate local economy. Even as much as engaging in a debate about whether or not we should increase them is moving in a wrong direction. 

spock
spock

never pass up an opportunity to pimp Anvil and El Real

wants to love downtown
wants to love downtown

The restaurant owners are just trying to hold on to their valet parking ripoff.....

iMidget
iMidget

If we were to use said public transportation, how would we safely walk to our destination?  How many of those sidewalks are actually safe?  The city is also forgetting the personal safety one acheives being in a locked car in a large (but not densely populated) city.  I would not walk in any area of town after dark, especially alone.

Michael Coppens
Michael Coppens

I am so tired of this bullshit suburban schtick that keeps getting thrown into this argument. Get off yourselves. People from the Heights aren't walking to Anvil for a drink. People from Montrose aren't hopping on Metro to eat at Zelko Bistro. They're driving their cars just like everyone else. 

Houston is a commuter city whether you're talking about any of the pretentious little inner loop neighborhoods or people who drive in from the suburbs. While you can certainly make Houston more "pedestrian friendly", you'll never remove the necessity for an automobile.Regardless, these news laws do not sound like a win-win situation. However, it sounds like the city is more open to negotiation than the community they are trying (possibly failing?) to assist. 

CMN
CMN

If urban density and walkability are so important to the city, argued the committee, why aren't more Houstonians taking public transportation to their favorite bars and restaurants?

Because our public transportation system is TERRIBLE.  I would absolutely LOVE to be able to hop on a rail or direct bus travel from my Montrose apartment to the Heights, downtown, wherever.  However, using Metro's online "trip planner," if I wanted to get from my place to Hubcap Grill in the Heights tonight it would take me TWO hours, including FIVE bus transfers.

City of Houston, stop trying to ordinance the shit out everything and spend your time on improving public transport.

Kevin S.
Kevin S.

I'm so disappointed with the City of Houston.  An opportunity to embrace walkable mixed use development and instead the City does an about face.

The logic used by the commission is inexplicable.  You can't have urban density AND parking for everyone's car.  That's crazy.

The commission said no one takes the bus to El Real.  I guess no one on the commission has been to Cafe Brasil or The Broken Spoke.  Zero parking. Barnaby's on Fairview. About 8 spots.Why even bother building four, count them FOUR, new light rail lines, if you can't get past Houston's car culture?  Now you are just enablers.The award given to Montrose for one of the top 10 neighborhoods in the country last year should be returned.  It was awarded because of the neighborhood's "eclectic" mix of restaurants and businesses and walkability.

The commission exercised zero planning for the future.  Simply knee jerk reaction to past experience.

And when the city says it's friendly to small businesses, it's not true. This is another example.

KevinOwner, Ziggy's Bar and Grill

H_e_x
H_e_x

As if Houston doesn't already have enough parking. This is just trying to make the city like the suburbs: tons of parking, but no where worth driving to.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

My entire feeling on the matter is summed up in the cutline for the Poison Girl photo: "Should the City be able to require parking for a business that doesn't want or need it?" I don't think it should, but I did want to present both sides of the issues.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

El Real was brought up in the meeting by one of the committee members, which provoked a big response. And Anvil's owners were two of the most instrumental people in organizing the large crowd yesterday. Once again, stand down, commenters.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Any part of town? Good God, you are one sheltered person. Kind of makes me sad for you.

H_e_x
H_e_x

I don't live in the inner loop and what people are pissed off at is that the city tries to make the city like the burbs. If you want ample parking, stay in the burbs. If y'all really have it together up there and it isn't a black hole of depression, then you have everything you need. There is no need to push a suburban agenda on the urban landscape.Now, if the city council was developing plans to have a competent mass transit system, then we could talk. That would be a great idea, but people aren't willing to pay for it.

Anse
Anse

I think this misses the point, though. I live in the Heights and no, I don't take the bus to Montrose. But I do like to walk, and places like Zelko Bistro are walkable for me. Montrosians can walk to Anvil and such places. The fact is that there are plenty of places where there is little or no parking, as this article and others have pointed out, and they do just fine. Forcing new restaurants and bars to have more parking doesn't make much sense when places like Poison Girl routinely attract crowds right now.

Early Cuyler
Early Cuyler

I have to agree with you on that.  I live in the Memorial area now, before that I lived in the Heights, and before that The Montrose, and you nailed it, they drive just as much as any other part of the town.  I also agree with CMN's point about the terrible public transport in this city, if you even want to call it that.  If we had even decent public transport, I would be all over it.  I hate driving in this city of self-absorbed, no manners, and no driving skills wonks.

Elaine Conran
Elaine Conran

exactly, where the hell can you go on the transportation system in Houston.  It doesnt take you where you need to be,, the Med center?  Downtown?  Useless.  I grew up in a city where you took public transport every where, we didnt own a car, but in Houston that is just not practical, however I know that I have to factor in time to park if I want to be in the Washington corridor, Mid town , or Montrose, and thats just fine with me. Doesn't the city have more important things to do?

Michael Coppens
Michael Coppens

Would be curious to know where exactly you live. I just did a quick search from Westheimer and Montrose to the Heights Hubcap Grille, and the best I came up with was a 30 minute trip with one transfer.

You're likely close to the 82 Westheimer or 34 Montrose Crosstown, start there. 

To be fair, METRO  is really best used for distances less than 10 miles. I can't imagine you're outside that limit.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

"You can't have urban density AND parking for everyone's car." Unfortunately, that's a reflection of the city as a whole right now. Houston wants to be dense, urban and walkable, but Houstonians also want to keep their cars for the days when it's hot or rainy or they have to go real far, yadda yadda yadda.

ETA: Like CMN says below, Houstonians will be bound to their cars for as long as the City doesn't provide better public transportation. But are the taxpayers willing to fund it?

Gdcraic
Gdcraic

Exception taken to this comment.  We have plenty of places to go in the suburbs and many stay in the suburbs because we can't be bothered to deal with the parking crap in congested areas like Midtown.  I don't want to drive for 30 minutes, spend 30 minutes looking for a parking place, then another 30 minutes to an hour waiting to get into some pretentious restaurant. Or, God forbid have to valet park and be at the mercy of valet companies.   I want to leave when I want to leave.   I have better things to do.  Happy to stay in the burbs.

Kylejack
Kylejack

 Doesn't Poison Girl have use of the lot between it and Taxi Taxi, as well as the lot behind the shopping center? Even if PG were a new bar, this would seem to satisfy the 14 per 1,000 sf proposed rule, wouldn't it?

That's not to say that I agree with what the city is doing. I've done away with my car and these dumb parking rules just force businesses to be farther apart. The city also doesn't seem to care too much about providing bike facilities. How about an override for parking requirements for businesses that provide a bike rack or participate in the Q Star program (discounts for holders of the Metro Q card: http://www.ridemetro.org/Servi...

spock
spock

logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – or the one

Michael Coppens
Michael Coppens

You're going to talk to Spock like that? He might do some Vulcan Mind Meld on you! Call me, I'll bring my unicorn.

Michael Coppens
Michael Coppens

Using METRO comes with a good learning curve, but I was able to navigate from the East End to Downtown over to Menil without any issues. I even took the bus from Downtown to Hobby Airport. It's a workable system if you take the time to learn. 

I'm not sure it's much different anywhere else. I do think most Houstonians are too uppity to relegate themselves to taking the bus. I also think too many people shit on METRO without have the first clue how challenging the concept of mass transit in a city like Houston is. It's probably far more complex than anything they have in New York, mainly because this city was built for cars, not subways. New York was built quite the opposite. 

It also doesn't help that a good 4-5 months out of the year are too miserably hot to walk back and forth from the bus stop. My best solution was to use an umbrella to stay in the shade, but I looked like a goofball! ;)

Mark
Mark

I took the train to the bus stop and made it to the airport iah in an hour, 10 minutes

Mansoorakbar
Mansoorakbar

Good for you.  I suggest you work in suburbs, eat there live there and never bother to attend any event in Downtown, Midtown, Washington/Montrose area.  I live in Richmond/Rosenberg area but love to drive all the way to the abovementioned areas to wine and dine. It gives me lots of pleasure to have a cold beer in a hole in the wall(La Carafe) then sit in a cookie cut place in Sugar Land.  Shame on folks at City Council.  No wonder Houstonians love to drive to Austin, San Antonio, and New Orleans to have good night life.

WineLush
WineLush

You just summed up everything I hate about snotty women in the burbs.  Please stay there, don't venture out, stay closed minded and uneducated. 

H_e_x
H_e_x

As others have said, that might work well in the burbs, but not in a city. You have your needs, which is refusing to not drive or carpool somewhere, and we have ours. I don't even live in the inner loop and I have no problem finding parking. You sound like you don't even go into town, so you don't really have a horse in this race, do you?

furioso ateo
furioso ateo

Great, then please stay out there, and keep your crappy suburban parking dreamland out of the city, which doesn't need it, and would suffer from having it imposed.

H_e_x
H_e_x

That is illogical.

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