The Houston Planning Commission will consider variance requests for both projects—Ella Grovewood and Ella Timbergrove—at a Dec. 16 meeting. Plans submitted to the city by Lovett Homes, the developer behind the project, indicate there would be 104 units between the two projects.
Travis Brown, a parent with children at both the nearby Sinclair Elementary School and Principrin School, was among the residents speaking out. Brown also moderated a Dec. 10 conversation hosted by Super Neighborhood No. 14, during which city of Houston officials and project representatives gathered to hear concerns and provide more insight. The meeting was attended by more than 100 people.
The variance requests that will be considered Dec. 16 relate to how far the buildings will be set back from the street. Although the city of Houston normally requires a setback of 25 feet, the variance, if granted, would allow the builder to use a setback of 15 feet instead. In exchange, Lovett would agree to some conditions sought by Houston, including building wider sidewalks.
The developer has brought its variance request to the planning commission at each of its last two meetings with commissions deferring on the request both times.
Instead of fighting against the variance, the focus for residents at the Dec. 16 meeting will involve pushing for more conditions as a part of the variance negotiations, Brown said. The three main items being sought are making sure the property adheres to post-2018 flood plain requirements, getting assistance with traffic safety, and having concerns addressed around parking and driveway layout.
"I think the community is prepared to accept the setback variance if we get assistance with [the] three other items," Brown said.
Drainage and parking concerns are generally addressed during a site plan review, which comes after the variance request is granted, said Josh Kester, a subcontracted surveyor working on the project with Tri-Tech Surveying and one of several speakers at the Dec. 10 super neighborhood meeting. Work on the project would not be able to advance until after that site review, he said.
However, the project could potentially be held to older flood plain standards under Chapter 19 of the city's code of ordinances, Brown said, which relate to elevation and underground detention requirements. Brown said he hopes the planning commission requires the developer to meet the newer, higher standards instead.
"Although they can proceed under pre-2018 Chapter 19, I think it would be prudent by the city [and] the planning department ... to require that as kind of a common sense thing," He said. "There’s a lot of emotion there for a lot of us that flooded during [Hurricane] Harvey, myself included. That to me is the biggest issue that remains."
Residents at the Dec. 10 meeting also expressed concerns about parking and safety for people walking on the already-narrow streets surrounding the project.
Karina Villasmil, the director of Principrin School on West 12th Street, said she was concerned for the safety of both families who attend her school as well as employees walking from a nearby bus stop.
"There's a lot of traffic already we are facing daily [during] the peak hours, morning and afternoon," she said at the Dec. 10 meeting. "We have a lot of parents who walk to the school with strollers. We want to make sure it's safe for them."
The development would feature 18 parking spots, Kester said, which meets the requirements in city code that require one spot for every six units. Homes will also have private garages, meaning no resident would need to park on the street, he said.
However, some residents cited similar nearby developments as examples of how the city's parking standards are not enough to prevent overflow street parking, which they said still accumulates on 12th.
Kester also said all cars would enter through shared driveways along the rears of homes, and there would not be any driveways from Ella Boulevard. The project's wider sidewalks and improved visibility at key intersections will also improve safety, he said.
Houston officials confirmed that a full traffic study would have to take place and be approved before the project is allowed to move forward.
The planning commission is expected to consider the variance request at its upcoming meeting, which will take place at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 16.