Monday, April 23, 2007

Massive, Looming, Ugly. (Not to Mention Controversial!)

Didja get a gander at page D3 of the Houston Chronicle’s Sunday business section? We’re not talking about the column by real estate reporter Nancy Sarnoff, which included a straightforward updating of the “controversial mixed-use project” planned for Rice Village by Lamesa Properties and developer Randall Davis. We’re talking about the accompanying architects’ rendering of the controversial mixed-use project, which apparently has been designed to resemble a runaway cruise ship come to rest on a palm-laced beach.

Davis’s Sonoma development (and what a meaningless earth-toned glop of wine-country nothing is the name Sonoma---how about something with some local multicultural cachet, like Anahuac) has been controversial, as Sarnoff notes, because of the developers’ request that the city abandon the stretch of Bolsover between Morningside and Kelvin so it can be used as greenspace for the project, a move that nearby homeowners argue will exacerbate the existing parking and traffic problems in the once tight-knit enclave of small merchants. Controversial seems to be the descriptive of choice, as it’s even used in this recent “launch” press release from Davis Properties, wherein it is noted that
Sonoma has been the topic of much political discussion among South Hampton [sic] residents who fear the development will only bring more traffic and congestion to the area.
Randall Davis Company, commissioned by La Mesa [sic] Properties, has carefully designed and placed Sonoma at a location that will preserve the pedestrian-friendly culture and independent retail culture that is so unique to the Rice Village area. The Sonoma property will boast 225 residences, open air markets, bountiful pedestrian access and an abundance of one-of-a-kind boutiques, shops and markets.
Well, that’s sufficient explanation for us, but we don’t live anywhere near Rice Village.

What we find truly controversial is the inherent cheesiness of the project---the massive looming ugliness that’s so far out of whack with the existing scale and one- and two-story small-town walkabout character of the Village (a small town with a surplus of oversized SUVs clogging the streets) and surrounding neighborhoods.

Davis told the Chronicle he had been studying up to bring a “Mediterranean feel” to the 225 “high-end” Sonoma condos, which will include such Mediterranean amenities as “complete Viking kitchens with plate racks” and a “koi pond surrounded by River Birch trees” on the roof. (We always thought the areas around Rice University had more of a Northern European, Protestant feel, but maybe that’s just us projecting … )

This would be a mere matter of aesthetics versus property rights, a conflict on which we’re more than qualified to issue damning judgments because of our longstanding status as a snob (as well as a reverse snob and a reverse-reverse snob), but the street closure makes it a public policy question. We see no reason that the city should subsidize this hulking traffic-magnet monstrosity by anteing up a public thoroughfare, and we’d urge you to contact your councilmember and call on him or her to deny final approval to the street closing … but, hey, why bother.

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