Rumors have swirled for years whether the lot will give way to a residential high-rise, a grocery store or some other development. News that H-E-B is closing a deal to put in a grocery store – directly across from a long-standing Fiesta – has generated little goodwill in the community, some members of which have banded together to form the Montrose Land Defense Coalition. The Coalition would rather see a park in its stead, a sympathetic but ultimately untenable position. The property, valued at a minimum of $11 million but likely worth in excess of $20 million, would cost the city nearly 1 percent of its fiscal year 2010 general funds solely for the land purchase. Menil, Mandell and Dunlavy parks are close by, and the money would be better invested in literacy programs for the Fondren or Gulfton areas than they would in greening an area that's already relatively green.
The Coalition would benefit from jettisoning the park idea entirely. Although H-E-B is in its closing stages, greater awareness could generate a more competitive bidding atmosphere over the tract. Virtually any other development – short of a high-rise – would be more beneficial for area traffic and infrastructure. A commercial plot or mixed-use lot would increase the walkability of the area, which will be served by the Mandell stop of the planned University Line. Montrose residents are rightly concerned about the neighborhood's creeping gentrification, but we'll likely see this story repeated time and again until Houston enacts concrete zoning laws and pursues historical preservation measures endowed with some real teeth.