Mail Call

Rice and Its Neighbors

A statement, not a threat: In a recent Hair Balls" [August 2], Richard Connelly compared me to fictional mob boss Don Corleone and insinuated that I had made a threat when corresponding with neighbors of Rice University concerning a parking variance Rice is seeking for a new graduate housing facility. Please allow me to state the facts:

As we do whenever the university builds off-campus, Rice held extensive pre-design consultation with our neighbors to identify and, where possible, seek to accommodate neighborhood design preferences. The elected leaders of the Morningside Place Civic Association identified as their two top priorities minimizing the building's height and preserving green space. As a result, Rice designed a project of only four stories with a 27- to 39-foot setback (city code requires a ten-foot setback for this property, and neither the building code nor deed restrictions place any upper bound on height).

Key to this design is approval of a parking variance that will allow fewer spaces than Houston's off-street parking ordinance requires. This ordinance was written with the best of intentions, but not with this type of project in mind: a dedicated student residence, located three blocks from the students' campus, and served by free, air-conditioned university shuttles. These factors fundamentally alter the parking-demand equation, as demonstrated by Rice's eight years of experience operating a similar shuttle-served graduate housing facility north of the campus. Based on data from this first graduate housing project, the parking variance requested for the new project will provide between ten and 24 percent more parking than historically demonstrated per capita demand.

While we were seeking the parking variance that would make it possible for Rice to honor the neighborhood's top two expressed priorities (minimizing building height and maximizing green space), it became clear that without neighborhood support, Rice could be forced to build more parking than is necessary. Adding more parking would mean paving more of the site or constructing the building on top of ground-floor parking, i.e., reducing green space, increasing building height or both.  Since these were outcomes that neither Rice nor our neighbors wanted, I wrote to the civic association president asking for the neighborhood's support of the parking variance, which would forestall them. The neighborhood resident quoted in "Hair Balls" chose to characterize this communication as a threat. I would call it informing the neighborhood that their top two priorities were in jeopardy and asking for their support to help preserve them.

I thank you for this opportunity to set the record straight. For those interested in facts about the project in question, they may be found at www.rice.edu/shakespeare. Repeating unsubstantiated statements may make for interesting gossip, but it doesn't meet the standards of objective journalism; I trust that Houston Press readers will appreciate the difference.

Greg Marshall
Senior Director for University Relations
Rice University
Houston

Lofty Concerns

Still in shock: I'm in shock by this story ["What's Missing From This Picture?" by Keith Plocek, August 2]. I have personally met both of the managers briefly when I was given a tour of a loft I wanted to lease. I made too much money and was turned down. I do not have any personal relationship with either, but was treated fairly and professionally. As a matter of fact, I have sent friends to the manager who do meet their requirements. The building was clean, bright and cheerful. You could sense the togetherness and a kind vibe.

To the Houston Press, Keith Plocek to be exact, what are you down to? Going after decent people now? Shame on you! Is this how articles are put together by your paper? I will be finding something else to read, thank you very much.

Sidney Smyth
Houston

A contented tenant: My ex-girlfriend and I were the very first people to live at Elder Street Artist Lofts and I'm proud of that.  If it means anything, I'm about to sign my lease for a third year there. As long as I live in Houston, I plan on staying there and doing my artwork. Thanks, Aaron and Suzie.

John Mason Kymes
Houston

The man himself: Allow me to take this opportunity to thank the residents of Elder Street Artist Lofts and the readers outside of our community who lent their support after reading this article. I know it is clear from reading the public comments that Elder Street strives to meet the needs of its residents. While we have not achieved 100 percent satisfaction, that only gives us something for which to strive. I encourage everyone in the Elder Street community to continue to work together for the common good — to use this article to strengthen the community instead of tear it down.

Please indulge me as I ask those reading these comments to consider the following. Artspace and Avenue CDC support the artist community in providing affordable housing opportunities that allow many to pursue their talents and gifts while living in an affordable housing community. There are limitations because the program in which we participate does not allow exclusive marketing to artists or any one group. The bigger issue is the need for more affordable housing in Houston.

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