Growing Pains: Heights Residents Concerned About Second Proposed Apartment Complex

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For several years, complaints raged around the development of a Walmart near the corner of Yale and I-10. Certainly there was some degree of "Walmart sucks and we don't want it in our neighborhood" frustration, but chief among the legitimate concerns was what would happen to traffic at that intersection and the one immediately adjacent to it, Heights and I-10. If you have driven in that area since Walmart and all the corresponding shops have opened, you know the whole area is a traffic cluster-you-know-what, made worse by the fact that trains still halt traffic, sometimes at rush hour, along Heights Boulevard.

Add to this the exponential growth throughout the historic neighborhood over the past five years and the worries of residents seem justified. Now comes word that developer Trammell Crow is adding to its plans already in place to build a massive apartment complex on Yale just six blocks north of I-10. One complex at Yale and 7th -- right near where the hike-and-bike trail crosses Yale with no signal, it should be noted -- is under way and now they want a second just a block south at Yale and 6th.

As you might imagine, folks in the Heights are not thrilled.

A story in The Leader detailed many of the concerns and what was being done to address them, which is essentially nothing.

"Horror, shock and disbelief" are among the reactions of neighborhood residents, said Roxanne Davis, a founding member of the neighborhood advocacy group West Heights Coalition.

"We are disappointed to hear of yet another extremely large project in an area without sufficient infrastructure for the initial one," she said, particularly since WHC reps had asked TCR earlier this year if other projects were in the works in the immediate area.

A second apartment complex would likely compound any traffic, safety and density concerns the neighborhood had with the first one, she said. WHC had, for example, estimated Alexan Heights' 361 units would generate 500 cars following roughly the same peak commuter hours and southbound destination: I-10.

One area resident noted that the population of either complex would exceed that living in the single-family homes within the five-block area around them.

Traffic on Yale Street already stacks back six blocks from I-10, Davis said. Cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets encounters narrow roadways without curbs.

I lived in the Heights for more than 15 years and there were always concerns about development encroaching on the historic neighborhood. For the most part, areas deep inside the neighborhood have been spared, but portions along the major throughways -- Yale, Studewood and Shepherd -- are starting to show signs of economic expansion with apartments planned at Studewood and 14th, for example.

With no zoning laws on the books, developers are free to do pretty much whatever they like regardless of how it affects the neighborhood. It's ironic considering that when I moved in back in the mid-90s, people considered large sections of the Heights to be dangerous. There were gang fights at Love Park, just a block from where I lived.

As gentrification has set in, commercial enterprises have made their move as well, dropping expensive homes onto lots far too small to support them, just like what happened in West U, the Montrose, the Washington Corridor and other Inner Loop neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, communities are virtually powerless to stop developers, as we saw with the Walmart shopping center that is snarling traffic along Heights and Yale. It appears, at this point, there is no end in sight and very little that can be done. Even city council members throw up their hands:

Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said in an e-mailed response that one of District C's hallmarks is its "incredible level of development.

"When a new complex is being introduced within an already-developed community, I know the residents will have concerns regarding the impact on traffic, safety, and infrastructure in their neighborhood. However, in a state with strong property rights and in a city with no zoning regulations, there are few ways in which a Council Member can affect development."

She said her goal is "to ensure that the quality of life of my constituents remains high, and the best approach is to bring the developers and the residents to the table to address their concerns and attempt to find ways to compromise for the betterment of the community."

In this case, "compromise" would appear to mean "bend over and take it" for residents.

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