Westchase District has launched its latest mobility study with the aid of more than 20 community leaders who will meet over the next six months to review mobility conditions in Westchase and make recommendations for future improvements.The group includes representatives of the City of Houston, Alief ISD, Houston METRO, Houston Police Department, Harris County Toll Road Authority, Ft. Bend County, Houston-Galveston Area Council, as well as area employers, property owners and neighborhoods.
Since its inception, Westchase District has been at the forefront of mobility improvements in west Houston. Its first mobility plan was undertaken in 2001. In 2011, the District’s Pedestrian/Transit Access Master Plan added to the wealth of research and planning that has occurred to keep the Westchase area a highly mobile area.
“These plans don’t just sit on a shelf and gather dust,” noted Projects VP Irma Sanchez. “We use the data we gather and the ideas that are generated to make proposals to the various governmental agencies empowered to make these improvements for us. The property owners, business owners and residents of Westchase District are the beneficiaries of that effort.”
Westchase District engaged Traffic Engineers Inc. to conduct the latest study in December of 2015. Since then TEI’s project team has been conducting research and evaluating existing conditions. The first meeting of the steering committee was held March 8th to gather input from area stakeholders.
TEI will further refine the project goals based on the input from the steering committee, conduct focus groups and develop an interactive web page that will allow for additional community input. The 10-month project will be finalized in October.
“We’re looking at everything from tollroads to interstates to major city streets and feeder streets,” added Sanchez. “We’re also looking at transit service, bike lanes, sidewalks and other pedestrian access features.”
“The streets are ribbons of real estate that we have to use more efficiently,” observed Amar Mohite from the City of Houston planning department, one of the steering committee members.
The study area covers more than just the 2,800 acres of Westchase District. The study is focused on a 3,600 acre area that stretches from Kirkwood to Westerland and from south of Bellaire to north of Buffalo Bayou.
Dig This: District Breaks Ground on Hike and Bike Trail
A Scoop of a Story: Dishing the dirt are (from left): Jim Murphy, Westchase District; Lucio Ortiz, Texas Department of Transportation; Gwen Tillotson, City of Houston; Sandra Musgrove, Harris County Flood Control District; and Philip Schneidau, Westchase District Board of Directors.
City, county and state officials joined Westchase District for a groundbreaking ceremony recently marking the construction start of the Brays Bayou Connector Trail (BBCT).
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300"] Steve Le, City Council Member District F, speaks at the District's groundbreaking for the Brays Bayou Connector Trail.[/caption]
The new 1.92-mile trail will run south from Richmond Avenue to Bellaire Boulevard and will feature underpasses at Richmond, Westpark Drive, Westpark Tollway, Harwin Drive and Bellaire, allowing users to enjoy the trail entirely off-street. The BBCT will also connect to the City of Houston's on-street bikeway network via street connectors at each roadway intersection.
"This is the first project under construction using funds from our 380 Area Agreement," said Jim Murphy, Westchase District's general manager, referring to an agreement between Westchase District and the City of Houston which provides money from property tax revenue increases to finance public infrastructure projects. "It represents the start of many more exciting projects already in cue that will improve the quality of life for Westchase District residents, workers and visitors."
Construction of the BBCT will cost about $4 million and will be funded with a grant from the Federal Transit Agency and money from the 380 Area Agreement. Expected completion of the BBCT is Fall 2016.
Dig It: District Grows Trail Network
In emerging subdivisions or master-planned communities, it’s relatively easy to develop a park or design a winding trail for residents. In an area with precious little undeveloped land such as Westchase District, shoehorning in outdoor amenities among existing structures can prove a challenge. However, by the end of this year Westchase District will feature nearly four miles of off-street trails for joggers, walkers and bicyclists.
This spring Westchase District broke ground on Brays Bayou Connector Trail (BBCT), a new 1.92-mile off-street trail that will run south from Richmond Avenue to Bellaire Boulevard. The 8-to 10-foot concrete path will include benches, water fountains, trash receptacles, landscaping, wildflowers, tree groves and a four-piece workout station.
The most exciting thing about the trail is its connectivity to a larger system, according to Irma Sanchez, vice of projects for Westchase District. “This trail will connect to the City of Houston’s on-street bikeway network at each roadway intersection and to the Westchase Park & Ride on Harwin,” said Sanchez.
The direct trail connection to this METRO facility will enable trail users access to METRO’s bus route 151 (Westpark Express), which travels to downtown. Across the street from the park and ride, BBCT will connect to the 8-acre, city-owned Harwin Park and the 81-acre, county-owned Arthur Storey Park, as well as the future Brays Bayou Trail.
On the north end, the BBCT will connect at Richmond to the District’s existing Library Loop Trail., which loops east and west between the Robinson – Westchase Neighborhood Library, 3223 Wilcrest Drive, and the Deborah Sue Schatz United States Post Office, 2909 Rogerdale Road.
The new trail will feature underpasses at Richmond, Westpark Drive, Westpark Tollway, Harwin Drive and Bellaire Boulevard, allowing trail users to safely enjoy the trail entirely off-street. “We’re lowering the existing corrugated steel storm outlets and encasing them in square concrete box culverts to create the street underpasses,” said Irma Sanchez, vice president of projects for Westchase District. “This way they become a seamless part of the trail and users can travel right over the tops of them.” Sanchez estimates this portion of the project will run about $648,000.
Construction of the BBCT will cost about $4 million and is being funded with a grant from the Federal Transit Agency and dollars from the 380 Area Agreement between Westchase District and the City of Houston, which provides money from property tax revenue increases to finance public infrastructure projects.
“This project is an amazing opportunity to partner with the District,” said Gwen Tillotson, deputy director of economic development for the City of Houston. “Westchase is phenomenal at leveraging money from various sources to achieve their desired projects. This trail is a great example of that.”
Partnerships Net Progress
Another significant trail partner is the Harris County Flood Control District, which had to approve all the plans for the trail. “Our first mission is storm water drainage,” said Sandra Musgrove, HCFCD infrastructure division director. “Properly designed trails support that mission, while adding visibility and enhanced security along our bayous.”
Still more trail partners exist in the form of landowners who gave the District recreational easements to build on their property, which is immediately adjacent to the canals.
“Our congregation saw it as an opportunity to be of service to the District,” said Dr. Ed Montgomery, founder and pastor of Abundant Life Cathedral, whose property touches BBCT north of Harwin. “The trail is a way to promote healthy living and family interactions and I feel it will help to change the environment of our community.”
The trail construction should be complete this fall. “We’ve had some rain delays, but overall construction is good so far,” said Enrique Allende, project engineer with Miranda Construction, the contractor responsible for building BBCT. “The biggest challenge is working in tight spaces along the channel. Fitting our equipment in and having to work is tricky, but the property owners whose land backs up to the trail have been great about accommodating us.”
Another owner working with Westchase District is CenterPoint Energy, which allowed the District to maximize the wide swath of greenspace along the transmission corridor running north and south between Westheimer to Richmond. Through an agreement with CenterPoint, the District will begin construction soon on a trail that will connect to the Houston Community College campus at Westheimer and Hayes Road, with a mid-block crossing at Meadowglen Lane. The trail is an example of a larger effort between CenterPoint and the City of Houston to enhance the use of some 500 miles of transmission corridors crisscrossing the city.
“While the trail itself is pretty basic, we’re looking at adding landscaping and benches to some open spaces just off the trail,” said Sanchez. “It will be yet another outdoor amenity that will help enlarge our trail network and enhance walkability in Westchase District.” She added that the trail will cost about $600,000, is paid for with funds from the 380 Area Agreement and a federal grant, and should be completed by the end of the year.
Looking Good: New Mastarms and Landscaping
Two new projects are underway in Westchase District which have things looking spiffy. First up: at the request of the District, the City of Houston is upgrading the traffic signal at the intersection of Briarpark and Westpark, replacing the traditional span-wires with the cleaner and safer mastarm signal poles.
[caption id="attachment_5635" align="aligncenter" width="671"] Beltway 8, North of Bellaire[/caption]
Next, the Texas Department of Transportation is landscaping the greenspace along southbound Beltway 8, just north of Bellaire. TxDOT funded 100 percent of the construction costs and used designs provided by Westchase District. When completed, the District will take over maintenance of the area after one year.
Amenities and Access Drive Leasing Decisions
Top names in commercial real estate gathered to discuss the “Future of Westchase District” at the biennial event sponsored by Bisnow and hosted by Parkway Properties at its Westchase District campus – the four building, 1.4 million square foot CityWestPlace.
The event was moderated by Westchase District General Manager Jim Murphy who led off the discussion by asking what amenities tenants are looking for these days.
“We used to push restaurants,” said Philip Schneidau of Woodbranch Management in referring to the kinds of amenities his leasing team would promote when showing his properties. “Now its parks, trails, apartment communities…that’s what tenants are asking for. Fitness centers are also important. Instead of having one down the street, tenants want one in the office building.”
Phillips 66 upped the ante on office building amenities when it opened its 1.1 million square foot corporate headquarters in Westchase District. According to Greg Cardwell, Manager of Real Estate Services, they built a soccer pitch and 1/5 mile running track atop the employee parking garage. The campus also has a putting green, full-size gym and fitness center, medical and dental facilities, a shoe shine stand, dry cleaners, meditation room and nursing mother rooms. It’s all about the mental and physical well-being of the company’s 2,200 on-site employees, said Cardwell.
Scott Arnoldy, managing partner of Triten Real Estate Partners, said access was the key to signing Lockton to a 120,000 square foot lease in the new building his company is developing at 3657 Briarpark Drive. Even in this boutique-style building, amenities are important and Arnoldy has found new ways to differentiate his building. It will include “shower suites” rather than locker rooms will offer a more upscale dining experience, rather than a deli/café for tenants.
Westchase District Breaks Ground on Third Hike and Bike Trail
Dig This: Members of the Westchase District community broke ground Friday on the .6-mile HCC Campus Trail near Westheimer and Hayes Road. (From left): Jack Pidgeon, West Houston Christian Center; James Koski, Office of Mayor Sylvester Turner; Zachary Hodges, HCC Northwest; Tracy Bridge, CenterPoint Energy; Beth Van Winkle, Milestone Management; and Jim Murphy, Westchase District.
Westchase District staff and West Houston civic leaders broke ground Friday morning on the HCC Campus Trail, Westchase District’s third hike and bike trail. The 10-foot-wide concrete path will run north-south between Westheimer Road and Richmond Avenue, with a mid-block crossing at Meadowglen Lane. It will connect to the Houston Community College campus at Westheimer and Hayes Road, as well as to the District’s existing trail network.
The trail is funded by a federal transportation grant and the District’s 380 Area Agreement with the City of Houston. Project completion should be about 100 days after construction begins. It is the first example in West Houston of a larger effort between CenterPoint Energy and the City of Houston to enhance the use of some 500 miles of transmission corridors throughout the city. CenterPoint has allowed the District to maximize the wide swath of greenspace along the transmission corridor running between Westheimer and Richmond.
“We are pleased to be part of this hike and bike trail,” said Tracy Bridge, executive vice president and Electric Division president for CenterPoint Energy. “We recognize that in an urban environment, green space is at a premium. Allowing the public to access our transmission corridors is a great example of how private assets can be used for public benefit.”
“HCC is excited to have this new trail in its back yard,” said Dr. Zachary Hodges, president of Houston Community College-Northwest. “It will connect students and the community to our growing and innovative Westchase campus, future home of the West Houston Institute, which will be a catalyst for innovation and creativity in higher education.”
“This trail has all the benefits and features that add value to create real transportation alternatives,” said Jim Murphy, general manager of Westchase District and Texas state representative, whose legislative bill brought powerline corridor trails to Harris County. “Now we will have the newest addition to our four-mile trail network that runs from Westheimer to Bellaire. Whether for recreation purposes or from getting from point to point, this trail opens up options to new users who can take advantage of what we’ve created and connectivity to lots of great places. It’s really quite an astounding accomplishment.”