Too much of a good thing?
Not only is HEB hanging a store over the heads of Heights residents only if they undo 104 years of history, they're doing it knowing they have another lease signed just 2 miles away at Washington & S. Heights. This 97,000 sf store will be the largest HEB in the region.
If this is about more grocery store options and competition, how are other stores supposed to compete in the Heights with two brand new HEBs at each end of the Heights, not to mention the existing store on W. 18th, all within a 2 mile radius of the center of Houston Heights?
Myths About the Dry Area Vote
Myth: Changing the dry area is a grassroots effort and “not driven by businesses wanting to sell alcohol.”
There is really only one business wanting to sell alcohol so adamantly, so this is partially true. Since the petition even came on the radar of Heights residents, this effort has been exclusively backed by HEB. In fact, they have spent over $120,000 as the sole contributor the the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition. Only recently has HEB leadership publicly acknowledged the profit motive of the company’s involvement in leading the charge to change the dry area.
It is also true that Keep The Heights Dry is partially funded by a Woodland Heights resident/voter and residential realtor who owns property in the dry area. If anyone can find a way for one residential realtor to grossly profit from restricting land use to preserve neighborhood character, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for forwarding. Our other financial backing is from a Houston Heights resident and property owner who represents no outside interest other than neighborhood character protection.
Myth: We simply need more grocery stores for the thousands of new residents flocking to the Heights.
In reality, the population of the Heights trended downward from 1990-2010. Though a lot has changed in the 6 years since comprehensive available census data, we are still on the low end of population growth rates compared to the rest of the city.
As far as a grocery store imperative in the Heights goes, only 32% of residents are more than 1 mile away from a grocer selling fresh produce (a commonly agreed upon working definition of a food desert). This is even below the entire Houston average of 44%. In other words, the vast majority of Heights residents are within minutes of a grocery store.
Myth: Deed restrictions or the historic districts are what protects the existing dry area from unwanted over-commercialization.
In fact, Houston Heights doesn’t have blanket deed restrictions, and virtually none of Yale, Heights Blvd. or W. 19th have deed restrictions that would prevent large chain operators from entering the market. As far as historic restrictions go, there are plenty of lots without contributing structures that become vulnerable down the line.
Myth: Since this vote is just about off-premises consumption, it would never lead to chain restaurants or a bar.
Actually, Texas Petition Strategies, the direct recipient of over $95,000 of HEB’s expenditures for this election specializes in those sorts of elections, too. Once we are added to their list of “results” that becomes all the more reason for another large corporate interest to hire them to change that law just as easily. As in this campaign, they would draw from years of experience crafting exactly the sort of message that convinces voters there is a groundswell of local support for dry area changes when they are always funded by a large retailer.
Caution: If Houston Heights voters don’t send a loud and clear message to HEB and Texas Petition Strategies, history shows that they are likely to try again.
Myth: The dry area needs to change simply because it’s old and archaic.
It is true that the dry area became the law of the land here in Houston Heights in 1912, before women had the right to vote. So did the Texas Constitution which “gives us the right to have this election.”
Myth: The Heights is experiencing a lack of new development because of the dry area.
Come to the Heights. Look around.
It's not just about HEB.
We love HEB. They are a beloved regional brand and a great community partner to many neighborhoods. The H. E. Butt Foundation gives generously to an array of causes that benefit the Houston area. They offer great products at great prices, and we welcome them to the neighborhood. For that reason, we regret that HEB's involvement in modifying the dry area implies that they will only move forward with the location at N. Shepherd and 23rd St. if they are able to sell beer and wine. We aren’t telling HEB we don’t want them—they’re telling us they don’t want us, unless we vote to change the fabric of our neighborhood.
We have and can continue to have "nice grocery stores" here.
Once again, we would love to have an HEB. We just want them to choose to call the Houston Heights home for the same reasons we do—its uniqueness, historic character, and amazing quality of life. From HEB’s standpoint, it has been easier to simply throw money at a turnkey political campaign (applied in dozens of other cities by HEB, Walmart and others) to convince Heights residents that changing the dry area is in their best interest than to examine how this seemingly minor law has been one of the biggest factors in creating the look and feel of the Heights and working within it. We risk changing the fabric of our beloved neighborhood simply to help their bottom line.
It would just be the beginning.
Our biggest concern is that allowing the sale of beer and wine for off-premises consumption will make it easier for large regional or national operators to come in and apply a “one-size-fits-all” model that is currently anomalous in the Heights dry area.
Our opposition is not moral (we love to drink), and our only commercial interest is in maintaining the conditions that already encourage small, local business ownership and operation. How?
Keep the Heights dry.
In the simplest analysis, what Houston Heights residents will be voting on this upcoming election day is whether to allow the sale of beer & wine for off-premise consumption. This means that both existing and new retail operators could apply for a permit to sell beer and wine to take home.