UPDATED: Shipley Donuts Leaving, Property Owner Wants Rezoning For Potbelly Sandwich

November 13, 2009

Shipley Donuts, a mainstay on Kirby Drive since 1960, will vacate the location next month in December 2010 because its lease is up and rent has risen substantially.

In its place, the owner of the property at Kirby Drive and Tangley Street hopes to demolish the old building to construct a new one for Potbelly Sandwich Works, an upscale casual restaurant that serves mainly gourmet sandwiches.

“It’s a little sad because of how many people have been to Shipley’s again and again,” said Reid Wilson, an attorney working with property owner Bob Orkin of Kirby Retail Fund Ltd. “The first thing I want you to know is there is a Shipley’s in Bellaire.”

Architect Jerry Tipps shows members of the Zoning and Planning Commission some preliminary plans for Potbelly Sandwich Works.

Architect Jerry Tipps shows members of the Zoning and Planning Commission some preliminary plans for Potbelly Sandwich Works.

The transition from Shipley Donuts to Potbelly sounds like an easy enough proposition, but one dirty word involved in the process promises to make implementation pretty difficult: Rezoning.

“It’s sort of scary rezoning in West U.,” said Wilson, who is also a West U. resident. “As soon as the word rezoning gets out everyone is like, ‘Oh my gosh.'”

Wilson and Orkin approached the West U. Zoning and Planning Commission yesterday to begin the long process of trying to rezone the property. The process will include at least one public hearing, commission recommendations to city council, revising a zoning ordinance and two council votes to finally approve the change.

“We’re just getting started on this,” said ZPC Chair Steve Brown. “It will take some time in the best of circumstances for this to make its way through.”

Townhouse vs. commercial

The reason rezoning is necessary is because the property at 5800 Kirby Dr. is considered a townhouse district even though it’s been used as a commercial property as long as anyone can remember. It used to be considered a commercial zone, but that designation changed when the Zoning and Planning Commission in 1974 looked at the perimeter of West U. and decided that townhouses would be nice.

For some reason this commercial property — and two other adjacent commercial properties — were included in the townhouse district.

“I went back and did a lot of research and pulled ordinances and minutes and things like that,” said City Planner Debbie Scarcella. “I never saw a report to see why they recommended townhouse in that area.”

“There was no rational basis for the city to do what it did in 1974,” Wilson said.

But since the three properties are in the townhouse district, the commercial uses there are considered “pre-existing, non-conforming uses.” As such, the property owners are not allowed to make changes to their buildings or land. They can switch tenants as long as they don’t make substantial changes in the process.

“Shipley is coming to the end of its lease … They are not going to be around after next year,” Wilson said. “New tenants coming in prefer not to shoehorn themselves into that tiny little building. Even if we put lipstick on the pig.”

Potbelly construction plans

Orkin and Wilson want the city to rezone the property back to commercial so Orkin can construct a new building for Potbelly. They say they want the new building to be the same size, have adequate parking, be aesthetically pleasing and match the area’s current look and feel.

“Rather than be forced by circumstances to give a B-minus product we would like to give you an A-plus product,” Wilson said.

Orkin told ZPC commissioners that his 13,500-square-foot property’s most recent appraised value is $506,000 and the improvements are worth $32,000. The construction costs of the new Potbelly building would be $400,000 and the restaurant would spend an additional $575,000 to $600,000 finishing the space and purchasing equipment.

Orkin said Potbelly is a national chain with 240 stores nationwide, 10 of them in Houston.

ZPC Vice Chair Bruce Frankel abstained from voting on Thursday because Orkin is his brother in law and he was involved in scouting out Potbelly for the location. He said that while other sandwich shops like Subway or Quizno’s bring in about $300,000 per year, an average Potbelly restaurant can gross up to $1.5 million.

“So there are substantial taxes that will be coming to us,” Frankel said.

He said he wrote on his application to serve on the ZPC commission that he wanted to help improve commercial areas in the city by bringing in better businesses.

“This is my area of expertise,” Frankel said.

ZPC questions

Members of the Zoning and Planning Commission raised many questions about the proposal during Thursday’s meeting. The major issue was whether the commission should only consider rezoning the Shipley property, or rezone all three commercial properties that are in the townhouse district.

“At this point you may want to consider knocking them all out at once,” said Josh Golden, who sat in for City Attorney Alan Petrov. “Rather than doing this now and the others in the future.”

After about two hours of discussion the commission decided to only consider the Shipley property for now, because they feared that asking to rezone all three properties could cause the Shipley rezoning to fail.

“There’s going to be a public uproar from the people who live behind that block if we ask for the whole thing,” said Commissioner DeDe Stefano.

“Please leave us by ourselves, because we really don’t want to create ay kind of problem,” Wilson said.

The commission voted to ask the city council to schedule a joint public hearing so West U. residents can provide feedback on the proposal. After that, the commission plans to consider all feedback before making a recommendation to the city council.

Voluntary public forum

Wilson and Orkin say they know that rezoning causes concern in West U., and they want the process to be as open and transparent as possible. They plan to host their own public forum on Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. at the West U. Scout House, 6108 Edloe St. The pair has already invited about 50 residents and businesses that are close to the Shipley property.

“We want to have their input in a casual environment, so no one feels concerned,” Wilson said. “We believe this is truly a win-win situation.”

Note: This story was updated on Nov. 16 to correct the date that the Shipley Donuts lease expires. InstantNewsWestU regrets the error.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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