Mueller Grocery – Suburban or Urban?

Woop de doo!

Image of Mueller "Market District" from 2010
Urban or suburban?

This image is from the 2010 presentation of the Mueller “market district”. The big box in the lower right is the grocery store, which is now apparently going to be an HEB.

But the most important question by far: will it be urban or suburban? Let’s ask our old friend David Sucher of City Comforts:

Urban Starts With The Location Of The Parking Lot
Urban Starts With The Location Of The Parking Lot


As Chris put it,

The parking lot will be much nicer than average, but this makes the development merely suburban chic not urban.

Sadly, par for the course for our supposed ‘new urban showcase’. I’ve covered Mueller irregularly in the past as has Chris. Notice we’re in 2011 now; no sign of the Town Center; relatively little multi-family development; but the single-family homes and strip malls – they are still there and doing fine. Sigh.

As for how green and sustainable this will be, what with energy efficiency, water efficiency, etc.; a wise ass man on twitter once said this:

Green building vs. sustainability

12 Replies to “Mueller Grocery – Suburban or Urban?”

  1. I’d still settle for the Incremental Urban strategy of just putting some pathways through the parking lot. I’m still baffled why parking lots are designed as if people don’t actually get out of their cars and go INTO the stores. If I were an alien looking at parking lots I’d decide they were created to allow cars to socialize with each other.

  2. That’s not even incremental urban, it’s just friendlier suburban. Still penalizes people who choose to walk. And it’s not incremental either – because the building ain’t gonna move, so it’s never going to get any more urban.

    1. Mike, the site in question is unique as the 51st street frontage is across from the trailhead/welcome to Bartholomew District Park. There would be almost zero acceptance to pushing the building right up to the 51st/Berkman corner. In fact, they are going to preserve as many of the mature trees near 51st to obstruct the views of the store from park-goers. I don’t think this defeats the potential urban character of the store at all. I would suggest that the eventual design will fall between incremental urban (and urban with good bike/ped/transit access on three sides of the store. I could envison two corner entrances, one being primarily for auto (but with solid access for all transportation choices), and the other being primarily for bike/ped customers. having multiple . I understand that the major shortcoming remains that structured or underground parking is not in the conversation.

      I believe the Market District outcome will be terrific within the given constraints. It will encourage pedestrian access to the 5,000-7,000 Mueller and Windsor Park residents within easy walking distance…it will promote the use of cargo bikes and the like…it will contain a variety of uses that encourage people to linger and relax for awhile (presuming one didn’t just buy $250 of refrigerated or frozen foods that would likely require a car to race home anyway). If we’re lucky and design discussions progress as they have to date, then it will be a “place” and not just a place to shop.

      1. Not buying it at all, Dusty; that smacks of rationalization out the wazoo.

        1. “Incremental urban” this ain’t. The store can NEVER be urban when it’s behind a parking lot. Never ever ever. Not even if you replace the parking lot with a parking garage and put more stores between the road and the store.

        2. If it’s built as it is laid out in the picture above, it DISCOURAGES pedestrian access. Those of us who live in more urban neighborhoods should be listened to rather than argued with. The Fresh Plus’s in Clarksville and Hyde Park are ‘incrementally urban’ – you can get to both from at least one direction without crossing a parking lot and as quick or quicker than from the parking that does exist. These stores exist – can be viewed right now.

        There are a lot of things that canNOT be done incrementally. They introduce path dependence and have fundamentally unchangeable elements that cannot be worked around. The store, in other words, ain’t gonna move – no matter how nice or not you make the walk through the parking lot or whatever replaces it, it’s still not any closer to the sidewalk.

        Urbanism in some ways is one of the things where incrementalism is often used as a cover for bad decisions. Rail transit is another. (The reason I’m blogging at all is because of the people who incorrectly led Austin to believe the Red Line was part of an incremental rail transit plan, remember).

        In this case, to call this store urban AT ALL requires that it be right against the sidewalk of either Berkman or 51st. Preferably Berkman if one or the other given that Muellerites are supposed to want to walk here. And, no, walking on a ‘trail’ through the back way doesn’t count – urbanism requires people walking on sidewalks right between streets and storefronts. Anything other than being right against at least one sidewalk is suburban, period.

        1. I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying, but

          “Those of us who live in more urban neighborhoods should be listened to rather than argued with.”

          is a particularly obnoxious statement calculated to preclude anyone previously receptive to changing their mind based on your ideas from doing so.

          1. I’m sorry if it came across that way – but “Dusty” and I have some history in this particular discussion that I don’t regard fondly. The folks at Mueller seem inclined to insist that anything and everything they’ve done was the only possible solution to a given problem even when other solutions are not only obviously possible, they’re actually implemented within a couple of miles of them.

  3. Other grocery stores that you could call “incrementally urban” without making me laugh are Wheatsville and to a lesser extent the downtown Whole Foods, by the way. But, no, this HEB is not incrementally urban – not even close. It’s Central Market in a new spot.

    1. Also, entrance to Fresh Plus in Hyde Park is more convenient for peds than drivers – i.e. it’s on the street, not on the parking lot. Clarksville it’s on the parking lot (but it’s still accessible without having to cross any bit of parking lot – due to a short walk in from the sidewalk on one side). Wheatsville is like the Clarksville Fresh Plus.

  4. This store is as urban as the big boxes on the corner of 51st and 35. HEB has Catellus over a barrel and they know it. Catellus couldn’t even get them to give up the gas station.

    If you want urban grocers 75,000 sf at the extreme end of a neighborhood is not the answer. But because of the density caps placed on Mueller by the surrounding neighborhoods there isn’t enough density to support true neighborhood groceries – 7k-10k stores within a 5 minute walk of a house.

    Mueller is stuck in this awful zone of fancy suburban. There isn’t the density allowed to get to urban. Maybe the town center will have that feel, but I’m not holding my breath.

    (btw Catellus, if you guys need to study a dense town center, the Triangle is just down the street. And they actually managed to open restaurants in their development.)

    It will be telling to see the site plan for the Austin Children’s Museum (The supposed first part of the town center) once it is revealed. I’m betting it will have a parking lot that caters to cars a lot more than to pedestrians.

    1. Something like the Fresh Plus in Hyde Park is eminently supportable in the middle of the neighborhood. Something like this HEB with minor modifications to TRULY make it incrementally urban is also eminently supportable. Again, all you need to do to make it 50% more urban is to bring the building right up to the sidewalk on Berkman, keep the parking on the 51st side, and make the main entrance / front door on the Berkman sidewalk side.

      1. It’s hard for me to see any store designed for a customer to leave it with more than two bags of goods as being truly urban. The HEB/Walmart experience of “loading up” on Groceries for 1-2 weeks by definition requires a car. And maybe that location makes sense to HEB for one of their stores. To me it doesn’t matter how the building is oriented if the primary mode of getting to / leaving is by car; and if you leave with more grocery bags than you can carry with two hands.

        That’s not to say I’m against the orientation you’re suggesting. I’m actually for it. But I think in reality it’s just putting lipstick on a pig. If a building is oriented in a walkable new urbanesque design, but the vast majority of people still drive to it, what has really been accomplished?

        1. A store which serves both urban and suburban patrons would be good enough, wouldn’t it? And the Fresh Plus in Hyde Park shows it’s easily achievable. (I walked to the Fresh Plus in Clarksville for the better part of a decade – it also had a small parking lot).

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