Playing Hardball on Behalf of a Concrete Garden

On Planning


Saturday, May 18, the annual meeting of the Hudson Bayou Neighborhood Association was held. The agenda was packed, and at the end, our President was to speak on the Selby Gardens Master Plan.

Immediately before the meeting began, Selby Gardens CEO Jennifer Rominieki came in with an entourage. Ms. Rominieki was not invited and was not on the agenda. However, we do not exclude people who are not neighbors.

Our President began her report on Selby Gardens by showing the rendering of the project. She informed us neighbors that she has attended 14 meetings trying to reach a compromise with Selby Gardens on the size and scale of this project and the use of our neighborhood street. Jennifer Rominieki from Selby Gardens stood up and interrupted her report and commandeered the meeting by engaging in debates with neighbors. When our President tried to explain that this was to be a conversation among neighbors, Ms. Rominieki ignored her and continued to dominate the room. It took a motion, a second and a vote of membership to make to Ms. Rominieki sit down.

This is not the first time this type of behavior has occurred. At the Harbor Acres Annual meeting, a neighbor was on the agenda to report his concerns with the Selby Plan. A neighbor who serves on the Selby Gardens Board of Trustees shouted him down.

Long-term residents of our single-family neighborhood have faced a withering marketing campaign characterized by misdirection, misrepresentation and deceptive wordcraft. Selby staff claims that it has used a “Neighborhood Advisory Committee.” That’s true. We meet and face long-winded explanations of why Selby Gardens will not make compromises.

The first misrepresentation is the mass, scale and size of the garage proposed at the corner of South Orange and Mound. Selby Gardens’ rendering shows a lovely structure from the top. This garage has more than an acre footprint and is the equivalent of seven stories tall. It serves a large, commercial destination restaurant to be operated by Michael Klauber. Despite Selby Gardens’ Master Plan language that announces the intention to become a “premier Bayfront event and entertainment venue,” Selby staff now denies that is the plan.

To the media, Selby staff points to the protection of its rare collections of specimens of plants and books. This is not a part of the Phase I garage/ restaurant plans. What is lost in Phase I are 111 mature trees, including five grand oaks and five historic structures. First, we were told that this plan created 50 percent more “green space.” That included the “skygarden,” a creative name for a garage. Now, the public is told by numerous signs to expect a 50-percent increase in “garden space.” That 50 percent includes roads, paved surfaces and buildings.

Legitimate questions are met with 15-minute non-answers or 1,500-word email blasts directing to other issues. When we confront these misrepresentations, Selby staff says the facts are FALSE. No details are provided. This is such a shame, because we all love Selby Gardens. My neighborhood loves the Selby Gardens Marie intended.

Susan Chapman is a former president and founding member of the Hudson Bayou Neighborhood Association.

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