Ikea in Baytown; City Bonds Pass Easily; Co-Working for Kirby Grove

Photo of the Astros World Series Parade: Marc Longoria via Swamplot Flickr Pool


13 Comment

  • Given that there is barely any legal requirement that the bonds be used as advertised, let’s see some money used for flooding infrastructure.

  • I really wonder if voters understand how bonds work. It is not free money, someone has to pay it back and it will be said voters. Fun!

  • Re Walkable places:
    This seems like a good initiative, especially if it comes with reforms (or elimination) of parking requirements. However, a lot of the problem is baked in due to how the city was originally platted. If you look at, say midtown or EaDo, you have relatively small (280’x280′) blocks, which is good, but relatively wide rights of way (70′), which is bad. This means that, even with zero setbacks, 36% of land area is within the RoW, and completely off limits to development. (It also means that for every square foot of infrastructure the city must maintain, there’s less than 2 s.f. of privately held land to pay for it.) Add in 5-ft setbacks (which is the minimum the city allows outside of transit corridors) and over 40% of land area is off limits for building.
    If these same blocks had been platted with 20-ft rights of way (lots of walkable places have RoWs even narrower than this), then 89% of the area would be buildable, meaning more destinations within less walking distance.

  • @angostura

    I think a ~70′ ROW is manageable for the purposes of feeling walkable, as long as all adjacent land owners adhere to a 0′ or 5′ setback, and the actual ROW is well designed.

    I believe most Manhattan E/W cross streets are ~60′, while N/S avenues and major E/W cross streets (14th, 23rd, etc.) are typically 100′. Madison Ave is an exception at ~75-80′, and it has a nice scale.

    Portland’s downtown, known for its small blocks, is 200’x200′ with a 65′ ROW, so not too far off from the blocks you describe. It’s very walkable.

  • Angostura: 20′ ROW? are you insane? Medieval streets had more ROW than this. Besides, PWE would never let this fly. Min ROW width for ANY development in the city is 50’…Furthermore, wide ROW is not inherently bad; it’s how you USE it. Just look at LA, NYC or Chi… In Houston, the vast majority of ROW is dedicated to the roadbed, leaving very little room between the back of curb to the property line for pedestrian amenities.

    Walkable Places is a decent step in the right the direction, but will not fundamentally change how Houston developments from a holistic standpoint as what is being pitched is *optional* . Creating another lengthy application based process, vice making certain regulations mandatory (e.g. transit corridors & MTF with 80′ or less of ROW) then you’re still going to have the same non-sense as before. Right now, the project does not seem to be going in that direction, despite some initial push from the committee members. I’d also like to see the CBD expanded to museum district so as to eliminate the parking requirements but that also seems to be dead in the water. Sweeping changes need to be made to Ch. 26 as well.

    Unless the mayor makes this a priority, Houston will continue to fall behind its peers.


  • 1) Bonds means more debt-wrong way to go unless it’s an emergency.
    2) COH needs to plan for more light rail. Driverless Metro buses will at some point exist and, in theory, mean much more money for Metro to spend on rail.. We should prepare our wide ROW rail routes now on paper and the corresponding codes.

  • I understand CoH will never let it happen, but 20-ft between facades is perfectly do-able. In fact it exists in places all over the world, as long as they were laid out before the 19th century. What you CAN’T have is 20-ft RoW’s with a sidewalk, then a green buffer, then parking, then a roadway, then another buffer, then another sidewalk. That kind of roadway design is intended to make drivers feel comfortable to drive fast (even if they’re not supposed to), not to make pedestrians feel safe. In “modern” street design, you need all this buffer space and “pedestrian realm” because cars are driving too fast, and that’s scary. And cars are driving too fast because every design choice is made so that drivers feel like it’s OK to go fast.
    In order to make 20-ft RoW’s work on low-traffic streets, the right-of-way has to be a pedestrian-oriented space, on which cars can travel (one-way), but as guests, not owners. Narrow, shared RoWs naturally slow traffic down, so there’s not necessarily a need to segregate pedestrians from the occasional passing car. There are hundreds of permanent access easements in Houston with RoW’s as narrow as 15 ft, and they seem to work just fine.
    PWE’s objection will be around emergency vehicle access. Which is BS. In 1980, 28% of fire department calls were for actual fires; in 2015 it was 4%. False alarm calls outnumber actual fires by almost 2:1. Most calls are for medical emergencies, for which there’s no need to mobilize a fire engine (though that doesn’t seem to dissuade HFD from doing so.) We should be designing fire engines for the built environment, not designing the built environment for fire engines.

  • Ditto on William’s comment that many voters think of bond money as “free money”. They don’t realize that they are just taxing themselves and paying interest for the privilege.
    As a very pro-capitalist finance person, my inner Bernie Sanders wants to soak the rich (Bob McNair for instance) for a flat surcharge to help “redistribute” some of this income that keeps piling up at the tippy-top.
    What kind of flat surcharge, you ask? $5 million annually for every $100 million (5%) he has – with the first $100 million not taxed. Consider the first $100 million as his personal “rich man” deduction. I don’t want him to starve.

  • Re: Houston Bonds

    I am not a bond person, but I know that it is indeed not “free” money …. it has to be repaid with interest. I also know that Municipal Bonds (“munis”) are generally not taxed as income on federal income taxes, at least for now. If they are ever taxed, say later this year or early next for example, the monies received now will be a God send for the CoH as rates will rise. My question is: “Can the city sell munis and reinvest the proceeds at a higher rate in say a utility, and offset the cost or even make a little profit on them while awaiting the original projects construction start?

  • How on earth could bonds be taxed as income? That makes no sense. That is like paying income taxes on a student loan or car note. And, THE CITY OF HOUSTON DOES NOT PAY FEDERAL INXOME TAXES. LOL. I nominate this for crazy, misinformed post of the day.

  • @ WR and @Commenter7 there may be some exceptions, but generally interest paid on municipal bonds is exempt from income tax. As a result they can pay a lower interest rate and remain competitive with non-exempt bonds. WR is proposing the City arbitrage the bond proceeds into more profitable investments. For a lot of complicated reasons, that’s illegal. The bonds will be issued with a prospectus that sets the terms for how funds will be raised and spent. In addition, lawyers will have to provide opinions to the bondholders that the bonds are structured in a way that tax exemptions have to be maintained.
    The City currently has a big, current, IOU to the City employee pension funds. City employees have agreed to reduce benefits to shrink the IOU. Once the bonds are sold, the proceeds will be put into the pension fund to further reduce the immediate IOU. Yes, future taxes will be used to pay off the bonds, but an immediate short-term liability now will become a long-term liability, making it much more manageable.

  • @skeptic – thanks for explaining. I was not aware of an exemption to income tax if the money was earned through public bond interest payments. Does this not create a bubble in the public bonds industry?

    On another note, you know Sly will be racking up some serious legal bills on these bonds through being an “of counsel” or other shady arrangement with the law firm awarded the contract.

  • @WR,
    If the tax law changes and interest from muni bonds is no longer tax deductible, the city is unaffected. At least insofar as currently existing bonds are concerned, the coupon rate remains unchanged. However if the current holder were to sell, he would need to sell at a higher yield, i.e. lower price, and would therefore take a hit.