10/13/17 3:30pm

WHAT MAKES WEST HOUSTON THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE OF REAL ESTATE DISCLOSURE None of the more than half a dozen residents interviewed by The Texas Tribune and ProPublica after the floods said they knew they were living inside Addicks or Barker — many of their neighborhoods are several miles away from the dams. Several local officials — including Houston’s ‘flood czar’ and a neighboring county executive — said they had no idea the neighborhoods had been built inside the flood pools. Several real estate agents said they didn’t realize they were selling homes inside the pools.” This from the latest exposé on how 14,000 homes came to be located in designed-to-flood areas inside the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. First, the good news: Of those 14,000 homes, only 5,138 of them flooded this time! Among the many additional OMG-worthy revelations from this latest report from the crack Houston-flooding investigations team of Neena Satija, Kiah Collier, and Al Shaw: Of those homes built inside the reservoirs, at least 4,000 of them were built after Tropical Storm Allison hit in 2001. That’s interesting to note, considering that a Harris County Flood Control District report published in 2003 warned that as many as 2,000 acres of private land inside the reservoirs might easily have flooded in that storm if the rains had fallen in a slightly different location. Also included: this little glance at the area’s real-estate future: “One five-bedroom home in Lakes on Eldridge . . . was listed for $678,000 about two weeks before it flooded during Harvey. The seller’s agent, Moira Holden, tried to put a positive spin on things when she updated the online listing that decreased the asking price by $10,000. ‘Unfortunately this stunning home did flood and is being refurbished to the highest spec!’ it says. ‘Fabulous chance to choose your finishes!‘ When asked if she would disclose to potential buyers that the home was inside Addicks Reservoir, Holden didn’t have a clear answer. ‘I will obviously disclose whatever we are required to disclose,’ she said, pointing out that the home wasn’t in a floodplain. ‘I would hope that the buyer’s Realtor would do their due diligence on that.'” [Texas Tribune; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 13119 Shermons Pond, for sale in Lakes on Eldridge: HAR

10/13/17 10:15am

16 months after the Fiesta Mart on site was torn down and 11 months since Heights-area voters approved a modification to longstanding local dry-zone prohibitions to allow alcohol sales for off-premises consumption, H-E-B at last appears ready to begin construction of its store at 2300 N. Shepherd. This week fencing went up around the site, which stretches between W. 23rd and W. 24th streets — and a couple of trailers have rolled onto it. An official groundbreaking is scheduled for October 24th.

The store will sit on the east side of the site but up one level, on top of a concrete parking deck. Here’s a view looking east along 23rd St. toward that part of the site and Lawrence St. beyond:

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10/12/17 3:00pm

HOUSING AUTHORITY: OUR FLOODED CLAYTON HOMES DEVELOPMENT WAS GOING TO BE DEMOLISHED ANYWAY A new statement from the Houston Housing Authority provides a little more background on its decision to demolish 112 of the 296 units at the authority’s Clayton Homes low-income housing neighborhood just east of Hwy 59 at the northern tip of EaDo. The homes were deemed “uninhabitable” after flooding from Hurricane Harvey triggered mold and other health concerns: “HHA decided demolition was the best course of action for the damaged units since the entire property is located on land acquired by eminent domain and will face eventual demolition for TxDOT’s I-45 freeway extension. When the remainder of Clayton units are demolished in a few years, the remaining residents will either be relocated to another public housing unit or receive HCVs.” Housing Choice (formerly Section 8) Vouchers — along with moving assistance and payments — are also being provided to residents of 82 out of the 100 units at another Housing Authority development, Forest Green Townhomes at 8945 Forest Hollow St. in northeast Houston, which the authority today announced had also been rendered unlivable by the storm. [Houston Housing Authority; previously on Swamplot] Photo of pre-Harvey Forest Green Townhomes: Forest Green

10/12/17 11:00am

HERE COME THE HARVEY LOW BALLERS Outsiders moving into town to buy up homes from distressed owners for pennies on the dollar in the wake of local catastrophe is a proud and longstanding Houston tradition: It keeps the city’s reputation for real-estate shenanigans intact, even as oldtimers mellow. It’s how Sir Allen Stanford got his illustrious start! Plus: Investments that must be recouped can help keep zombie neighborhoods that maybe-shouldn’t-have-been-built-there-or-that-way-in-the-first-place alive. But you don’t have to be a wet-carpetbagger to get in on the fun: Reporter Prashant Gopal heads to the Redneck Country Club on Airport Blvd. in Stafford for a well-attended pep talk by local trashed-home recycler Eddie Gant, then follows local real-estate agent Bryan Schild as he drives through neighborhoods looking for deals: “One of Schild’s prospects is Joseph Hernandez, a disabled U.S. Army veteran married to a housekeeper. The couple are living in a hotel and saving money by eating only two meals a day. Schild has made them a painful offer. If they walk away from their two-bedroom house, worth $127,000 before Hurricane Harvey, Schild will pick up the mortgage payments, paying nothing else. Although he says he sympathizes with the Hernandezes’ plight, he thinks the offer is fair because he figures the home is now worth less than its $65,000 mortgage. Hernandez is in a bind. He didn’t buy flood insurance because his house wasn’t in a high-risk area. He can’t afford to rebuild, and he’s been told he’s eligible for only $23,000 in federal assistance. If he turns over the deed, he’s looking at losing the entire $60,000 in equity he had before the flood. ‘It’s blurry, what’s coming,’ he says. ‘We’ll probably have to sell to an investor, and that’s not good. We were forced out.’” [Bloomberg BusinessWeek] Photo of Hernandez’s home in Bear Creek Village, before it flooded: HAR

10/11/17 5:00pm

EPA: YEAH, BETTER CLEAN OUT THE DIOXIN PITS FROM THE SAN JACINTO RIVER NOW THAT THEY’VE LEAKED A bit later than had been urged by those alarmed by the longterm presence of pits full of toxic waste sealed only with a tarp on top hanging out in the San Jacinto River, the EPA has now approved a plan to remove most of the dioxin stored within them. “As exemplified today, EPA is prioritizing Superfund clean-up by making decisions in a decisive, timely manner,” reads a statement from administrator Scott Pruitt released this afternoon. “The San Jacinto Waste Pits site was added to the National Priority List nearly a decade ago.” What’s the rush? As predicted by EPA studies and many a casual observer, the pits appeared to have leaked extensively after Hurricane Harvey flooding. Under the new $115 million plan, cofferdams will be installed around the pits and almost 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated material will be excavated — leaving just enough behind that the agency can, it says, ensure controls that will “prevent access, eliminate off-site migration, and monitor the natural recovery into the future.” [EPA; more info; Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Video of waste pits after Harvey flooding: Greg Moss

10/11/17 1:30pm

A half-decade after the demolition of its on-site predecessors, the retail building replacing the former Ruggles Grill at 903 Westheimer Rd. just east of Montrose Blvd. is almost complete. Going inside the new 6,536-sq.-ft. structure across from Uchi: a couple of Dallas imports.

On the right, on the side closer to the Smoothie King drive-thru, will go the first out-of-Dallas location of the East Hampton Sandwich Company chain. On the left, next to the side parking lot and the Woman’s Home’s Cottage Shop, will be the second Houston location of Velvet Taco. Sandwiched between them is a 1,120-sq.-ft. space that appears to be still available, according to leasing documents — perhaps for a third wheat-wrapped-lunch spot of north Texas origin.

A 57-spot parking lot wraps around and in back of the building:

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Dallas Comes to Montrose
10/11/17 10:00am

THE RISE AND DECLINE OF AMERICA’S GRANITE COUNTERTOPS OBSESSION Revising the conclusions of his “what made granite countertops so popular” story from 2 years ago, Phil Edwards notes in this new video evidence that the mania for Brazilian, Chinese, and Indian stone surfaces in U.S. kitchens and baths reached its peak about a decade ago: “2006: The granite bubble and housing bubble came at the same time. Just as laminates rode technological and construction booms in the ’50s, granite rode similar waves in the 2000s. Granite was good, but its timing made it overrated — and that might be why we’re starting to correct. The end of that chart [of worked-granite imports to the U.S.] shows a dip in granite. That’s for a lot of reasons, some of which are bigger than interior design trends. But if you watch house hunting shows you’ll see there are other materials catching on.” [Vox; previously on Swamplot] Video: Vox

10/10/17 3:15pm

MIDTOWN SEARS CLOSURE NETS RICE 9 ACRES NEAR THE WHEELER TRANSIT CENTER The company that manages Rice University’s $5.3 billion endowment last week bought out the 28 years remaining on a 99-year lease the university had signed with the Sears department store on its Midtown property back in 1945. The Sears at 4201 Main St., which opened in 1939, will close in late January, after a liquidation sale beginning early next month, it was announced today. Rice also bought 3 adjacent acres owned by Sears, giving the university a multi-block 9.4-acre chunk of land near Metro’s Wheeler Transit Center and the Southwest Fwy. it can now decide what to do with. Among the properties on that land: the Sears Auto Center at 4111 Fannin and the Fiesta Mart at 4200 San Jacinto, which has a lease that runs for 2 more years. The Sears’s original art deco façade was covered with metal panels in the 1960s. Rice prez David Leebron says the university will now “initiate a process of thoughtful planning for the future use of this land,” with a yearlong study of options directed by the Rice Management Company. [Houston Chronicle; Click2Houston] Photo: Pete Molick via Swamplot Flickr pool

10/10/17 2:00pm

Skanska is touting the green roof it’s planning atop the 11-story parking-garage portion of the Capitol Tower as a “Sky Park”: It’ll be the “first and largest green roof in Downtown Houston to be open to all building tenants,” the development company says. The 24,000-sq.-ft. roofscape will feature pathways surrounded by plants, grasses, and a few decorative trees; arbors with roofs modeled after the pipe-assembly structure seen at Rice’s Brochstein Pavilion, and “an infinity edge that makes it appear as though the park is floating in the sky.” Plus: an automated irrigation system that’ll pull water from the building’s 50,000-gallon rainwater cistern. Looming neighbors will include the Esperson Building, 712 Main, and Pennzoil Place.

Access to the roofscape, which was designed by OJB Landscape Architecture, will be through west-facing doors on the building’s 12th floor, the 35-story building’s lowest office level:

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Green Roofs Downtown
10/10/17 12:00pm

Here’s a timelapse video showing workers creating a plaza in front of the lone extant office building in Generation Park’s Redemption Square development just inside the northeast corner of Beltway 8. The pavers were laid a little more carefully than shown here late last month in front of the brand-new 5-story, 86,523-sq.-ft. building at 250 Assay St.

Other than the 5-level parking garage structure now behind it — and the landscape improvements now going in — there’s not a whole lot crowding the building so far, as the earlier aerial photo above shows. The Beltway is in the foreground of that image; here’s a closer-in view of the east side of 250 Assay St. shortly before the trees and pavers went in:

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Generating Generation Park
10/09/17 4:30pm

Here’s the backside of the 12-story former KBR office building that Midway has for the last week lit up with a new message in hopes of signaling to Amazon and avian passers-by that it buys into the concept underlying many of Jeff Bezos’s business decisions. Also: That the surrounding 150-acre property on the north side of Buffalo Bayou east of Downtown Houston that the company has renamed East River would make a fine second headquarters campus for the online and offline retailer. Day 1 is the name assigned successively to 3 different Amazon buildings in Seattle, the latest a new 37-story downtown tower that itself features a lit-up sign on its lower floors that reads HELLO WORLD. Day 1 is also a common catchphrase in the company, a reminder to itself, among other things, to focus on outcomes rather than process and to make decisions quickly, even if you have less information available than you’d like.

Day 1 for this Houston sign was October 2nd. As a reader reported last week, since then the vacant building has been sporting the company’s NASDAQ ticker symbol on the opposite side to match:

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Day 1 on Clinton Dr.
10/09/17 1:30pm

Somebody carefully disassembled the recently installed quilting sculpture in front of the Bermac Arts Building at 4101 San Jacinto St. just south of Cleburne St. late last week, leaving behind a patchwork of colorful powder-coated-steel pieces on the former bus-stop platform next to the sidewalk. The 8-ft.-tall blue, orange, magenta, yellow, and metallic silver sculpture, called Quilt Peace, was erected at the site on September 20th. It was meant to remain there for 3 months — through next month’s International Quilt Festival at the George R. Brown Convention Center — before being moved to a different Midtown site.

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Street Art Taken Apart
10/09/17 10:45am

The anticipated departure of Hyde Park gift shop Corazon from its perch at the corner of Fairview and Waugh has been delayed by 3 months at least. Although the property it sits on has been sold to a new owner interested in building a trio of townhouses, demolition of the former smithy, antique store, and glass-blowing studio won’t take place this year: Corazon now has a new short-term lease that runs until December 31st and will convert to a month-to-month status after that.

If the lease does get extended for a few months into 2018, it’ll mark the store’s 20th anniversary at 2318 Waugh Dr. In either case, it’ll probably be an awkward extended goodbye: A clearance sale begun in August on the store’s current inventory of Lucha Libre masks, guyaberas, and other items from South and Central American artisan cooperatives is ongoing, but popular items will probably be restocked for the holiday season. The store’s owner is searching for a new location.

Photo: Corazon

Townhome Fodder
10/06/17 4:15pm

THE HEIGHTS HISTORIC DISTRICTS’ NEW HEIGHTS The public comment period for the latest (and presumably final) draft of the design guidelines for the Houston Heights’s 3 historic districts ends today. The latest version of the 223-page document dates from August and covers a range of issues important to the historic districts, including proposed standards for construction and renovation — from roof pitches and “character defining elements” to maximum allowable foundation height (30 inches from natural elevation for new construction and additions) — but does not appear to include any mention of flooding. The guidelines, once adopted, would be used by the Houston Archeological and Historical Commission in its determinations of what proposed building projects would be allowed. [Planning & Development Dept.; previously on Swamplot] Photo of home at 8th St. and Arlington St., in Houston Heights Historic District South, during Harvey: Swamplot inbox  

10/06/17 1:00pm

The tallest of the 5 vacant structures remaining in the 136-acre former KBR campus fronting Buffalo Bayou east of Downtown that new owner Midway has dubbed East River has been sporting a new night-time look as of this week. The lights in the photo above, taken last night by a reader, spell out the NASDAQ ticker symbol of Amazon — which has announced a nationwide search for a second headquarters campus.

Previously, the lights in the 12-story office building at 4100 Clinton Dr. in the Fifth Ward had been tuned to HTX:

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