04/26/16 10:30am

Former Houston Chronicle Building, 801 Texas Ave., Downtown, Houston, 77002

The company developing the block across Prairie St. from the Houston Chronicle‘s downtown ex-headquarters filed a lawsuit last week over the impending demolition of the paper’s former haunt at 801 Texas Ave. Theater Square, an entity connected to Linbeck, claimed in a Wednesday night filing that the upcoming demo interferes with its plans to build a tunnel through the former newspaper building’s basement to connect its across-the-street property into the broader downtown tunnel network.

The ex-Chronicle building (actually a collection of buildings later wrapped together behind a single facade) currently sits above a tunnel segment connecting the 717 Texas Ave. building (the office building formerly known as Calpine Center) sharing a block with the Lancaster Hotel and its new parking lots) to the Chase tower (south across Texas Ave., between Milam and Travis). Theater Square’s filing alleges that news corporation Hearst agreed back in 2007 to give the company permanent access to some underground easements for the purpose of building a new tunnel segment leading to the property across Prairie (currently a surface parking lot previously slated for the International Tower project). Theater Square also claims that the easement access agreements transferred to the next owner when Hines bought up the property last year.

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Downtown Tunnel Tussle
01/27/16 9:15am

TINY IPIC THEATER WINS INJUNCTION AGAINST GIANT RIVAL OVER CLAIMS OF ANTICOMPETITIVE CONDUCT iPic Theater, 4444 Westheimer Rd., River Oaks District, Houston, 77027 Florida-based iPic Theaters, reports Olivia Pulsinelli, has won a temporary injunction against Knoxville-based Regal Entertainment in a Harris County court last week. The boutique theater chain, whose first Houston location opened at 4444 Westheimer Rd. in the River Oaks District shopping center last November, filed a suit late last year alleging that Regal and fellow competitor AMC were muscling the new theater out of the market through ‘anticompetitive and unlawful conduct’, including demanding exclusive rights to show certain films or refusing to screen films also offered to iPic; Regal opted not to screen several major releases (including the latest Hunger Games installation and December’s Star Wars episode) at many of its Houston locations.  iPic’s 12 theaters nationwide generally screen fewer films than its larger competitors while offering pricier amenities, such as dine-in service,  pillows, and semipartitioned 2-recliner “pods”. A trial date for the lawsuit is set for October 3rd. [HBJ, Houston Press] Photo: Liz J. via Yelp

05/05/15 4:45pm

Woodridge Plaza Shopping Center, 6969 Gulf Fwy., Houston

Woodridge Plaza Shopping Center, 6969 Gulf Fwy., HoustonKing Dollar, Pizza Hut, Sherwin-Williams, Sun Loan, Mini’s Cleaners, Ruchi’s Taqueria, Schlotzky’s, Tiendo Rio Lempa, Denny’s, Hairtex & Nails, Nancy’s Cake Designs, Nationwide Insurance, Edible Arrangements, Todo Jewelry, Video Square, V Star (pictured here), and all of the businesses in the Woodridge Plaza shopping center at 6969 Gulf Fwy. — they’re all going away. The Houston Community College System wants to expand its Southeast College East Side Campus onto the 5.7-acre property to its south, on the north side of I-45 near Gulfgate. A reader who isn’t involved in the legal tussle, but who’s looked through the records on the county clerk’s website, describes the back-and-forth as laid out in the documents: “It looks like the special commissioners valued the shopping center at $12,500,000. Both the landowner, Compass Investors Group LLC, and HCCS objected and are seeking a trial for a higher, and a lower valuation, respectively. Texas Capital Bank is owed about $3.5 million on a mortgage on the property and also intervened. The landowner lawsuit is in Cause number 1043516 in County Court 4. HCCS also filed condemnation actions against all the tenants (cause 1057330 in County Court 4).”

Images: Moseley Commercial

The Taking of Woodridge Plaza
12/18/14 2:00pm

bella-terraza-exterior

That opulent Italianate edifice at 2840 Chimney Rock Rd. that formerly housed the Bella Terraza (later Villa Rinata) reception hall has been sold by former uneasy business partners and willing courtroom foes Stephen Montieth Clarke and Harris L. Kempner III, but the property at 2840 Chimney Rock is still generating litigation. This time around, Clarke’s attorney Brantly Harris is suing Kempner’s attorney Robert E. Bone.

The suit has but one, well, Bone of contention, but it’s a wee bit knotty:

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Courts
12/03/14 1:00pm

johnson-st-lawsuit-repairs

Urban Living was added as a defendant last month to a lawsuit filed in February by 8 plaintiffs against 2 companies run by Saeed Qazi and Saleem Qazi, both of whom are also being sued individually.

The suit revolves around 6 adjacent homes in the First Ward — 1919 through 1929 Johnson St. — built around 2008 by the Qazis and their companies, Zenith Urban Homes and Zenith Signature Homes. Once built, the homes were exclusively marketed and sold by Urban Living.

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Sawyer Heights Lawsuit
11/20/14 12:45pm

Damaged Oak Trees, 2803 Yale St., Houston Heights

Damaged Oak Trees, 2803 Yale St., Houston HeightsFresh off receiving a $300,000 settlement for the unauthorized removal of 6 oak trees in the city right-of-way from Ali Dhanani and Haza Foods, owner of the Wendy’s franchise at the corner of Kirby Dr. and North Blvd., the city of Houston’s legal staff has turned its attention to 2 other oak-tree-hacking incidents at neighboring Burger Kings — one a couple blocks to the south at 5115 Kirby Dr. at the corner of South Blvd., and the other at 2116 W. Holcombe Blvd. at Main St., next to the Medical Center. At each location, according to a report from the Chronicle‘s Mike Morris, landscapers pruned an oak tree on surrounding public property excessively, making it “likely to die.”

Both Burger Kings, it turns out, are owned by Dhanani’s brother, Shoukat Dhanani, whose company, Houston Foods, happens to be the second-largest Burger King franchisee in the country. (And with a just-announced purchase, his Dhanani Group is about to double the number of U.S. Burger Kings it owns, to more than 450.) But this latest scuffle with the city is not Shoukat Dhanani’s first experience with aggressive limb-cutting of city-owned oaks. Two and a half years ago, Swamplot readers reported on the mysterious beheadings of oak trees surrounding 2 other Burger Kings, both of which also happen to be owned by Houston Foods.

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Fast-Food Landscaping
11/17/14 1:15pm

Partial Demolition of Wendy's Restaurant, 5003 Kirby Dr., Upper Kirby, Houston

Wendy's Restaurant, 5003 Kirby Dr. at North Blvd., Upper Kirby, Houston

Update, 1:40pm: A revised press release from the mayor’s office now indicates the settlement was for all 6 trees, not 4 as previously indicated. We’ve updated the story below.

A just-announced legal settlement signed late last week means that the owner of the Wendy’s franchise at 5003 Kirby Dr. will be paying a $300,000 fine to the city for the late-night chopping-down and mulching-up of oak trees in the public right-of-way in front of the restaurant late last month. Six trees lining Kirby and North Blvd. were removed in the nighttime incident (illustrated in the before-and-after photos above), which was first reported on Swamplot. Crews from Freddy’s Landscaping and More carried out the tree-removal work under contract; the settlement, however, is to be paid entirely by Mohammed A. Dhanani and HAZA Foods, the Wendy’s franchise owner. All construction work on the restaurant, which was closed and undergoing renovations when the trees were removed, had come to a stop after city officials became aware of the clandestine street-visibility-improvement operation.

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Now That’s Better
10/30/14 10:45am

Chopping Down of Trees along North Blvd. at Wendy's Restaurant, 5003 Kirby Dr., Upper Kirby, Houston

The City of Houston intends to proceed with legal action in connection with the overnight disappearance of half a dozen oak trees from the public right-of-way surrounding the Wendy’s drive-thru at 5003 Kirby Dr., according to 2 separate sources. The trees were chopped down and ground up on site under cover of darkness Tuesday night as part of a renovation of the fast-food spot, which sits at the corner of Kirby and North Blvd. The removals took place on city property, but had not been permitted by the city.

“I have already been assured by the City of Houston’s enforcement officer that the city intends to proceed with a civil case,” writes Trees for Houston executive director Barry Ward in an email sent to members of the canopy-enhancement organization this morning. He calls plans to pursue legal action “a continuation of the recent, positive trend by the current administration to put an end to illegal tree removal in the City right-of-way or on city property.”

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$150K for More Sunlight
09/29/14 4:45pm

A LIFEBOAT FOR THE ROYALTON’S CORRODING CROWN? Top of Royalton at River Oaks Condominiums, 3333 Allen Pkwy., HoustonJudging from court filings, there appears to have been some sort of resolution to the lawsuit filed more than 2 years ago by the condominium association of the 253-unit Royalton at River Oaks highrise over the design of the steel grid at the top of the building at 3333 Allen Pkwy. The lawsuit claimed the structure was corroding and was designed in such away that made maintaining it or recoating it impossible — and sought damages from the building’s contractor, architect, and other parties. The condo association dropped its claims against many of those parties late last month. And a reader wonders if the attachment seen hanging below the structure in the recent photo at left, which “almost looks like a hot tub,” is part of some newly devised cleaning solution. [Prime Property] Photo: Swamplot inbox

08/25/14 11:00am

Zelko Bistro, 705 E. 11th St., Houston Heights

Zelko Bistro, 705 E. 11th St., Houston HeightsLast week Judge Randy Wilson (yes, the same judge who ruled earlier this year in the Ashby Highrise case) granted a temporary injunction preventing the owner of the converted bungalow at 705 E. 11th St. from locking out or evicting Zelko Bistro — or putting a for lease sign in front of the Heights restaurant (as caught in the photo at right from last month). Zelko was required to post a bond equal to a single month’s rent under the previous lease; the ruling requires the restaurant’s owners to comply with the terms of that lease as well.

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Still Serving
08/04/14 10:45am

Zelko Bistro, 705 E. 11th St., Houston Heights

The owners of Zelko Bistro have gone to court to try to prevent their landlord from locking them out, evicting them, or placing a “for lease” sign in front of the Heights restaurant. In a lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order filed last Thursday, Zelko claims Papa K LLC  failed to honor a 5-year extension written into their lease for the property at 705 E. 11th St., which Zelko first took possession of in 2009 and subsequently spent approximately $600,000 to convert to a restaurant.

According to a copy of the lease included with the petition, Zelko had been paying $5,700 a month in rent, in addition to all property taxes; the term ended on June 30th. Emails between Zelko’s principals and its landlord included in the petition indicate Zelko’s interest in extending the lease in advance of the 90-day-advance-notice deadline, but a few days after that deadline had passed the landlord presented its tenants with a new lease including less favorable terms, including a 50 percent rent increase, according to the suit.

Other details in the court documents shed a bit of light on the goings-on Swamplot noted late last month, when a “for-lease” sign briefly appeared in front of the restaurant, and a broker representing the landlord announced that the restaurant would soon be leaving.

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Lease Extension Battle
06/20/14 12:00pm

Ad for Royce HomesBack in January of this year, the bankruptcy trustee assigned to colorful imploded homebuilder Royce Homes obtained a $9.3 settlement from Amegy Bank for the bank’s role in what attorneys called a $39 million conspiracy — to swindle creditors by draining the collapsed builder’s bank accounts shortly before Royce shut down and was declared bankrupt, in 2008. A separate settlement with Royce Builders’ founder, Michael Manners, was reached in March. And earlier this month, a jury in federal court returned a $27 million verdict against Royce’s former CEO, John Speer, for his role in the escapade. (Back in March, an earlier jury had ended up deadlocked on a number of charges.)

According to reporting by Law360’s Jeremy Heallen, the charges stemmed from what the attorneys claimed amounted to an off-the-books leveraged buyout of Royce Homes. In 2006, Speer bought Manner’s 50 percent stake in the Royce Homes for $33 million, to give himself complete ownership of the homebuilder. Though the funds used to finance the purchase (including a $20 million personal loan from Amegy Bank) were borrowed in Speer’s own name, Speers, Manners, and Amegy came to an understanding that Royce Homes would ultimately be responsible for paying them off, the suit claimed. The purpose of the scheme, according to the claims, was to keep the loans off of Royce Homes’s financial statements, because doing so would have “wiped out most of the homebuilder’s equity and caused lenders to shut down vital credit lines,” Heallen reports.

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Amegy Bank and More
05/30/14 12:45pm

Marfreless, 2006 Peden St., River Oaks Shopping Center, HoustonThe former operators of Marfreless — the oh-so-dark bar that hid behind the unmarked blue door under the stairs in back of the River Oaks Shopping Center for more than a decade until shutting down in the middle of last year — filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the group that later renovated the space and opened a bar of the same name inside it in January of this year. In essence, the suit claims that the bar’s current operators are imposters, and are using the Marfreless name in its former leased location — and claiming to have reopened it — without permission. “Marfreless was temporarily closed in March of 2013, when it transitioned to new ownership, the third in its distinguished lifetime,” reads the new Marfreless website, created by the bar’s current operators. But the lawsuit claims that isn’t true. “Despite these representations by Defendant,” reads a filing by Marfreless Ventures, LP, “no such ownership transition has ever taken place.”

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The Lawsuit Behind the Bar
05/01/14 5:00pm

Site of Proposed Ashby Highrise, 1717 Bissonnet St., Boulevard Oaks, Houston

Judge Randy Wilson today issued a ruling affirming a jury’s conclusion that the proposed Ashby Highrise at 1717 Bissonnet St. would constitute a “nuisance.” But he couldn’t both grant an injunction preventing the building’s construction and award the complaining neighbors the approximately $1.6 million in damages determined by the jury, he explains, because that would constitute a “double recovery.” Instead, citing the extremely local nature of the nuisance, the difficulty of enforcing an injunction, possible harm to the developers, the disruption to city development rules a singular decision in this case would bring, and other concerns, he denied the injunction and the portion of the jury award for loss of use and enjoyment — but ordered the developers of the proposed 21-story building to pay 20 plaintiffs the $1.2 million the jury had apportioned for “lost market value damages,” because “these damages have already occurred.” The plaintiffs had argued they preferred an injunction to the payment; it’s likely they’ll appeal.

Photo of 1717 Bissonnet St.: Swamplot inbox

$1.2 Million for Lost Market Value
12/17/13 4:45pm

Rendering of Street in Front of Proposed Ashby Highrise, 1717 Bissonnet St., Southampton, HoustonAfter more than 6 hours of deliberation over 2 days, the jury in the Ashby Highrise trial came back with a verdict this afternoon, awarding damage claims to a subset of the neighbors who filed suit against the developers of the highrise apartment tower planned for 1717 Bissonnet, claiming that the development would cause harm to their property. Jurors who spoke afterward to Chronicle reporter Erin Mulvaney said they believed the development was “out of place” for the Southampton neighborhood it abuts. Expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in the month-long trial presented evidence that the 21-story tower would cause lower property values, structural problems, and increased traffic for its immediate neighbors. Total bill, ordered for 20 of the 30 neighborhood households that entered into the lawsuit: $1,661,993.62. Next up: a hearing before Judge Randy Wilson over whether the project should be allowed to go forward.

Rendering: Buckhead Investment Partners

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