A LOOK AT SOME OF THE LIQUID POO FLOWING ONTO COLQUITT ST. IN MONTROSE A reader wants to be sure Swamplot readers are alerted — as city inspectors, the HPD’s environmental division, and the property manager have already been, the reader says — to the “recurring” problem of raw sewage flowing out from the Takara-So Apartments at 1919 W. Main St. and into neighboring storm drains. The photo at left, taken on Monday, shows the sewage (“you can smell it”) along Colquitt St., pausing for a bit of sun on its way to lower-lying bayous and waterways. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox
ACTING ON HER OWN, MAYOR WILL ALLOW FOOD TRUCKS DOWNTOWN Note: Story updated below. Hopes there wouldn’t be much opposition this time to changing the city’s fire and health codes to allow food trucks a few niceties such as the ability to park near seating for their customers (if not actually provide it) may have been dashed by objections aired by restaurant owners and the Greater Houston Restaurant Association at yesterday’s city council committee meeting, but Mayor Parker said she plans to go ahead and let propane-fueled mobile food units operate downtown anyway, by acting on her own — an administrative change that doesn’t require council approval: “Parker said she has received an opinion from the fire marshal’s office deeming propane tanks of up to 60 pounds safe for mobile food units in the downtown area. It was not clear Wednesday when that rule change would go into effect, though it is likely to be coupled with smaller, more technical regulatory changes to the food truck policy that the City Council could vote on as soon as this fall.” Update, 1:30 pm: A spokesperson for Mayor Parker tells Swamplot the fire department expects to implement the propane rule change, which would allow trucks in the Texas Medical Center as well as Downtown, sometime in September. Changing the rules to allow a food truck to park closer than 60 ft. to another food truck — another administrative change not requiring a vote from city council — “isn’t likely to be considered until the end of the year or early next year when other changes to the fire code are proposed.” [Houston Chronicle; more info; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Coreanos food truck
A Swamplot reader writes in with a report on the aftermath of last night’s collapse of a top-story section of the very long parking garage for the One Riverway office building north of the Galleria, on S. Post Oak just south of Riverway Dr. No one was hurt in the accident, which occurred before 8 pm, but abc13 reports that vehicles were still exiting the structure at that time. S. Post Oak Ln. is now closed to traffic while officials determine if the concrete structure is safe, and workers are already mourning the lost parking spaces.
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A sharp-eyed reader has spotted what appear to be security cameras popping up on traffic signals at intersections in Midtown over the last couple of weeks. “I assume this is an extension of the downtown camera system that was announced in December,” notes the camera-watcher, who submitted these uh, surveillance photos of the installations at Gray and Bagby (top) and Webster and Bagby in front of the Capital One bank branch (above right). “They appear to be spreading south. Currently I see them on Gray and Webster. The intersections at Bagby got 2 cameras each. Microwave backhaul antennas are visible in the photos.”
Photos: Swamplot inbox
It’s Springtime for Surveillance
COMMENT OF THE DAY: MAKING THE WHEELS SQUEAK “. . . It sounds like a total douche move, and I guess it is, but if the property really is blighted, you can use the City to coerce them to sell. Keep reporting the property to 311. Code violations are largely complaint based in Houston. so if people make a stink, the inspectors will be out there issuing red tags. Are there crimes occurring on the property? Report them to HPD and the Harris County DA. Graffiti? Report it. Get neighbors in on the complaints, too — the more the better. Keep at it. Eventually it’ll be such a pain in the ass for the owners to keep the property that they’ll be eager to sell.
Just be forewarned, it can be a long process. We were at it for over half a decade with a slum lord who owned most of a crimeridden, gang-infested, horrifically blighted condo complex. It wasn’t until someone found evidence of possible fraud on the condo HOA’s books — and he was looking at possible jail time — that he gave it up.
I know people will react angrily to what I’m saying here. It’s a really horrible thing to do — I admit that. But Texas Law doesn’t give us many other alternatives. And when it’s real blight — dragging down whole neighborhoods, costing the City tons of money and ruining our quality of life — most neighbors would argue that it’s worth it.” [ZAW, commenting on Comment of the Day: Prying Dilapidated Properties from Shy Owners] Illustration: Lulu
Following his report earlier this week on a newly proposed city program that would provide tax incentives for the redevelopment of dilapidated properties, the Chronicle‘s Mike Morris put together a couple of maps identifying all Houston structures with existing “repair, demolish, or secure” orders issued by the city’s Buildings and Standards Commission. The zoomable and clickable map of commercial properties — including apartment buildings of 4 or more units — is shown above. Properties marked with the pin-shaped tags had orders filed in 2013 or 2014. That means redevelopment of those properties would be more likely to qualify for the city’s new tax break — because in order to be accepted into the program, applications would have to be filed within a year of the property receiving a repair-or-demolish order. (The intent is “to prevent slumlords who have sat on shoddy buildings for years from qualifying,” Morris explains.)
The tax-break program isn’t intended to cover residential properties tagged with orders to raze, secure, or bring up to code, but Morris put together a second map showing residences of 3 or fewer units that had received the same kinds of notices from the city:
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Repair or Demolish
There are almost 6,000 miles of street in Houston, according to the Memorial Examiner, and now about a half a mile of one in Midtown can call itself remarkable. The Greenroads Foundation, which confers on streets a kind of LEED-like designation, gave its first formal props to a project in Texas to Bagby St. between Tuam and St. Joseph Pkwy., for the $9 million in improvements built along the 0.62-mile span the past few months.
Included in those improvements are bike racks, street furniture, wayfinding signs, wider sidewalks, and narrower, less harrowing crosswalks. (You can see in the photo above that these improvements don’t include burying utilities.) But the designation isn’t meant just to make the lives of pedestrians more aesthetically pleasing: LED lights were installed; rain gardens were put in to help with drainage; “fly ash” concrete, which reduces carbon emissions, was used where possible; and Bagby itself, with its potholes, patches, and cracks, was repaved atop what the Midtown Redevelopment Authority calls “newly stabilized materials” that are supposed to require less maintenance over the long haul.
Here are a few more looks at the transformation:
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PUSHING THE PIZZA BACK A BIT FROM MONTROSE BLVD. Concerns about how that new Pizaro’s Pizza had been drawn to cozy up to the blind corner at W. Gray and Montrose — and how that might affect people on the street — have caused a change in plans, reports The Highwayman: “Situating the entrance at an angle provides more visibility to pedestrians and people in a wheelchair. Drawings also seem to indicate two directional ramps that provide a little more safety and security for disabled pedestrians.” The new set of drawings — one of which is shown here — will go up before the Planning Commission this Thursday. [The Highwayman; previously on Swamplot] Rendering: Braun Enterprises
WHY NOT BANISH CARS FROM MAIN ST.? Monday morning’s fatal collision between the bicycling Rice University architecture student and a southbound Metro train seems to have occasioned the folks at Houston Tomorrow to wonder at the best uses for Main St.: Blogger Kyle Nielsen shows — with a rented B-Cycle and a tape measure — how little room there is for a motorist to give a “vulnerable road user” the 3 ft. now required by the city for “safe passing” and suggests that the Downtown corridor should be closed off, once and for all, to traffic: “It seems to me that it would enhance cyclist and pedestrian safety, encourage the type of walkable retail and bars/restaurants that Downtown needs, decrease motorist frustration at being stuck behind a bicycle, and enhance motorist and transit safety by eliminating the motorist [illegal] left turns that still hit the Metro rail cars sporadically.” [Houston Tomorrow; previously on Swamplot] Photo: kylejack
COMMENT OF THE DAY: NEIGHBORHOOD UPGRADES “. . . right now we have policies that are actively working to get rid of our affordable housing in Montrose (and other places as you point out). They’re just disguised as ‘registration’ and ‘certification’ to make sure places are ‘safe.’ That whole process should be scrapped. If someone has a run-down property people will either 1) not live in it, or 2) decide to live in it because the rent is conducive to the building quality. A ‘smart’ property owner might decide to upgrade the place to raise up the rents, whereas another owner may want to keep his place basic and get lower rents. Renters will decide where they want to go.
It’s not the government’s right to force someone to pay more rent because they don’t feel something is at a given level. I’ve said it here before: Almost every building we’ve upgraded and raised the rent on gave us new tenants simply because the previous tenants couldn’t afford it. So who really benefited by our upgrades? Most of our upgrades were done by us outside of government interference (we don’t need to be told to fix things that are obviously not right about the property, our renters, banks, insurance company, etc. do a good job at that) but there have been plenty of times where we’ve done things per city demand that have raised rents and driven current tenants out. I’m sure they’re really stoked that our hand rails in Montrose are now 36″ high vs. 32″ while they now are living in 5th ward rather than the neighborhood they loved and were priced out of . . .” [Cody, commenting on Comment of the Day: Saving Houston for the Next Generation of Newcomers]
ORDINANCE NOW PROTECTS THE VULNERABLE FROM PASSING CARS, PROJECTILES Yesterday, city council approved an ordinance requiring Houston drivers to play nicer with others. That means: No throwing things at them anymore, and no passing “vulnerable road users” without maintaining at least 3 ft. of space (or 6 ft., if you’re driving a commercial truck). And how are you supposed to know which road user is vulnerable? Maybe you can print out and keep in your car this list — not organized, presumably, by order of importance — from the city press release: “walkers or runners; the physically disabled, such as someone in a wheelchair; a stranded motorist or passengers; highway construction, utility or maintenance workers; tow truck operators; cyclists; moped, motor-driven cycle and scooter drivers; or horseback riders.” [City of Houston] Photo of cyclists on Fry Rd.: Flickr user josephkynguyen
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: DOWNTOWN’S HORSE PEE PROBLEM “If the streets smell like pee it is because of the horse cops. Seriously, walking down Main Street is like walking through a barn, and it isn’t the fault of the homeless — it is the dang horses. Why do we need horse cops anyways? Can’t cops get around on bike, or scooter, or something that doesn’t leave piles of poop in the middle of the street?” [Evan7257, commenting on Bringing the Streets Downtown Right into the Lobbies]
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: CAMERAS ON THE STREET, BEFORE AND AFTER BOSTON “Before Boston, my attitute on red light cameras was (1) there is no expectation of privacy on the roads, in your cars or otherwise in public, (2) no person is actually monitoring these cameras, you paranoid freaks and (3) only those who were breaking the law had anything to worry about. After Boston my attitude is the same plus (4) WE NEED MORE CAMERAS and for tapes to be saved at least thirty days to aid law enforcement!” [mel, commenting on Headlines: Challenging Keystone Pipeline Challenge; Watching ExxonMobil Campus Grow]
NOW ON YOUR MOBILE DEVICE: WHY YOU CAN’T BREATHE A team comprising researchers at UH, Air Alliance Houston, and the American Lung Association have launched OzoneMap, an app that “monitors chemical weather,” reports John Metcalfe of The Atlantic blog Cities. And whether the app helps explain your coughing fit or alerts you to the chance of a really pretty toxic sunset, the best part is that it’s only available in Houston! And why Houston, of all places? Besides the industrial flares, that is? Here’s Metcalfe: “The Houston/Baytown/Huntsville region comes in eighth place for most ozone-polluted cities in America, as ranked by the American Lung Association. Persistently sunny weather, a battalion of petrochemical facilities and scads of fuming cars on the road make Houston a nightmare for anyone who’s chemically sensitive. For these folks, walking outside is like playing a lower-stakes version of Russian roulette, with 30 to 40 days of the year fogged with hazardous levels of ozone.” [Cities; previously on Swamplot] Map: Cities
The redo of this Chenevert St. warehouse is complete, Mayor Parker announced yesterday, and the Houston Center for Sobriety is ready to give drunk people a place to dry out. Next to the Eastex Fwy., the 84-bed center at 150 N. Chenevert will operate out of a 19,000-sq.-ft. building behind the Star of Hope homeless shelter, across from Irma’s Mexican restaurant on Ruiz and just a few blocks north of Minute Maid Park.
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