COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTONIANS WOULDN’T KNOW DENSITY IF IT PARKED RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM “This is exactly what happens in every dense city. If you go to Brooklyn, you will see cars street-parked in front of the brownstones. Few of those cars belong to the resident of the brownstone immediately adjacent. They recognize that they don’t own the street parking in front of their residence. It’s an incredible waste of resources to require that those perfectly good parking spaces remain vacant, in favor of large separate parking structures.” [Heightsresident, commenting on Comment of the Day: How To Tilt The Zero-Sum Houston Transit Game] Illustration: Lulu
HOUSTON IS NO LONGER THE FASTEST GROWING CITY IN THE COUNTRY New Census Bureau numbers tracking population ins-and-outs between mid-2015 and mid-2016 have been released, Alexa Ura and Chris Essig note in the Texas Tribune this morning — and Houston is no longer in the number 1 spot nationally for growth among cities. Harris County as a whole, meanwhile, has also lost that top county population growth title (which it’s been defending for some 8 years) to Phoenix-containing Maricopa County in Arizona. The duo write that the growth that did occur in Houston itself was mainly from existing Houston residents having kids and from international immigrants moving in, while growth in Houston’s suburban orbit was more the product of migration in from elsewhere in the state and country; though the net population change was still positive, Harris County still lost around 44 people a day, probably in connection to the oil industry. [Texas Tribune] Map of Harris and surrounding counties: HGAC
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO TILT THE ZERO-SUM HOUSTON TRANSIT GAME “‘The overlooked reason why cycling isn’t more popular is because driving and parking are far, far easier in Houston than in Amsterdam.’ You‘re right. So you know what would help increase the use of bikes? Allowing the market to determine the number of parking spaces. If [a business] gets it wrong and offers too few spots, they’ll suffer. But give them the choice. Right now business are required to supply tons of parking, making driving the dominant way people will always get from point A to point B. At least loosen up the regs in areas like Midtown and Montrose where we have a population that’s far more willing to walk, bike, skate, rail, etc. (or even Uber, which, while it puts cars on the road, lowers parking demand.)” [Cody, commenting on Houston Bike Plan Up for a Vote Again This Morning Amid More California-ization Fears] Photo: Bill Barfield via Swamplot Flickr Pool
HOUSTON BIKE PLAN UP FOR A VOTE AGAIN THIS MORNING AMID MORE CALIFORNIA-IZATION FEARS This morning’s city council meeting has the Houston Bike Plan back on the docket, following the most recent round of public-input-based tweaking to the plan (as well as a delay of the vote, which was initially scheduled for earlier this month). Over in the Chronicle Dug Begley recaps some of the arguments being made for and against the years-in-development guidance plan, which have a bit of a chicken-vs-egg flavor: do only 0.5% of Houstonians bike to work because safe-feeling bike paths are scarce outside of certain Inner Loop neighborhoods? Or are those areas where the active bikers are already clustered the only ones where bike path improvements are warranted? Councilman Greg Travis, one of the folks who pushed back the vote at the last council meeting, told Begley he does see a need for some kind of bike safety improvement plan, but adds that he’s “not sure this is the plan for Houston. We’re not Amsterdam or San Francisco, and we don’t know what’s needed here, really needed.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of existing ‘high-comfort’ bike paths: Houston Bike Plan Interactive Map
STATE COMMITTEE OKAYS BILL TO REQUIRE ‘CERTAIN COUNTIES’ TO VOTE ON ASTRODOME PARKING GARAGE-IFICATION The Texas senate’s committee on intergovernmental relations gave an early stamp of approval to that bill that would require Harris County to hold a vote on the plan recently set in motion to turn the Astrodome’s sunken field into an underground parking garage, Mihir Zaveri notes in the Chronicle this morning. The bill’s language doesn’t explicitly single out the Dome and the county commissioners; it would just mandate that “certain counties” — those with a population of 3.3 million or more — would need to call a vote on work related to “certain sports facilities” if the price tag of a given project reaches $10 million — namely, those sports facilities already more than 50 years old when the bill passes. (Harris County, with a population estimated around 4.5 million, is the only Texas county that comes remotely close to passing the bill’s size threshold.) [Houston Chronicle; Texas Legislature; previously on Swamplot] Schematic of Astrodome parking plan: Harris County Engineering Dept.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: YOUR VERY OWN INNER LOOP TRAILER PARK, FOR FUN AND PROPERTY TAX CONTROL “Are there typically HOA restrictions against mobile homes inside the Loop? Like if someone’s sitting on a cleared-off lot and not wanting to build, could they just pull in 2 mobile homes and start renting out? Or would the neighborhood/city be pounding on the doors? Not sure such a thing is feasible with $400k lots, but if you had to demo a multifamily and still wanted to hold onto the property, sounds like [that] could potentially keep the tax value low while still bringing in rental income.” [joel, commenting on All That’s Left of the Heights Trailer Park Behind Eight Row Flint] Photo of cleared mobile home park on W. 11th St.: Swamplot inbox
COMMENT OF THE DAY: CHANGING TASTES AT THE CORNER OF MONTROSE AND WESTHEIMER “Dallas invading Houston with its bland ‘designer tacos’ made for yuppies. Right across from Austin’s Uchi, where the waitstaff tells you what you’re suppose to taste as you eat. I remember when you could get a blowjob for $20 in this neighborhood. This is sad.” [MW, commenting on Edge Realty Now Seeking To Fill Bright Orange Box with Neighbors for a Montrose Velvet Taco] Photo: Swamplot inbox
RADIOSHACK TO CLOSE A BUNCH MORE STORES NOW THAT IT’S BANKRUPT AGAIN The roster of planned store closings in the wake RadioShack’s déjà-vu declaration of bankruptcy last week now includes 11 Houston-ish addresses, according to the company’s handy filter map of inventory clearance sales. An initial list of this round’s Chapter 11 location casualties, filed in court and published on Friday by Consumerist, limited the roll call of the soon-to-shutter to just 4 strip centers ’round town: the RadioShack on Hillcroft Dr. near Richmond Ave. (between Galaly Furniture and Liberty Income Tax); the one in the Bellaire Triangle (where Best Optometrists used to be); the Rice Village-adjacent Kirby Dr. location, between Creative Blinds and Loan Star Title Loans; and the S. Gessner location near US-59, which shares a strip mall with LA Crawfish, Iglesia de Dios Shammah, and the dental office of Hanh Nguyen. Back in its heyday, RadioShack once sported some 80-plus Houston stores; the last time the company declared bankruptcy, back in 2015, some 32 of the area’s then-77 locations were initially marked for closure. The number of Houston-area stores remaining, prior to the announcement of this latest wave of goodbyes, was down to the high 20s — putting early estimates of the remaining Houston ‘Shack count down to the mid-teens. [Previously on Swamplot] Map of closing RadioShacks (in red): RadioShack
COMMENT OF THE DAY: ACTS OF PREEMPTIVE CALIFORNIA-IZATION IN THE HOUSTON SUBURBS “Someone ought to do a subdivision in Katy/Fulshear and name the streets Crenshaw, Imperial, Valley View, etc. Would (i) be humorous and (ii) help keep the California transplants outside Beltway 8. Win-win.” [Purple City, commenting on The Denton Suburban Roadways Quietly Impersonating West Houston’s Iconic Streets] Photo of Houston street names in Denton, TX: Lauren Meyers
COMMENT OF THE DAY: YOUR WEEKEND HEIGHTS-CREEP FORECAST “Garden Oaks and Oak Forest are [already] part of The Heights (the same way they are calling Spring Branch ‘Memorial’, and a lot of long time residents were angry that new residents called Northside Village ‘Tampico Heights’). I have bad news for the purists out there: if you live in Cottage Grove, Independence Heights, Shady Acres, Brooke Smith, Timbergrove/Lazybrook, those areas are now part of The Heights [as well]. . . . These hoods that have the 365 stores are gonna get more pricey and popular, since they are close to Downtown.” [Dj, commenting on Whole Foods’s 365 Garden Oaks Spot Now Emptied of Neff Rental Rentals] Rendering of 365 Garden Oaks: Boucher Design Group
HOUSTON’S FORGOTTEN FOUNDING ALLEN The third name in the trio of John, Augustus, and Charlotte Allen is typically dropped when discussing the founding of Houston via arguably questionable New York newspaper advertisement (touting an elevated, salubrious, and breezy paradise along the Texas coast). But Charlotte likely bankrolled the whole operation, Maggie Gordon notes this week in the Chronicle: Charlotte’s inheritance money was used to make the purchase of the city’s original 8,500 acres of swampland in 1836. And of the 3, Charlotte was the only Allen to spend subsequent decades involved in the Houston real estate scene, including the donation of land for the first city hall on the site of today’s Market Square Park. John, on the other hand, died of what may have been mosquito-borne illness 2 years in to the venture, while Augustus took off back to New York in 1850, after he and Charlotte split up. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Image of the Allen brothers’ advertisement: Houstorian
COMMENT OF THE DAY: RENOVATABILITY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER “When we were home shopping in the Memorial Villages area, we considered several homes that were marketed as ‘Lot Value Only/No Showings of the House’. What I discovered was: 1) A buyer is a buyer. Any professional listing agent who is doing right by his client will be happy to show a home’s interior to a qualified buyer. (If he/she wants to renovate the house, that’s his/her business). 2) What is considered ‘lot value’ in Memorial Villages can be quite livable, even moderately luxurious, by ‘normal’ standards, including mine.” [Grant, commenting on Piney Point Home Listing Photo of the Day: Let It Slide] Photo of 2 Memorial Point Ln.: HAR
COMMENT OF THE DAY: BOOTSTRAPPING INNOVATION WHILE GIVING UT THE BOOT “It’s absolutely surreal to see these extraordinarily non-innovative approaches to becoming an innovation hub. Does anyone really think ‘being innovative’ is a status that one can inherit, or subcontract out, or buy like a product? . . . Also, I can’t help but wonder how much of this push for innovation was based on an expectation of that UT grad-student center being built. It would seem Houston’s last chance to be an actual center for innovation walked out the door along with that project.” [justaswell, commenting on Houston’s Innovation Problem; Sneak Peek at The Carter Penthouses] Conceptual rendering of cancelled UT Houston campus: UT System
HARRIS COUNTY GETTING IN ON THE PASADENA REFINERY AIR POLLUTION LAWSUIT ACTION In the wake of the lawsuit the Sierra Club and Environment Texas filed last week alleging that the century-old Pasadena Refining System plant has violated the federal Clean Air Act some thousands of times, Harris County attorney Vince Ryan has filed another suit against the plant. This one’s to do with the facility allegedly breaking state level environmental laws, Diana Wray writes in this week’s Houston Press; incidents of particular note include last summer’s major sulfur dioxide leak, which briefly shut down both the nearby Washburn Tunnel and the rest of the Ship Channel (while sending Galena Park into duck-and-cover mode). Wray writes that both lawsuits seem mostly geared toward getting the plant to clean up its act; each suit also has the potential to require that some kind of compliance watchdog or overseer be assigned to plant to ensure that it’s doing so. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pasadena Refinery Systems, Inc. plant at 111 Red Bluff Rd.: Center for Land Use Interpretation (license)