TXDOT TO PIERCE ELEVATED: YOUR YEARS ARE NUMBERED, PROBABLY Pending a vote next month by the Texas Transportation Committee, some early-stage projects connected to TxDOT’s plan to reroute I-45 and the whole downtown freeway exchange system could be getting started a few years sooner than TxDOT officials initially thought they would, Dug Begley writes in the Chronicle. (Those early stages include the reworking of the bottleneck on northbound US-59 where Spur 527 now peels off 2 of the freeway’s lanes just before SH 288 merges into the mix.) The first few projects “are incremental compared to the overall plan,” writes Begley, but “officials say [the projects] are important and send the clear message: The I-45 freeway is relocating and the elevated portion along Pierce will be abandoned and maybe demolished within the next dozen years. . . .Work on revamping the freeway intersections is slated for late 2020 or early 2021.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pierce Elevated: Russell Hancock
COMMENT OF THE DAY: ON HAVING YOUR ART DECO STRIP CENTER AND EATING IT, TOO “’Everybody wants walkability, but nobody wants density’ is the urban-planning equivalent of ‘everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.’” [Angostura, commenting on Where Weingarten Plans To Stab That 30-Story Residential Highrise into the River Oaks Shopping Center] Site plan of future highrise development: Weingarten Realty
THE TIPLINE IS STANDING BY New golf course planned on a former industrial cleanup site near Second Ward? If you’ve got news, or a hint of a story, Swamplot wants to hear about it! Send your tips, photos, short videos, and projects to Swamplot’s special email address, found here. And while you’re at it, be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and sign up for our email list.
FLOODED-OUT FLOODING SYMPOSIUM TO TRY AGAIN IN APRIL That January meeting of city officials, scientists, urban planners, business folks, engineers, conservationists, architects, and other flood-minded citizens — the one that was cancelled due to flash flooding — has now been rescheduled for April 5th. The symposium is still slated to take place at the George R. Brown Convention Center, and the same panelists appear to be on the docket. The event is free and open to all high water spectators, but you’ll need to register online by March 29th. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of flooding along Brays Bayou on April 17th, 2016: Chris Klesch
BRAD MOORE AND FRIENDS SNATCH EMPTY BODY OF INVASION ICE HOUSE Formerly apostrophe-averse Grand Prize co-owner Brad Moore and his business partners have a new bar now up and running in the work-out-the-kinks, wait-for-the-liquor-license phase. The business, operating under the syllable-rich name Lil’ Danny Speedo’s Go Fly a Kite Lounge, has taken over the space in the 1950s building at 823 Dumble St. (shown here as seen early last year in its then-new alien mural skin). Danny Speedo’s is the latest link in a long chain of bars on the property — most recently including Invasion Ice House, which the Ramos family opened last spring before shutting it down at the end of October. Phaedra Cook reports that Lil’ Danny Speedos is limiting the alcohol menu to beer, wine, and frozen shandies until the liquor permit comes through. [Houston Foodfinder; previously on Swamplot] Photo of former Invasion Ice House at 823 Dumble St.: Swamplot inbox
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT’S GONE AND WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN ON LOUISIANA ST. “I just stumbled upon this today (having moved away from Houston in the early 90s.) Kind of breaks my heart to see it gone, having been the maître d’ and sommelier there in the late 80s and early 90s. . . . I still have dreams of a hidden cellar beyond the famous cellar downstairs.” [Kevin Metivier, commenting on Those 2 Century-Old Louisiana St. Buildings Being Demolished Now for Lancaster Hotel Parking] Photo of 517 Louisiana demolition: Jack Miller
THE WOODLANDS SEEKS PERMISSION TO DEPLOY MUTANT FISH TO FIGHT WATERWAY WEEDS The Woodlands Development Company has filed a request with the state to add some genetically sterile Asiatic grass carp in the development’s Waterway feature, Catherine Dominguez notes in the Houston Chronicle. The fish are a proposed answer to the bushy pondweed and algae blooms that have recently been clogging up the created channel, which runs from the Lake Woodlands reservoir to the Woodlands Mall alongside I-45. Dominguez writes that the permit request was set in motion by a complaint from Ironman Texas, which at the last minute moved the miles-long water course of its recent Woodlands supertriathlon, citing skepticism that water quality was okay for swimmers. The carp is native to the Amur River that divides northeastern China from Russia; TPWD has issued permits for stocking the fish in Texas since 1992, but only in its deliberately-given-too-many-chromosomes-to-reproduce triploid form. The TPWD’s grass carp permit writeup includes advice on fish deployment, reasonable fish performance expectations, and info on how to prevent fish escape. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of Woodlands Waterway: TheWoodlandsTX.com
INWOOD FOREST GOLF COURSE NEXT IN LINE FOR STORMWATER DETENTION BASIN TREATMENT One of the next spots up for retrofitting as a series of flood detention ponds: the rest of the Inwood Forest Golf Course, which the city bought in 2011 after that lawsuit over whether it could be developed as anything else. The Chronicle’s Mike Morris reports that a set of 10 new ponds were approved by city council on Wednesday for the former fairways, which sprawl on either side of Antoine Rd. between Victory Dr. and W. Gulf Bank Rd. interspersed with bits of residential neighborhood. (A pair of basins was previously dug out on the site; the new project could increase the course’s water feature storage volume from 56 to more than 1000 acre-feet, potentially.) The former clubhouse for the course, at 7603 Antoine Dr., has also found new employment as the White Oak Conference Center, and currently houses some operations of the Near Northwest Management District. Inwood Forest isn’t the first golf course in Houston being put to new flood-conscious uses — across town, an ongoing project in Clear Lake has been converting the former Clear Lake City Golf Course into a series of detention basins and park spaces going by the name Exploration Green. It potentially isn’t the last, either — the Sims-Bayou-side Glenbrook Park Golf Course may eventually be converted into the Houston Botanic Garden, the Seussical early renderings of which include large sections designed to flood. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of former Inwood Forest Golf Course green near White Oak Conference Center: White Oak Conference Center
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHERE THE RUNOFF TAX FLOWS MATTERS LESS THAN COLLECTING IT “Just collecting the tax on impermeable surfaces is valuable on its own. It makes landowners think twice about creating (or even keeping) flood-worsening pavement. Where the money goes sort of morally determines whether the fee is a form of legally-imposed direct responsibility for flood costs, or just pure financial disincentive that helps the city with flood costs or whatever else — it would be better with the spending restriction, but I’ll gladly take either one.” [Sid, commenting on City Loses Latest Appeal on 2010 Drainage Fee Election] Map of past, ongoing, and planned drainage and street projects: ReBuild Houston interactive map
17-STORY ROBINHOOD CONDO TOWER TO GET 17-STORY SENIOR NEXTDOOR NEIGHBOR The condo tower at 2520 Robinood St. — not so long ago bookended to the east and west by bars it was suing and being sued by — may soon be bar-free in both directions. Katherine Feser reports in the Chronicle this week that the property formerly occupied by Hudson Lounge (and occupied by Bar Bleu since last summer) has been sold to senior living developer Bridgewood. The land, bounded by the condo tower and by Robinhood, Quenby and Kelvin streets, is temporarily being leased back to the bar, but will be cleared out by the end of this year to allow the construction of what the company is tentatively calling The Village of Southampton, a 17-story senior living highrise. That’ll put it roughly on the level with 17-story 2520 Robinhood, potentially trimming the views in a number of the condo building’s east-facing units. Bridgewood’s previous 8-story height record is just about met by the company’s most recent senior living project, the almost-done 8-story The Village of River Oaks at 1015 Shepherd Dr.; that project faced a lawsuit during its early stages over claims from residents of the next-door Renoir Lofts and Gotham Lofts condos that an increase in traffic — more specifically, the number of emergency vehicles heading to the senior living center —- might drive down nearby condo property values. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 2520 Robinhood condo tower: Sandra Gunn
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HIDDEN COSTS OF THE HOUSTON DEMOLITION REFLEX “I know nothing about this particular situation — but having seen some examples of this sort of renovation scene play out, I wonder whether there is a lot of anti-renovation bias that pushes the estimates beyond what they really need to be. I have family on the East Coast that have done renovations of homes built in the early 1800s. These were homes that at some point fell into disrepair and had pretty serious issues with wood rot all over, and expensive foundation issues. But there was never a second thought about tearing the building down, even though there was no historic protection in place. All the builders up there do historic renovations all day long and can price them reasonably. I think builders in Houston just do not have the experience and are afraid of taking on the job so they provide an astronomical bid to try to get the owner to tear down.” [Old School, commenting on River Oaks Mid-Century Preservation Turns Demolition, with Reincarnation In the Works] Photo of demolished to-be-rebuilt 2 Tiel Way: HAR
UNIDENTIFIED CHEMICAL STENCH, HAZE DRIFTING ACROSS TOWN OFFICIALLY NO CAUSE FOR CONCERN Suggested and mandatory restrictions on hanging around outside were issued by the Memorial Village area’s fire department and by Katy ISD respectively for a while this morning, in response to the acrid odor and haze blowing in some 40 miles across the city from somewhere near the Ship Channel. The Houston emergency response folks say that their monitoring has turned up no air quality red flags, but that anyone who can avoid the stink should probably do so just in case. The particular origin and composition of the odor also still seems to still be up for debate this afternoon: The Albemarle facility at 13000 Bay Park Rd. (shown above) called into the CAER hotline this morning to report that they might be releasing natural gas odorizer throughout the day as their gas facilities got worked on, and LyondellBasell’s Sheldon Rd. facility also sent a message to the CAER line that they would be conducting flaring today in response to a “unit upset,” but no official suspects have been named by the city. The extent of the odor’s inland spread is notably broader than last month’s quickie Valero tank overfill stench incident in Manchester: KHOU reports that some of its viewers on the southeast side of town started calling in about the smell around 10 am, and that “by 11 a.m. the smell and an apparent haze covered most of downtown Houston and the west side, with some reports from as far north as Bush Airport.” [KHOU; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Albemarle facility at 13000 Bay Park Rd.: April R.
CITY LOSES LATEST APPEAL ON 2010 DRAINAGE FEE ELECTION This week the state’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals upheld a 2015 ruling calling for a new election on the ReBuild Houston drainage and road-fixup fee. As in another local case involving charter invalidation and large sums of collected assessment money, the city is mulling over further appeal options, though the case’s last trip to the Texas Supreme Court didn’t go in the city’s favor. The Chronicle‘s Katherine Driessen also writes that the fund’s future is now murky: the decision doesn’t stop the city from collecting the fee for now, since that collection was authorized through another city ordinance — it may, however, remove restrictions on how the money can be used. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of past, ongoing, and planned drainage and street projects: ReBuild Houston interactive map
HOUSTON LIGHT RAIL BEATS THE COMPETITION IN PEDESTRIAN, BICYCLE COLLISIONS PER MILE Following 2 deaths over the course of Super Bowl Week and Weekend resulting from cyclist-vs-light-rail collisions, the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley takes a look at how Houston stacks up nationally in terms of train-related accidents. The verdict, after a look through some National Transit Database data: Houston’s rail system has more walker and cyclist hits per mile “than any other major line in the country.” Houston breezes in at less that 100,000 train miles travelled per collision (compared to more than twice as many miles traveled per collision in Dallas, and more than 17 times as many in Boston). Metro CEO Tom Lambert tells Begley it may have to do with Houston’s high number of at-grade crossings and relative lack of barriers to keep people off the tracks. Begley says that the original decision to build the train at-grade isn’t itself unusual given the cost of elevated rail, but notes that “few places outside Houston have built their lines in some of the most congested and pedestrian-heavy areas of their respective urban regions.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of light-rail train dressed for Super Bowl Week: Christine Wilson