11/30/16 5:30pm

LICENSE SUSPENSION RECOMMENDED OVER FATAL CALIFORNIAN BALCONY COLLAPSE Meanwhile, in Berkeley: The California Contractors State License Board filed a formal complaint yesterday against the company that worked on the Liberty Gardens Apartments — where a cantilevered balcony in unit 405 collapsed last year, killing 6 of the 13 people standing on it. The board says that Segue Construction (which hired contractors to frame the faulty balcony) deviated from the specified building plan for the balcony, including swapping the plywood called for in the design for multiple sheets of specifically-not-OK oriented strand board. The agency also says the balcony collapsed when it did because of water-intrusion-related dry rot, potentially related to the balcony’s questionable waterproofing — not done in the way the design called for, and completed on “unknown dates” between May 2005 and August 2006 by another contractor. No charges are being filed by the Alameda County district attorney’s office, but the regulatory board is asking that Segue’s license be suspended or revoked. [California Contractors State License Board via KCBS]

11/29/16 5:00pm

CONOCOPHILLIPS TO LEAVE 62-ACRE ENERGY CORRIDOR CAMPUS FOR SOMETHING MORE COZY ACROSS I-10 Leasing Flier for Energy Center 4, 925 N. Eldridge Pkwy., Energy Corridor, Houston, 77079ConocoPhillips told its employees at the 62-acre complex at 600 N. Dairy Ashford Rd. today that the energy giant will be pulling them out of its 1980’s campus and moving them across I-10 into that empty 22-story Energy Center 4 highrise the company has been trying to sublet since earlier this year. Nancy Sarnoff says that the move is planned for mid-2018 after the highrise gets built out, noting that so far, the new building “has remained an empty shell as ConocoPhillips has tried to sublease the space.” Before then, the campus will be getting some new nextdoor neighbors, as Shell’s nearby Woodcreek campus takes on some of the employees being moved out of One Shell Plaza downtown. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Energy Center 4 at 925 N. Eldridge Pkwy.: CBRE

11/18/16 5:15pm

APARTMENT DEVELOPER ALLIANCE READY TO BUY LANDMARKED HEIGHTS WATERWORKS LAND Heights Reservoir land saleTurns out serial multifamily developer Alliance Residential is the previously unnamed entity planning to buy the Heights waterworks properties the city put on the market earlier this year (after awarding parts of the reservoir complex protected landmark status 6 months prior).  A notice from the city planning department today says Alliance beat out 18 other bidders on the 2 parcels (catty-corner from one another across Nicholson and W. 20th streets), and also mentions that the city has to accept the highest offer for the sale. A public meeting about the plans for the land, including what role those tax-relevant historic structures might have in any proposed new development, is scheduled for the 29th (that’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving) at the restored fire station on W. 12th St. [Houston Planning Commission] Map of Heights Reservoir properties: City of Houston

11/17/16 3:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT MADE THE GEOGRAPHY THAT MADE HOUSTON houston-ship-channelAir conditioning had little to do with it. Chicago out-paced Houston because of its location as the geographic nexus of industrial transportation during the industrial revolution. It connected to the east through the Erie Canal and Great Lakes and to the west with the ever-growing railroads. A linchpin city grows. A growing city builds. Houston had no such geographic importance — and had a hurricane not made Galveston nonviable, Houston would probably still be a modest town. We had to build our port to earn any geographic value. It’s impressive that we did so. Houston shouldn’t exist. We made it exist. Now that’s cool.” [Matt, commenting on Comment of the Day: When Houston Chilled Out and Grew UpPhoto of Houston Ship Channel: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

11/16/16 3:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN HOUSTON CHILLED OUT AND GREW UP AC“I have 3 words that explain why Chicago developed as a ‘modern city’ well before Houston: ‘winter’ and ‘air conditioning.’ Think about it . . . Heating a big tall building to make it comfortable is easy. In contrast, cooling that same building is not so easy — especially in the post Civil War and 1890-1920 time frame. Now, the development of commercially viable air conditioners in the 1920-30’s was an expensive luxury. Then the WW2 years and rationing, and voilá — [only] modest growth of ‘big city’ until the late 1940’s and 1950’s. So when did Houston really start to grow? Yup, you guessed it: post WW2 and the 1950’s, when most middle class people could afford air conditioning in their homes and businesses. So if you want cool ‘old’ pre-war buildings, go north and east towards cooler weather. But if you want a modern or post-modern or even contemporary building, just look at Houston, or Atlanta, or Los Angeles, or Las Vegas. (And thank Mr. Carrier for his invention of air conditioning as we know it.)” [In the Doghouse, commenting on A Brief History of Houston’s Future Historic Preservation CultureIllustration: Lulu

11/16/16 11:00am

CITY TRACKING DOWN THE LEAD IN CITY HALL’S DRINKING FOUNTAINS, EYEING OTHER DOWNTOWN FAUCETS city-hall-bigThe city is planning to check in on the water at other buildings downtown, Scott Noll reports, in the wake of those lead tests KHOU did on drinking water from just City Hall and the City Hall Annex buildings last week. Those tests turned up lead levels so high above federal limits in at least 1 fountain that the city has shut them all off (and cleaned out the ice machines) while more extensive testing is done on the system. City spokesperson Janice Evans says city testing a few years ago didn’t show concern-worthy lead levels, but the fountains will stay off while the source of the current problem is traced out: “Is it the pipes? Is it the drinking fountains? Is it water coming into the building? It could be [any of the 3] options. There’s a lot of deferred maintenance in this building.”  [KHOU; previously on Swamplot] Photo of City Hall: City of Houston

11/15/16 3:15pm

PERMITS ISSUED TO STORE TEXAS WIND ENERGY IN GIANT UNDERGROUND SALT CAVE, TOO Meanwhile, in Tennessee Colony: As Fairway works on retrofitting some of those giant salt caves south of the Astrodome to store crude oil, a company called APEX says it has the permits all lined up to outfit a cavern in Anderson County’s Bethel Salt Dome to store some of Texas’s excessive wind energy. The plan, if the company gets the rest of the necessary funding, is to buy excess electricity from the grid to run an air compressor, pumping air into a salt chamber as deep as the Empire State Building is tall. That compressed air (with a boost from some natural gas combustion) would then be used to turn a turbine when needed. Energy analyst Paul Denham tells David Fehling that only a few spots in the US along the Gulf Coast have the kind of salt dome geology being put to work by the Bethel project (and by the only other major compressed air plants in the world, currently operating in Germany and Alabama); a few other companies, however, are now working on taking underground caverns out of the equation. [Houston Public Media; previously on Swamplot]

11/15/16 1:00pm

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HOUSTON’S FUTURE HISTORIC PRESERVATION CULTURE Astrodome“Houston seems younger than it is,” writes Barry Moore today: “Few would guess that our founding by the Allen Brothers was within a few years of Chicago’s. Why does Chicago seem so much older? The answer is complex.” While the 70-year-old annual conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation kicks off today in Houston for the first time, Moore charts decades of change in Houston’s laws, tax rules, and attitudes related to letting historic structures and places stick around. And Moore claims that these days, Houston’s out-with-the-old reputation “is itself a relic. Houston has turned a corner. After half a century of organizing, we now have a preservation culture and laws to protect parts of the built environment. This may be hard to believe, but I will argue that no other city in the country has such an opportunity to become ground zero for the future of the preservation movement.” [OffCite; previously on SwamplotPhoto of Astrodome: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

11/14/16 3:15pm

SPURNED BY NORWEGIAN, PRINCESS, BAYPORT CRUISE TERMINAL TURNS TO CHILLIN’ FRUIT, FIXING UP CARS Bayport Cruise TerminalBereft of tourist companionship after little more than a pair of brief affairs with Norwegian and Princess cruise lines (both of which ended abruptly in mid-2015), the $108-million Bayport Cruise Terminal is picking up and moving on next month, when the first shipment of automobiles for Auto Warehousing Inc. is scheduled to make landing. Andrea Rumbaugh writes that the company has a 3-year lease to use the former cruise facility to make after-market mods before sending cars on their way to dealerships; port commission chairwoman Janiece Longoria also tells Rumbaugh that port-owned areas near the terminal are being outfitted with more chilled storage space, possibly paving the way for the failed Ship Channel vacation destination to make a comeback as a fruit-and-veggie hub. [Houston Chronicle; previously on SwamplotPhoto: Port of Houston

11/10/16 4:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE NUMBERS ON HEIGHTS WETTING AND THE PRESIDENCY Map Showing Dry Area of Houston HeightsProp. 1 passed by 2087 votes. There were 654 undervotes (voters who voted but didn’t vote on Prop 1.), of which only 143 were on election day. By the way: 78 percent turnout in the damp Heights, and 72 percent of registered voters voted on Prop 1. — compared to about 60 percent county-wide and 55 percent nationally for the Presidential election.” [Angostura, commenting on Your Heights Dry Zone Ballot Problem Didn’t Affect Yesterday’s Moist Election Outcome] Map of proposed H-E-B in Heights damp zone: Houston Heights Beverage Coalition

11/10/16 10:45am

CITY STILL WORKING ON CHANGING DOWLING STREET’S NAME, STREET NAME CHANGING RULES Rendering of Emancipation Park, Dowling St., Third Ward, HoustonThe renaming of Dowling St. to Emancipation Ave. is taking a little longer than the 10 weeks initially planned by the city planning commission, Mike Morris notes this week (now that that floated November 6 renaming ceremony date has come and gone). The final votes to formalize the name change are still coming up; the mayor and city council have also been rethinking the rules on how to change street names, which currently require a written OK from 75 percent of the property owners along a public street. Fewer than half of Dowling St.’s property owners initially signed on to the change,  though that percentage is skewed by the fact that many absentee owners couldn’t be reached at all, according to state rep Garnet Coleman. Morris writes that the proposed rule updates just require “sufficient” support for a name change to go through; the renaming of Dowling is moving forward under the new rules as a trial run before the city approves the rules officially. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Rendering of in-progress Emancipation Park redo on Dowling St.: Phil Freelon

11/09/16 2:30pm

HISD PROP 1 VOTERS TO STATE: COME AND TAKE IT OR MAYBE DO SOMETHING ELSE INSTEAD hattie-mae-white-centerWhile the Heights Dry Zone was dampened yesterday by a 63-to-36-percent moistening vote for City of Houston Prop. 1, HISD’s non-alcohol-related Prop. 1 was shot down yesterday by about the same margin (62-to-37-percent against). Laura Isensee writes that the measure was on the ballot this year because Houston’s rising property tax values have put it above a wealth threshold requiring it to share revenue into the state’s education funding system, “even if the majority of its students come from low-income households.” Crossing that threshold means the district was asked to send around $162 million this year to be distributed around; the ‘no’ vote however, denied the district permission to send the money the usual way (which no district has ever refused to do before). To get at the funds, the state could redraw the boundaries of HISD to move some higher-tax-value property into other nearby districts — or it could overhaul the education funding system during this year’s legislative session, as that Texas Supreme Court ruling in May strongly recommended (but did not order). Isensee writes that mayor Turner and others who campaigned against the proposition are hoping the vote will spur the Legislature to reform education funding in the upcoming session; lieutenant governor Dan Patrick has already said a special summer session could be called to tackle the issue, while governor Greg Abbott has already said that won’t be necessary. [Houston Public Media] Photo of HISD central office at 4400 West 18th St.: HISD

11/08/16 4:30pm

HEIGHTS DRY ZONE RESIDENTS: DID PROP. 1 NOT SHOW UP ON YOUR BALLOT TODAY? Voting Signs, HoustonPolls don’t close until 7 PM in Harris County, but a couple of Heights-area readers have already written in today with claims that the local option measure to allow to-go-only beer and wine sales in the Heights  wasn’t on their ballots — even though they live inside the dry zone. Are you one of them? If so, Swamplot would love to hear from you via the tip line email address (and as always, we’ll keep you anonymous by default). Photo: Ed T [license]

11/08/16 3:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE CHICKEN, THE EGG, AND THE HOUSTON SPRAWLSCAPE Proposed Heights H-E-B with 10 ft. building setback“I do usually avoid stores with no bike parking or unfriendly pedestrian/bike access, so I see the other side of [the parking lot] coin. Stores need to cater to their customers; it’s customer demand that’s ultimately at fault for hideous parking lots and runoff and heat islands and sprawl and all the rest. But one way to drive demand is creating feedback loops, and one way to start that is stores building less parking.” [Sid, commenting on H-E-B’s Plan and Backup Plan for the Double Decker Heights Dry Zone Store] Rendering of preliminary parking garage plans for N. Shepherd H-E-B: Houston Planning Commission