04/19/18 3:45pm

METRO NOW TESTING OUT SELF-DRIVING BUSES FOR HOUSTON Preliminary tests of the new autonomous buses METRO is studying for potential use in Houston have gone well so far, agency board member Sanhjay Ramabhadran said at a luncheon in Cy-Fair on Tuesday — “although,” he added, “they tend to overheat in the Texas weather.” The next test phase, METRO spokesperson Jerome Gray tells abc13, “will be on the campus of Texas Southern University with a small bus at slow speeds.” If it goes well, a prototype could then graduate to real traffic. Last January, the U.S. Department of Transportation named Houston one of 10 official proving grounds for driverless buses “in part for its miles of HOV lanes that could easily work as testing lanes.” [abc13] Photo: METRO

04/19/18 11:30am

CLEANUP CREWS NOW POLISHING DOWNTOWN HOUSTON’S MOST FAMOUS ABANDONED BUILDING A reader in the KBR Tower 2 blocks east of the former Days Inn at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy. reports sightings of several different crews that have appeared outside the north face of the hotel within the past week. A pair of crane trucks have been parked at the foot of the hotel’s garage, and a swing-stage scaffold is hanging near the top of the podium. Also noted: Workers have cleared out debris from inside the garage, and accumulated trash has been removed from the pool of the 31-story hotel-turned-Vedic-school. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Kimberly Knight

04/18/18 3:00pm

NASA TO STUDY HOW LOUD SUPERSONIC JET GETS BY FLYING OVER GALVESTON Lockheed Martin is pitching its planned supersonic passenger plane as the quietest yet — despite its top speed of 940 mph. The company says a prototype will be ready within the next few years. But NASA won’t wait that long to find out how loud it’ll be: “the government agency will use an F/A-18 Hornet aircraft to replicate the softer sonic boom and measure how receptive Galvestonians will be,” reports the Chronicle‘s Andrea Rumbaugh. After lifting off from Ellington Airport, the plane will dive down at a 53-degree angle off the Galveston coast, breaking the sound barrier as it does. “Most of that sound will go toward the water,” writes Rumbaugh. But when it pulls up, “some of the sound will travel toward Galveston. By the time it reaches the island, it will be at the sound level expected from NASA’s X-plane.” Five hundred chosen residents and a handful of sound monitors will listen up for 10 non-consecutive days in November and provide feedback on the noise level — which NASA’s project manager says shouldn’t be that bad: “If a traditional sonic boom is hearing a thunderstorm directly overhead,” he explains “then the new reduced sonic boom will be like hearing a storm rumble far in the distance.” [Houston Chronicle ($)] Rendering of Low Boom Flight Demonstration X-plane: NASA

04/17/18 5:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE CITY SHOULD HAVE BEEN BUYING PARK SPACE SOONER “Back in the Mayor Parker days, the city would just take the green space fees and use them to plug holes in HPARD’s budget. As was typical for the time, the reasoning from the Parker administration was basically: ‘Nothing says we can’t do that.’ Sadly, back then, market value was about half of what it currently is in the Heights and other hot markets in town where larger tracts are becoming exceedingly rare. Many opportunities to add park space were missed.” [Old School, commenting on A New Heights Park for the Shuttered Bus Stop on N. Main?] Illustration: Lulu

04/17/18 4:30pm

AFTER HARVEY, WILL KINGWOOD PROPERTY TAXES BE ENOUGH TO FUND A NEW EVACUATION ROUTE? What would it take to turn Northpark Dr. into an all-weather evacuation route for Kingwood? “We’re going to have to bring it up out of that [floodplain],” TIRZ 10 consultant Ralph De Leon tells the Chronicle‘s Melainie Feuk, “which means the road’s going to have to come up.” The goal: “In a Harvey-like event, the road will still be passable and you can move people from the back of Kingwood to 69,” says city councilmember Dave Martin. TIRZ 10 had planned to issue bonds to fund a mile-and-a quarter segment of the project — between Russell Palmer Rd. and the Eastex Fwy. — but hit a snag. “Our big holdup,” TIRZ chairman Stan Sarman now says, “is waiting to see what’s going to happen to the appraised value.” Still in the works: the TIRZ’s funding application for the other portion of the road — east to Woodland Hills Dr. — which it plans to send in to the Houston Galveston Area Council sometime between June and July.  [Houston Chronicle] Map of Northpark Dr. between Eastex Fwy. and Woodland Hills Dr.: Houston City Council

04/17/18 1:30pm

THE TIPLINE IS STANDING BY New on-site seafood restaurant opening up at the aquarium? To cover this city well, Swamplot needs your tips. So if you spot something interesting going on in your neighborhood, let us know! Taken some nice pics from around town? Send them to our Flickr group. If you’ve uploaded a video to YouTube you think we might be interested in, send us a link. While you’re at it, be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and sign up to be on Swamplot’s email list.

04/17/18 12:30pm

A NEW HEIGHTS PARK FOR THE SHUTTERED BUS STOP ON N. MAIN? METRO rendered the Heights Transit Center just north of Cavalcade obsolete when its new bus routes went into service in 2015. Although 3 routes still converge below the southern tip of the 0.88-acre, triangular property where Studewood dies into N. Main, not all of them let on at that location and none of them arrive at the covered waiting area riders once used for boarding. Now, reports the Chronicle’s Mike Morris, the City plans to buy the unused lot. The price: $1,425,000, to be funded by fees imposed on developers who didn’t include green space in their projects as specified in a 2007 ordinance. The fees, writes Morris, “must be spent there within three years and can be used only for park improvements.” The city council will vote on the land purchase today. [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Save the Heights Transit Center

04/10/18 1:30pm

CLOSING IN ON CLEANUP TIME AT THE SAN JACINTO WASTE PITS The EPA, TCEQ, and the 2 companies they’re holding responsible for cleaning up the San Jacinto Waste Pits near I-10 will soon get started on the design phase of a project to remove about 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated muck from the Superfund site — reports the Chronicle’s Alex Stuckey. It’s “expected to take about 29 months,” she writes, “with the clean-up to follow.” The cooperation marks a friendly turnaround in the EPA’s relationship with the 2 companies — International Paper Co. and McGinnis Industrial Maintenance — which it thought about taking to court last year after they initially opposed the agency’s plan. Going that route, writes Stuckey, could have brought “years of litigation and cleanup delays.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of waste pits after Harvey flooding: Greg Moss

04/09/18 1:00pm

HOW THEY’RE AVOIDING FLOODING FAR UPSTREAM FROM DOWNTOWN HOUSTON How was developer Newland Communities able to lift the first cohort of 6,200 planned new homes out of the 100-year floodplain in Elyson, its Katy Prairie development just west of the Grand Pkwy. at FM 529? Easy: by raising the lots 1 ft. with dirt taken from other areas of the site. (An additional 12 to 15 in. of elevation came from the slab foundations on which the houses rest.) The fill allowed the company to obtain letters of map revision for more than 300 home lots in 2016 — and “to tell buyers, accurately, that their homes were not in the 100-year flood plain.” The results: “The company reported in September that Harvey had flooded streets in the development, but no water entered any of the 94 houses occupied at that time. The risk of flooding could increase, however, as more structures are built on the property.” [Houston Chronicle] Partial map of Elyson: Newland Communities

04/06/18 1:00pm

A LAWSUIT OVER RIVERSTONE’S VANISHED LEVEE More than 400 residents of Fort Bend County’s Riverstone development — between Hwy. 6 and the Brazos River — are suing the engineering firm that designed their stormwater systems, alleging that the design left one portion of the community flooded by the runoff from the other during Harvey. The roughly 3,700-acre area is divided into 2 Levee Improvement Districts — LID 19 (shaded blue on the map) and 15. “It became very clear when we passed into LID 15 that something was not right,” one LID 19 homeowner said in a press conference. “We were inundated with water in our neighborhood, and just on the other side of the street everything seemed to be perfectly fine.” Both LIDs were designed by Costello, Inc. the company founded by Houston’s flood czar Steve Costello. (He’s said he divested from it in 2015.) That firm’s failure to consider what would happen when a levee that ran between the 2 districts — along Hagerson Rd. — was removed is what downstreamers say is to blame for much of their soggy state. In total, reports the Chronicle’s Rebecca Elliott, about a third of the 1,760 homes in LID 19 flooded. [Houston Chronicle] Map of Riverstone LIDs 15 and 19: Riverstone LIDs

04/05/18 4:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: BACK TO NATURE “Cities with a ‘home flood rate’ of over 25 percent — like Bellaire — should really consider mandatory green space, meaning some property owners simply cannot rebuild. Tough in the short term but the city can front good money to buy them out . . . because all that park land, trails, fishing, sports fields will pay back multi-fold when these communities are Edens in the midst of a major city.” [movocelot, commenting on Bellaire’s Flooded Home Count; Chicken Salad Chain Making Houston Debut] Illustration: Lulu

03/30/18 12:00pm

KHOU READY TO JOIN GALLERIA OFFICE BUILDING MIX KHOU will soon join the company of the Egyptian Consulate, Houston Sabercats Rugby team office, financial firms, energy companies, and attorneys in the new studio it has planned in the 22-story highrise on the corner of Westheimer and Bering Dr. The move will be a big change for the news organization — which evacuated its standalone 58-year-old building on the south side of Allen Pkwy. during Harvey and moved temporarily into Houston Public Media’s office on Elgin St. A recent renovation on the 5718 Westheimer tower (formerly known as Capital One Plaza) added landscaping to the field next door to it and redid its lobby as well as other interiors. KHOU hopes to settle in a 3-floor spot in the structure — including 2 studios, 2 control rooms, and office space — next year. In the meantime, the station expects to open the tiny satellite studio it has planned in the GRB’s frontage on Discovery Green. [Houston Chronicle; more; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 5718 Westheimer: LoopNet

03/29/18 2:30pm

GARDEN OAKS MAINTENANCE ORGANIZATION LIKELY TO FILE FOR BANKRUPTCY ON ACCOUNT OF ALL THAT MONEY IT HAS IN THE BANK The Garden Oaks Maintenance Organization has hired a law firm to handle an anticipated bankruptcy filing — which could come as soon as Monday, reports The Leader’s Jonathan McElvy. Two years ago, a lawsuit that the organization had filed to enforce its deed restrictions against a pair of homeowners backfired when the court ruled that GOMO itself had not been formed legally. (An appeals court has since ruled that it does still have power to enforce the neighborhood’s bylaws.) As a result, in the wake of the initial ruling, “every dollar GOMO spends now could be challenged in court,” writes McElvy. With close to $600,000 in its bank account, GOMO now appears to face 2 options, he notes: “Either the board disbands and lets a judge tell them how to disburse that money, or they try a legal maneuver that seeks a judge’s permission to reorganize, so they can continue operations as the gatekeeper of Garden Oaks.” If this story sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it is. GOMO’s predecessor entity was disbanded before the current organization began in 2001 because it was, McElvy says, “formed illegally, as well.” [The Leader; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox

03/28/18 12:00pm

OXY IN TALKS TO BUY CONOCOPHILLIPS’ CAMPUS Occidental Petroleum has its eyes on the 62-acre campus on N. Dairy Ashford off I-10 that ConocoPhillips has been planning to vacate since last year. In an email to Oxy employees, CEO Vicki Hollub said the company had found “a unique opportunity to acquire an office campus with the space and amenities to create a more modern work environment.” Oxy arrived in Greenway Plaza a few years after ConocoPhillips set up shop in its then-newly-built Dairy Ashford complex during the early 80s. Renovations made over the Conoco campus — pictured above — in 2008, but last year, the oil giant announced it’d be taking off for the 22-story Energy Center 4 building it had leased on the other side of I-10. The highrise neighbors the 2-stories-shorter Energy Center 3 tower, where employees of Conoco’s Lower 48 business unit are already stationed. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of ConocoPhillips headquarters, 600 N. Dairy Ashford Rd.: W.S. Bellows Construction  

03/27/18 4:00pm

MEMORIAL BEND’S WILDER DAYS “My family was the first to own 419 Electra back when it was first built and I was 6,” a reader writes. “My siblings and I loved playing in the bird sanctuary beyond the back fence (Is the treehouse we built still there?) And swinging on rope swings over the creek with all the water moccasins! One time the dad at the house next door pulled out a tree stump in his backyard and a whole nest — literally dozens — of baby rattlesnakes crawled out. All the dads in the neighborhood ran to the house with hoes and shovels and the moms kept all the kids back. On summer nights, there were so many tiny baby frogs on the sidewalks you couldn’t walk without stepping on one. I imagine all those kinds of critters are gone now. It was a sweet, family neighborhood, with lots of kids playing games, biking in the street, and listening for the dinner bell. Of course, there was the peeping tom who lived next door in the now-McMansion, and the exhibitionist across the street who stood in the doorway with his open robe when all the neighborhood kids home from school, but doesn’t every neighborhood have its charms?” The house came down last month — one of about 19 demolitions approved for the neighborhood since Harvey. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of 419 Electra Dr.: Memorial Bend Architecture