02/23/18 11:30am

JUDGE EMMETT: KATY PRAIRIE DEVELOPMENT SHOULD STOP ONCE AND FOR ALL Here’s Harris County Judge Ed Emmett’s declaration Wednesday at a Rice University flooding conference: “We need to completely protect the Katy Prairie. Just set it aside and not touch it.” Or . . . what’s left of it. Last October, he called for a third reservoir in west Houston to “be part of a larger project to create a state or national park for the Katy Prairie.” And he wants Gov. Abbott to tap the state’s “rainy day fund” in order to build the prairie pond. (As for where it would go, a 2015 Harris County Flood Control District study proposed several sites, all on not-yet-developed parcels west of the Grand Pkwy. between Hwy. 290 and FM 529.) [Travis Bubenik] Photo of Matt Cook Wildlife Viewing Area on Warren Lake, south of Hockley: Katy Prairie Conservancy

02/20/18 1:45pm

TEXAS CENTRAL HAS NEARLY A THIRD OF PROPERTIES NEEDED FOR BULLET TRAIN, IT SAYS Would-be bullet train builder Texas Central tells the Chronicle’s Dug Begley it has secured nearly a third of the properties it needs for the planned rail line between Houston and Dallas. But Begley notes that company “officials have not specified where those tracts are located or how much of the 8,000 [required] acres they include.” The train developer is currently negotiating with landowners to buy up parcels along the route. As for plan B: “Though state lawmakers essentially have barred the company from using state authorities to condemn property, Texas Central maintains it has some options via federal authorities as a railroad, under Texas law.” [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on SwamplotPhoto of Texas Central public hearing at Woodard Elementary School, Cypress: Marc Longoria via Swamplot Flickr Pool

02/16/18 4:30pm

OUT OF THE OFFICE FOR PRESIDENTS DAY Looks like it’s just about time for an executive day off. Swamplot will take pause on Monday to contemplate those who’ve occupied the oval room in the house this house looks a lot like. On Tuesday, we’ll be back with more news about what’s going where in Houston’s man-made milieu. Photo of Ross Sterling’s mansion, 515 Bayridge Rd., Morgan’s Point: HAR

02/16/18 4:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A CLOSER GROCERY QUARTERS ON WESTHEIMER “Four grocery stores in the same mile of West Alabama is a pretty good selection. Reminds me of the Westheimer Supermarket Battle Royale near the Westchase area, where Fiesta, Phoenicia, HEB, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Target, and Whole Foods are vying for your food dollars in a 2-mile stretch.” [slugline, commenting on The Great W. Alabama Grocery Store Corridor] Photo of Phoenicia Specialty Foods, 12141 Westheimer Rd.: Farrah A.

02/16/18 1:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: A SOGGY MOD FOR GRABS IN BRAESWOOD “For what it’s worth, my house flooded. I’m selling as is and would be thrilled for the free publicity.” [Joe, commenting on Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: The Halfway House] Photo of 3611 N. Braeswood Blvd.: HAR

02/16/18 12:15pm

THE WOODLANDS AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST THIS YEAR: ONE DAY ONLY The Woodlands is doubling the spending but seventhing the duration for its upcoming tour stop at Austin’s South by Southwest, reports the Chronicle’s John S. Marshall. “The Woodlands on the Road” will take place in the afternoon on March 15 and feature “live music, food & refreshments, yard games, art demonstrations,” plus a chance to win prizes including a trip to The Woodlands at an “expanded booth with a prime location” in Brush Square, a downtown park. The township announced earlier this week that 4 local sponsor organizations had stepped up to match the $35,000 the township had already budgeted for its sophomore showing on the seventh day of the festival. Last year, The Woodlands’ debut inside the Austin Convention Center also had an outdoorsy bent: the 2-man booth featured a pair of bicycles hooked up to teevees that screened a simulated ride along the town’s bike paths as guests pedaled. [Houston Chronicle; event listing] Photo of Brush Square during 2008 South by Southwest: George Kelly [license]

02/15/18 9:30am

UH’S PHONE SURVEY POLLEES WANT TO MAKE FLOOD RECORD A GIVEN IN HOME SALES Here’s a tidbit from the UH Hobby School of Public Affairs’ new post-Harvey telephone questionnaire: 90 percent of Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Montgomery County residents who responded think sellers should be required to disclose prior flood damage to their homes and prior flooding in the surrounding neighborhood. Aren’t sellers already obligated to reveal their homes’ flood histories? Well, almost. State law requires most sellers to spill the details — but only if their home was previously occupied (and not if it was foreclosed on or if they’re selling it to execute someone’s will). For developers selling newly-built homes — sometimes in entirely new subdivisions — the rules are foggier: not all surrounding flood designations need to be disclosed to buyers. Among those details that can be withheld: whether the home is located in a flood pool, an area of land prone to inundation when water builds up behind a reservoir dam like that of the Addicks and Barker, as Lise Olsen wrote in the Chronicle last year. [University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs] Photo of home at 8th St. and Arlington during Harvey: Swamplot inbox

02/12/18 12:15pm

HOW THE CITY SKIPPED OUT ON A SUNNYSIDE APARTMENT COMPLEX FOR THE PAST 9 YEARS How does a 24-unit apartment building — one of those 1,000-plus Houston complexes the University of Texas School of Law’s recent study identifies as missing a Certificate of Occupancy — go nearly a decade without having the document? In 2012, public works inspected the Bellfort Townhomes on Bellfort St. between Cullen and Scott and called it a “material risk to the physical safety or health of the building’s tenants.” The building’s owner told an inspector that he’d apply for a Certificate — granted after landlords bring their buildings into compliance with city code — when the city contacted him the next year. But then, public works simply lost track of things. For 3 years starting in 2014, the department had no contact with 4410 Bellfort until it came time for the building’s next inspection last January — which resulted in the same findings as the previous one. Why the lapse? “According to the head of Houston’s Multi-Family Habitability Division, after the Division identified properties without a Certificate in the first round of inspections, the Division’s practice was to close the property’s inspection file as long as the owner submitted an application for a Certificate of Occupancy,” write researchers Heather K. Way and Carol Fraser, “even if the owner never successfully obtained the Certificate.” At least one group made sure to stay in touch with the city, though: “During this three-year period, tenants and nearby residents called 311 at least eight times to report sewage overflow issues at the property.” [UT School of Law Entrepreneurship and Community Clinic; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Bellfort Townhomes: Swamplot inbox  

02/09/18 4:30pm

THE RIGHT DOORS TO KNOCK ON WHEN PETITIONING FOR LOT SIZE RESTRICTIONS This new map put out by civic-minded data miner Jeff Reichman shows only one thing: which Houston properties are owner-occupied according to HCAD data — they’re indicated in green. But Reichman is pitching it as a tool residents can use to figure out something more: how likely their neighborhoods would be to qualify for a minimum lot size restriction. Minimum lot size refers to the smallest square footage developers can chop lots into in order to cram more structures onto them — like, say, townhomes — than they could have previously. The Planning Commission requires neighborhood consensus in order to consider applications for size restrictions — in the form of a vote, but first in signatures from the owners of the lots in question. And to gather that ink, it’s helpful to know who’s home. The map at top (taken from a set of bigger ones showing entire neighborhoods) takes a look at several Third Ward blocks south of Blodgett St. that appear well-suited to the Planning Commission’s requirements because they have high rates of home ownership, and because their lots are already of similar size (70 percent of lots in a given area must be the same size for the Planning Commission to consider restrictions, which wouldn’t do much good if the properties’ dimensions were already inconsistent.) And look — the purple rectangle shows 2 block faces where restrictions are already in place, on Southmore Blvd. and on Palm between Sauer and Burkett. [January Advisors; more info] Map: January Advisors

02/09/18 4:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: IDENTIFYING THE WILDLIFE ON THE VALENTINE CORNER LAW OFFICE IN SEABROOK “So those are dolphins along the sidewalk, made many years ago by Mr. Miller across the street. And there were sharks on the side of the building up high. I took them down a few years ago to have the sharks polished, and the guy I hired disappeared with my 2 sharks.” [Michael Valentine, commenting on TxDOT Wins Custody of Head-Turning Tiny Law Office in Seabrook Ahead of Planned Hwy. 146 Widening] Photo of Valentine Law Office, 1210 Bayport Blvd.: BFS Man [license]

02/09/18 3:30pm

TICKETS FOR FLOODPLAIN VIOLATIONS COULD BE IN HARRIS COUNTY’S FUTURE Harris County is looking for the state’s permission to make floodplain violations a criminal offense — reports the Chronicle’s Mihir Zaveri — arguing that “issuing a Class C misdemeanor to violators would increase the county’s ability to enforce its rules because it is quicker, less costly for the violator and the county and has the potential to increase compliance.” Right now, the worst the county can do to developers who break the rules and don’t respond to citations or other violation notices is to take them to civil court, which it has been reluctant to do. Case in point: 2 years ago, Zaveri and Mike Morris reported that despite issuing 324 floodplain regulation violations to developers in 2015, the county only had 25 civil lawsuits pending against builders who broke the rules. Gov. Abbott vetoed a bill similar to what’s on the table now last year, saying criminalizing violations would stretch the definition of criminal offense too thin. But according to Harris County’s chief administrative officer for public infrastructure coordination Josh Stuckey, there’s already a precedent for this type of hardline drainage enforcement: “The county uses a similar method for violations of regulations for private septic tanks, which has worked ‘very well,'” he tells Zaveri. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of red tag at Bourbon on Bagby, 2708 Bagby St.: Swamplot inbox

02/08/18 4:30pm

WHAT HOUSTON’S GOT IN COMMON WITH LA-LA LAND L.A Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne has this observation about Los Angeles: “This kind of city has grown so large — in economic and environmental as well as physical reach — that it begins to stretch beyond our field of vision.” Remind you of anywhere else? Hawthorne is responding in part to a New York Times article that blames the L.A. Times’s recent struggles on Los Angeles’s “absence of strong institutions to bind it together.” His response: we’re not the only ones like that — and it’s not entirely a bad thing, either. For a city like L.A. — and for example, he says, Houston — “The flip side of its great tolerance is a certain lack of cohesion, a difficulty in articulating a set of common civic goals.” Put another way, “The greatest thing and the worst thing about Houston are one and the same: Nobody cares what anybody else is doing.” [Los Angeles Times] Photo of West Loop: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

02/08/18 4:00pm

UT STUDY: HOUSTON SUFFERING FROM EPIDEMIC OF DILAPIDATED APARTMENTS A new study from the University of Texas School of Law says that Houston is full of deteriorating apartments, has weak building standards, does a bad job enforcing its own rules, responds slowly to residents who seek help with unsafe homes, fails to keep track of its own building data, and struggles to communicate clearly between departments overseeing different aspects of safety. Houston has the third highest number of occupied apartments in any U.S. city — but of all the complexes in the city, nearly a third are missing Certificates of Occupancy, according to the researchers. The yellow dots on the map above indicate the 1,000-plus multifamily structures that lack the document, which certifies that a building has passed a basic inspection for structural, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing issues. On top of that, the city only employs 2 health inspectors to check for sanitation problems like bedbugs, rodents, mold, and sewage leaks inside Houston’s 320,000 occupied rental units. “In summary,” says the study, “the City of Houston is operating a largely dysfunctional system for addressing tenant safety that appears to have little or no oversight by city leaders.” [UT School of Law Entrepreneurship and Community Clinic; more info] Map of multifamily properties without Certificates of Occupancy as of July 2017: Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

02/07/18 1:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: TEXAS CENTRAL’S PARKING GARAGE ISN’T JUST A SIDE GIG “Site plans of both stations (Houston and Dallas) make it clear that the revenue model for this project isn’t selling train tickets — it’s selling parking. This site is ideal for that purpose: there’s no where nearby (walking distance) to compete for parking revenue, and it has a much cheaper land cost than Downtown. If you’re going to make the station 80 percent parking garage, why bother spending the extra money running it all the way to Downtown?” [Angostura, commenting on What Texas Central’s Proposed Houston Bullet Train Station Looks Like in Place of the Northwest Mall] Conceptual rendering of Houston bullet train station from W. 18th St.: Texas Central