05/11/18 5:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: COULD A THIRD RESERVOIR, UP NORTH, HOLD WATER? “Make a reservoir or lake north of the city, just west of Humble at the confluence of Spring Creek and Cypress Creek, as well as the San Jacinto River just a bit to the east. This land is still undeveloped. These three major tributaries coming together in short order accentuates the flooding issues. If the water has nowhere to go it’s going to cause flooding. While a reservoir in west Harris County will hold that water back from surging downstream, it does absolutely nothing for the rainfall that falls on the hundreds of square miles of land in the Spring Creek, downstream Cypress Creek and San Jacinto River watersheds. The main intent of the proposed third dam is to keep the water from overflowing into Barker and Addicks. Creating a lake here could serve not only flood control issues, but also provide for another source of drinking water.” [Thomas, commenting on Abbott Signs Off on Harris County’s Harvey Anniversary Flood Bond Vote] Photo of the confluence of Spring and Willow Creeks: Northampton MUD

05/11/18 3:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: THE HOLE IN THE DONUT “I enjoy living downtown to be close to events, bars and work. But it is a major pain to not have a decent full-service grocery in walking distance. And all of the fast casual restaurants are closed on the weekends. And we desperately need something like a CityTarget or Walmart Neighborhood Market to get random everyday items. Spend all this money to be close to everything but still have to leave Downtown to do most shopping.” [JasperRasper18, commenting on Latest Downtown Houston Headcount; A Restaurant and Juice Bar for Houston’s First Whole Foods 365] Photo of Main St. at Commerce St.: Bill Barfield via Swamplot Flickr Pool

05/11/18 1:30pm

HOW SOME BIG INVESTMENT FIRMS ARE READYING HOUSTON FOR THE NEXT FLOOD Whether homes flooded by Harvey are sold to investors or not makes a big difference, argue the Chronicle’s David Hunn and Matt Dempsey. For one thing, a sale closes the door to a county buyout — which often takes much longer to complete than a private purchase. Since Harvey, the reporters note, 88 houses Harris County had hoped to buy and demolish have already been snatched up by private parties, often for rehab and rental. Investment firms, by the writers’ count, have bought about 150 Harvey-flooded homes so far. Since about 2013, larger firms have been bundling rental homes in order to “sell the securities on Wall Street as a way to borrow money, fueling the purchase of even more homes.” But by maintaining the supply of floodable housing, Harris County Flood Control District’s Matt Zeve tells the writers, “All we’re doing is perpetuating a cycle of flooding.” At a national scale, according to university researchers quoted by Hunn and Dempsey, “rent-backed loans are already exhibiting characteristics of mortgage-backed securities” — the keynotes of the 2008 U.S. financial mess: “they’ve transferred the risk of default to taxpayers, stockholders and investors.” But investors seeking info about such rent bundles may be hard-pressed to get it: “While U.S. securities laws require funds to disclose significant risks about their investments, there are no specific requirements regarding flooded homes.” Hunn and Dempsey’s review of documents put out by public companies invested in flooded Houston houses shows that few of them, “if any,” have voluntarily told shareholders that they own such assets. [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo of Harvey cleanup in Bellaire: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

05/08/18 10:00am

ABBOTT SIGNS OFF ON HARRIS COUNTY’S HARVEY ANNIVERSARY FLOOD BOND VOTE In a letter to the Commissioners Court yesterday, Gov. Abbott approved Harris County’s request to hold an August 25 bond election that would pay for a long, not-yet-finalized lineup of flood control projects. On the short list so far: “the buy-out of all of the county’s high-priority areas at highest-risk of flooding, approximately 5,500 properties,” Judge Emmett tells the Chronicle’s Mihir Zaveri — as well as the financing of “some portions a much-discussed third reservoir northwest of the city,” and “numerous bayou and creek widening projects.” Also included: a handful of detention basins and drainage improvements to waterways in both Houston and the MUDs of unincorporated Harris County, according to the flood control district. The district now has about 4 months to compile the list, during which time Harris County “plans to launch a public outreach campaign to seek input on what to include in the bond package, as well as drum up support for the measure.” [Houston Chronicle ($), previously on Swamplot] Photo of Sesquicentennial Park and Franklin St. during Harvey: Kelsie H. Dos Santos

05/07/18 3:30pm

ORTHODOX SYNAGOGUE MULLS CROSSING THE LOOP TO SOMEWHAT HIGHER GROUND The roughly 820 homeowners in Willow Meadows are now voting on a deed restriction change that — if passed — would allow the United Orthodox Synagogue to build a new structure outside The Loop, in place of 5 houses that sit 3 quarters of a mile south down Greenwillow St. from the congregation’s previous home at the corner of S. Braeswood. Many congregants walk to the synagogue — which could soon be leaving the 100-year floodplain for the 500 after flooding 6 times in the last 25 years, including 3 in the last 3. “According to preliminary renderings,” reports the Jewish Herald Voice’s Michael C. Duke on Studio Red’s proposed design, “the synagogue would be a single-story structure, measuring an ultimate height of 30 feet. Based on new building codes, the finished floor of the building would be built some 3 feet above curb height, and the building itself would have the same 25-foot setback as homes in Willow Meadows.” Passage of the proposal “would prompt Houston’s largest Orthodox congregation to hold its own congregation-wide vote on whether to stay at its current location north of I-610 South and rebuild portions of its campus at a significantly higher elevation; or, to move.” Most of the congregation’s 57-year-old building was demolished last month, except for a few portions including its social hall and mikvah. [Jewish Herald Voice; previously on Swamplot] Photo of United Orthodox Synagogue’s demolition, 9001 Greenwillow St.: United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston

05/07/18 11:00am

SHIPLEY DONUTS WILL ROUND OUT THE NEW STRIP CENTER ON 28TH AND YALE Here’s one early sign of life at the new 8,040-sq.-ft. strip building that developer Ancorian recently finished putting up on the corner of Yale and 28th St. — 2 blocks south of the new Whole Foods that’s under construction on the N. Loop. When the coming Shipley Do-Nuts outlet opens at 2723 Yale., it’ll be a brand-new complement to what’s now the chain’s only Heights location, the standalone drive-thru on the corner of N. Main and Walton St. a few blocks west of I-45. (Shipley’s corporate office at 5200 N. Main is just under a mile up the road from that location.) Most recently demolished at 2723 Yale to make way for the new donut store and accompanying tenants: an L-shaped commercial building home to Heights Insurance and Multiservice that stood on the block for well over a decade. Photo: Swamplox inbox

05/04/18 5:00pm

UNEARTHING THE SPLENDORS OF HWY. 59’S EGYPTIAN TOMB “Unless people were here the first time,” a renovator at the mock-Egyptian temple on 59 tells the Chronicle’s Craig Hlavaty, “they had no idea of the magnitude of it inside.” (And even if they tried to find out, they might still be left in the dark: “There is no longer a lick of electrical wire inside,” adds another worker.) And so, for the crew’s next trick: “We need to tear everything out and start over.” In doing so, some of what’s been left behind in the shadowy former club known as Magic Island is now being brought to light: “A covered patio and valet area on the building’s east end is today a graveyard of tables and chairs ripped out of the dining rooms,” reports Hlavaty. “Egyptian art and murals sit idle, some covered in graffiti. Broken marble and glass are strewn about the grounds.” On the opposite side of the building, a few doors down, “renderings of what the two-story, 22,000-square-foot property could look like in the future reside on a table at a doctor’s office” where neurologist Mohammad Athari — who owns Magic Island — practices. After years of on-and-off work to revive it, his current plan is to have it back up and running by the end of the year as a “Houston nightlife destination.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplox inbox

05/04/18 2:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE DOWNTOWN APARTMENTS THAT RAN IN MY FAMILY “My uncle, J. Holly Brewer, bought the Plaza Court and Peacock apartments sometime about 1942. It was managed by his mother, Kate Lillian Brewer, and my mother, Edith Fox Bannerman, until J. Holly Brewer and my father, James Knox Bannerman, returned from service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. J. Holly Brewer then operated the apartments alone until his death in 1984. Edith Fox Bannerman and her sister, Frances Marion Marchiando, then inherited the property and jointly managed it. After Mrs. Marchiando passed away her son, Michael Marchiando, jointly managed the buildings with mom until 1995. At that point I, James Knox Bannerman II, and my mother, Edith Bannerman, shared the management of the buildings until we sold them in 2014. I felt it was time to sell them as [my] mother was 97-years young. Mother did not speak to me for a week after the sale. When she did speak her first sentence was, ‘You took my job away.’ Go figure. She is amazing. She drove the Houston freeways until she was 93 with never a citation or accident. Mom is 100 now and occasionally we drive her to visit some of the long-term tenants. These buildings have many stories to tell. I am delighted to see they are to be updated and preserved.” [James Knox Bannerman II, commenting on The Changes Coming to the Pre-War Peacock & Plaza Apartment Complex Downtown] Photo of apartment courtyard: LoopNet

05/03/18 2:45pm

THE CHANGES COMING TO THE PRE-WAR PEACOCK & PLAZA APARTMENT COMPLEX DOWNTOWN The new owner of the Peacock & Plaza Apartments at 1414 Austin St. — a 2-building, 32-unit complex that sports a colorfully feathered mosaic a block west of the Toyota Center — tells Swamplot what’s in store for a portion of the property: “We plan to heavily upgrade each unit in one of the two buildings. New plumbing, electrical, upgrade of HVAC systems, all new kitchens, appliance, bathroom.” In the other building: “We’ll clean the units up but we’re going to try to leave it somewhat original,” says the representative of the buyer, Fat Property. Before Colorado-based FVMHP took over the complex in 2014, it had been owned by the same woman for 80 years, according to the current buyer. Designed by Houston architect Lenard Gabert, its first building went up in 1926; the second followed 14 years later. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Fat Property

05/03/18 2:00pm

THE TIPLINE IS STANDING BY Drive-in movie theater opening on a former golf course? 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.

05/02/18 4:00pm

WHAT’S INCLUDED IN JOHNNY STEELE DOG PARK’S FLOOD-INDUCED REDO The caretakers of that oft-flooded pet park near Buffalo Bayou now say that “After careful consideration, we are making changes to the Johnny Steele Dog Park to improve maintenance operations and the park’s functionality.” Among those changes: getting rid of the pond in the large dog play area, rerouting the pond in the small dog area so that it flows through both sections, adding a “new seating wall” at the edge of the water, expanding the lawns throughout the park, enlarging the entrance to the large dog area, and creating a new entrance to the small dog area — all of which is expected to be done by early summer. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Buffalo Bayou Partnership

Releasing the Hounds
05/02/18 11:30am

THE MENIL DRAWING INSTITUTE: 6 MORE MONTHS What’s been going on at the Menil Drawing Institute’s new building since its opening — originally scheduled for last October — was postponed over the summer? A lot of sensing and measuring: “It’s extremely important to monitor the climate control and the humidity gauges for a number of months to make sure there are no deviations,” the museum’s director Rebecca Rabinow tells the New York Times’ Andrew R. Chow., outlining what kind of ambiance is required for the paper works the structure will soon house. (Last year’s cold winter didn’t speed things up either — reports the Chronicle’s Molly Glentzer, killing off many of the new plants that had just been installed in the surrounding park according to the plan from landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.) Now that both the indoor and outdoor environments have been stabilized, the official opening date for the 30,000-sq.-ft. building designed by L.A. architect Johnston Marklee has been set: November 3. It will cap off a 3-year building process that began in place of the since-completely-demolished Richmont Square apartments’ backsisde off Branard St. The new structure’s first residents: 41 works on paper by Jasper Johns. [New York Times; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Menil Drawing Institute: Paul Hester/The Menil Collection

05/01/18 4:00pm

HARRIS COUNTY OPTS TO SCHEDULE FLOOD BOND VOTE FOR HARVEY’S ANNIVERSARY The Harris County Commissioners Court voted this morning to move forward with scheduling a multi-billion-dollar flood control bond referendum — to fund property buyouts, bayou widening, and other mitigation efforts — for August 25. “Why August 25?” Judge Ed Emmett asked the room — which included the Chronicle’s Mihir Zaveri — “It’s the 1-year anniversary of Harvey. It’s got a certain sex appeal to it.” Commissioner Rodney Ellis at first opposed the commemorative date, fearing voter turnout could be weak during the summer. “If it is one shot that we have, I just want to make sure we get it right,” he said. (If the referendum fails, the earliest the court could hold another one would be in May 2019.) He argued instead for a date during November’s mid-term elections but changed his mind “for the sake of unity” after an appeal from fellow Commissioner Steve Radack — putting a unanimous finishing touch on the back-and-forth. What’s now needed in order to get it on the calendar? Governor Greg Abbott’s sign-off, followed by a vote from Harris County making the date official. [Houston Chronicle; more] Photo of Buffalo Bayou flooded by Hurricane Harvey: Adam Brackman

05/01/18 2:30pm

SUGAR LAND’S CONVICTS-FOR-LEASE PAST UNEARTHS ITSELF OFF UNIVERSITY BLVD. Crews at work on the new Sugar Land school building — dubbed The James Reese Career and Technical Center — at the corner of Chatham Ave. and University Blvd. made unexpected human contact in the middle of last month, Fort Bend ISD spokesperson Veronica Sopher tells Click2Houston’s Syan Rhodes: “We were back-filling into a trench when we found some remains, or what we thought could be remains.” The caretaker of a graveyard less than a mile away — which sits on the former Imperial State Prison Farm — wasn’t surprised. Having overseen the Old Imperial Farm Cemetary (pictured above with the same errant spelling) for nearly 20 years — reports the Chronicle’s Brooke A. Lewis — “[Reginald] Moore believes it’s just part of a larger graveyard that includes the remains of those who were part of the convict leasing system,” a statewide program through which Texas allowed mostly black prisoners to be contracted out for free labor shortly after slavery was outlawed. Fearing damage to the then-undiscovered grave sites, Moore “relentlessly pushed city and school officials to study the open area near the cemetery and urged them not to build nearby,” but construction began anyway last November. It’s now being held up in the area where the inadvertent exhumations took place. [Houston Chronicle; morePhoto: Historic Houston

04/30/18 3:00pm

HOW BELLAIRE’S NEW H-E-B IS RISING ABOVE ITS OLD PARKING LOT H-E-B’s double-decker replacement in Bellaire is now hovering over the spot where its old store, neighboring strip, and adjacent parking lot once fronted Bissonnet and Cedar streets. The photo above — tweeted out by KHOU’s Bill Bishop views the elevated supermarket’s southwest corner from the intersection of 5th St. and Cedar, showing its second-story grocery level towering above a 3-acre, all-parking first floor. Not visible in the scene: the additional acre of parking that sits on the opposite side of upstairs deck, along Bissonnet in front of the store’s main entrance. Construction on the building is expected to wrap up later this year. In the meantime, the property’s owner Brixmore Holdings recently listed it for sale. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Bill Bishop