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

10/13/16 1:00pm

CITY PLANNING APP TO REDUCE USELESS DOWNTOWN CIRCLING, $80 PARKING FEES downtown-parking-garageThe city approved $9,600 yesterday toward planning a system to help drivers (particularly out-of-towners) find parking Downtown, Dug Begley writes. The system would be designed to display prices and current space availability for 7-or-so to-be-finalized private parking vendors on a smartphone app, along with a series of electronic signs like the ones installed around the city’s airports. The city would pay for about 20 percent of the $4.1-ish million project, which would be mostly funded by federal money aimed at reducing air pollution (in this case, extra emissions from excessively long and looping parking space searches). Begley also writes that city leaders think the system could cut down on price gouging, noting that prices for recent special events, “especially near Minute Maid Park, have spiked to $80 as demand increased.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of downtown parking garage: Bill Barfield via Swamplot Flickr Pool

10/07/16 2:15pm

CITY TO PUSH ALL 146 HOUSTON TAXI COMPANIES ONTO SINGLE SMARTPHONE APP Uber HQ in Houston, 5714 Star Lane, Houston, 77057On Wednesday city council approved a plan to require that all licensed Houston cab drivers start taking hails via the same smartphone app, Rebecca Elliott reportsArro, which rolled out in New York last year and several other major cities since, will tack a $1.50 fee onto the normal cab fare for riders (with a 50 cent-plus-3-percent fee for drivers), and will centralize taxi dispatch across the city. (Limo drivers can get in on the action too, if they want to.) The plan comes in response to not-technically-a-cab-company Uber’s recent threats to pull out of Houston over requirements for fingerprinted background checks for its drivers; Elliott writes that the city wants to have the system up and running by the end of the month.  [Houston Chronicle; previously on SwamplotPhoto of Houston Uber HQ, 5714 Star Ln.: Uber Houston

10/03/16 2:00pm

THE 82 SQUARE MILES OF TIRZS SPONGING UP SOME OF THAT REVENUE CAP SPILLOVER TIRZs, 2016A couple of state senators are mulling over potential reform options for Houston’s ballooning tax increment reinvestment zones, which have more than tripled in area in the past decade according to Mike Morris and Rebecca Elliot’s article in Friday’s Chronicle (which includes a peek-a-boo-style before-and-after slider map for reference).  The zones, shown here on the city’s own map, collected around $109 million dollars of woulda-been property tax money this year for use on development projects inside their boundaries, which (in theory) are supposed to encompass blighted areas in need of an additional redevelopment boost.  Morris and Elliot also point out, however, that much of the tax money being collected by TIRZs would be lost altogether if the zones were disbanded at the moment, as the sudden influx would pass Houston’s revenue cap (which limits the amount of cash the city is allowed to collect each year to what was collected in the previous year, scaled up by 4.5% or by inflation and population increases, whichever is less). They also mention that Mayor Turner is pushing for a new vote on the revenue cap in 2017; Turner tells the duo that the city council has stuck with the TIRZ system to make up for some of the potential funds lost by the revenue cap, but notes that “you can only do that for so long without hurting the city as a whole.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones: City of Houston

08/09/16 12:15pm

HOUSTON HOUSING AUTHORITY AUTHORITY RESIGNS IN WAKE OF BRIARGROVE MIXED-INCOME KERFUFFLE Proposed Housing Development at 2640 Fountainview Dr., Briargrove, Houston, 77057By both letter and Tweet, Houston Housing Authority chairman Lance Gilliam has announced plans to resign early following Mayor Turner’s criticism of the agency last week, writes Erin Mulvaney. During Wednesday’s council meeting, Turner chided the agency for not having constructed new housing units in the past decade (though Gilliam’s Friday resignation letter notes that thousands of additional people have been added to the organization’s voucher program). The agency has had the majority of its recent proposed construction projects blocked following last year’s US Supreme Court decision, which struck down Texas’s system of awarding public housing project tax credits because it was found to promote racial segregation into low-income areas (deliberately or not). The Briargrove project, which involved replacing one of the Houston Housing Authority’s own Fountain View office buildings with a mixed-income apartment complex, was the Houston agency’s first attempt to build new affordable units in a high-income area; following extensive neighborhood pushback, Turner asked the agency to look for other locations in the same area, and blocked tax credit financing for the project by not bringing it to a council vote. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Rendering of proposed apartments at 2640 Fountain View Dr.: HHA

04/15/16 3:15pm

POPULARIZING TIRZWATCHING AS A HOUSTON PASTIME Map of Houston TIRZsThis week the Houston Chronicle editorial board called for TIRZ authorities to keep publicly accessible and up-to-date records, as well as to start recording videos of their meetings, as occurs with city council proceedings. The board says that the 27 TIRZs in Houston collected more than $100 million in 2015 — “about what the city spends on parks and libraries combined,” allowing some individual TIRZ management authorities “to take on projects with a region-wide impact.” Some Houstonians have already been keeping an eye trained on the TIRZ’s movements, cameras or no — last month residents of the Cosmopolitan condos (via Wayne Dolcefino) filed a criminal complaint alleging that members of the Uptown TIRZ had failed to keep records of meetings related to the purchase of land for the Post Oak bus lane project. Meanwhile, a group of residents on the flood-prone Memorial City TIRZ is preparing a lawsuit related to this week’s city council approval of new TIRZ board members. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of Houston Tax Increment Reinvestment Zoness: City of Houston

02/25/16 10:00am

CITY WILL PAY UP FOR OFF-BRAND BIRDS AT GRB George R. Brown Convention Center, Downtown, Houston, 77002After delaying the vote for 2 weeks, Houston’s city council has approved the reimbursement of Houston First for a bird-themed hanging sculpture that will come to roost in the updated George R. Brown Convention Center as its pre-Super Bowl renovations wrap up. The birds sparked an unanticipated funding debate earlier this month during which several councilmembers took issue with the already-partially-paid-for sculpture’s natural theme as not representative of Houston’s branding, which they asserted should revolve around NASA and global trade. “People come here, they don’t talk about the migration of birds,” said councilwoman Brenda Stardig. Others disagreed, pointing out that the city lies along the Central Flyway (one of the continent’s major bird migration routes) and draws flocks of birdwatchers annually. Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle reports that Stardig is now “comfortable with the project because Houston First has committed to explain the artwork’s meaning and to promote the Port of Houston, NASA and other items elsewhere in the renovated convention center. ‘I need to understand that we are telling the full story so someone that does visit understands that that does represent a migration of birds,’ Stardig said, ‘and not just [that] it was a beautiful thing they happened to see while they were in Houston.'” Meanwhile, artist Ed Wilson was caught off-guard when debate sprang up around assertions about his work’s meaning that he says came entirely from Houston First — Wilson says that the sculpture “is not a political statement, it’s not a branding statement, it’s just about the aesthetics, making something beautiful, activating the space, responding to the space and responding to the people coming through there.” [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

02/11/16 12:30pm

STARTING OVER ON BIDDING FOR A BILLION-DOLLAR IAH TERMINAL EXPANSION Rendering of Proposed Terminal Replacement, IAH, Houston, 77032Mayor Turner announced this week that bidding will start over for the first few contracts for a $1.5-billion expansion to United’s international Terminal D at IAH. Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle reports that both the former and current city controllers have refused to certify the contracts, citing possible irregularities in the procurement process. Current controller Chris Brown noted that some proposed vendor prices did not match the funding numbers submitted for approval by the council; a particular contract for which the winning bidder was initially ranked lowest in the first round of scoring caught his eye as well. Former controller Ron Green previously expressed concern over the same contract, “on which Marsh USA, which employs Councilman Dave Martin, was the winning bidder, and state Rep. Borris Miles’ insurance agency was included as a minority subcontractor. Martin has said he had no contact with the Marsh employees involved in the bidding.” [Houston Chronicle] Rendering of planned Terminal D replacement: Houston Airport System

04/17/15 2:15pm

LOCAL RESTAURANTS YOU’VE HEARD OF MAKE IT TO THE IAH RUNWAY Hubcap Grill, 1111 Prairie St., Downtown HoustonThe Breakfast Klub, Hubcap Grill, El Real Tex-Mex Café, Ray’s Real Pit BBQ Shack, Hugo’s Cocina, Pink’s Pizza, Cadillac Mexican Kitchen and Bar, Café Adobe, and Landry’s Seafood — where might you be able to go to sample them all? Anywhere — as long as your travel takes you through Bush Intercontinental Airport. Amid a bunch of protests from other bidders who lost out, a vote from city council last month approved $1.6 billion worth of airport concession contracts that will land the group of local restaurants and locally based chains a 10-year deal. [Food Chronicles; more details] Photo of Hubcap Grill, 1111 Prairie St., Downtown: 2 Dine For

02/25/15 11:45am

TREE-CUTTING SETTLEMENT BUYS NEW LANDSCAPING AROUND KIRBY DR. WENDY’S Wendy's Restaurant, 5003 Kirby Dr., Upper Kirby, HoustonCity council approved a measure last week to spend $300,000 from a special fund for Houston parks on the installation of 6 new live-oak trees on the right-of-way surrounding the Wendy’s drive-thru restaurant at 5003 Kirby Dr. That’s the now-mostly treeless corner of North Blvd. pictured here, where crews hired by the franchise owner, Mohammed Ali Dhanani of Haza Foods, removed 6 old live-oak trees at night last October. The budget for the replacement includes removing what remains of the 6 stumps, installation of irrigation and subdrainage systems, and a 2-year warranty for the new trees, which will measure between 14 and 16 inches in diameter. The allotted budget matches the amount Dhanani paid in a settlement to the city for the incident last year. Any amount left over will be used for “additional improvements within City rights-of-way or park lands” approved by the Houston Parks Board director. [City of Houston; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox

11/06/14 10:00am

GOLFERS APPEAR TO HAVE WON GUS WORTHAM Gus Wortham Golf Course,  7000 Capitol St., East End, HoustonIt might not have sounded quite so explicit to all onlookers, but the Chronicle‘s Mike Morris declares yesterday’s city council vote a death knell for plans to build a botanical garden on the site of the Gus Wortham Golf Course. The vote was taken in support of city efforts to come to an agreement with the Houston Golf Association for a plan to renovate the 106-year-old course at Lawndale and Wayside in the East End, which the nonprofit would then operate. But, writes Morris: “If the city cannot reach terms with HGA, the mayor said, she will seek proposals from private golf operators rather than hand the site to the botanic garden backers, as previously planned.” The HGA will need to meet designated fundraising targets — likely $5 million of a possible total $15 million renovation cost — for its plan to proceed. Mayor Parker and councilmembers appeared eager to steer the group pushing for a city botanical garden 6 miles southeast, to the Glenbrook Park golf course outside the Loop along Sims Bayou, just east of the Gulf Fwy. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: PGA

11/03/14 10:30am

THE BACK AND FORTH ON DUNLAVY ST. Dunlavy St. at Westheimer Rd., Lower Westheimer, Montrose, HoustonBack in May some Montrose urbanists rejoiced at a report that city traffic planners were hoping to constrict Dunlavy St. from 4 lanes to 2. However, as part of this year’s annual Major Thoroughfare and Freeway Plan, the city’s planning commission advised widening the Dunlavy corridor’s right-of-way 10 feet in certain areas. In an e-blast to her constituents, city council’s Ellen Cohen cited a lack of public input on the widening proposal and its potential negative impact on homeowners as key factors in shaping her “grave concerns” over the prospect of a fattened corridor, so that proposal has been tabled until next year’s review. [Houston Chronicle; Ellen Cohen] Photo: Raj Mankad /OffCite

08/20/14 12:00pm

CITY MAY SOON CAN RULES THAT FORCE HOUSTON FOOD TRUCKS TO SPACE OUT Waffle Bus and Bernie's Burger Bus Food Trucks, University of Houston, HoustonWhat makes Houston’s food truck scene so quirky, so scrappy, so outré? Well, it could be some of the wacky rules mobile food units are required to follow when they’re operating within city limits — to guard against terrorism, major explosions, and other all-too-common street-food hazards. Three such rules — the fire code regulations that mandate that trucks park no closer than 60 ft. away from one another and that propane-equipped vehicles stay out of Downtown and the Texas Medical Center, and the health code ruling that subjects owners of mobile food vendors to fines if they’re found parking within 100 ft. of any table or chair — could be going away soon, however. A task force charged with looking into the issue is recommending the city 86 those particular regulations but keep in place others, including the requirement to visit a commissary every day. A city council committee meeting this afternoon will be the first opportunity for public comment on the proposed changes; the city’s Laura Spanjian tells Culturemap’s Eric Sandler that she doesn’t expect to the Greater Houston Restaurant Association to object to the recommendations. [Culturemap; more info] Photo: UH

08/14/14 3:15pm

1815 Cortlandt St., Houston Heights

Relocation Map of 1815 Cortlandt St., Houston Heights to 1026 Lathrop St., Denver Harbor, HoustonHouston’s city council voted last week to allow the owner of the home pictured above at 1815 Cortlandt St. in the Houston Heights to move the 1942 bungalow to 1026 Lathrop St. in Denver Harbor. It was a notable decision, if only for the fact that the council was voting on a housemove at all. According to the attorney who presented the case for the homeowners, this was not just the first time that the council had overturned a decision from the city’s architectural and historical commission; it was the first time a historic-district appeal had even reached the city council.

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A Moving, Historic Decision
08/06/14 4:00pm

UBER AND LYFT ARE NOW FULLY STREET LEGAL IN HOUSTON Lyft Driver Outside City Hall, HoustonBy a 10-to-5 vote, city council members gave approval this afternoon to a measure that allows Uber and Lyft to operate alongside taxi services in the city. It only took a year-long battle, several vote delays, and (today) a slew of attached amendments covering disability access, insurance requirements, and private contact with customers to be thrown in. [Houston Business Journal] Photo: Miya Shay