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.

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

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

07/10/14 3:15pm

CITY COUNCIL VOTES TO DRAIN HOUSTON’S DRAINAGE FUND Construction of Drainage Inlet Near Westridge and Linkwood Subdivisions, HoustonCity councilmembers voted 15 to 2 yesterday to pour out $31 million from the ReBuild Houston drainage fund Houston voters put into place in 2010 and use the money “to speed up projects and help resolve smaller neighborhood problems sought by their constituents,” according to Chronicle reporters Mike Morris and Kathryn Driessen. Separately, councilmembers approved an amendment to the measure that would help pay for a $1-million-per-district allocation that would let councilmembers themselves decide how to spend city funds in their own districts, by drawing $6 million from the city’s capital improvement funds. A portion of that money, Mayor Parker said, would likely end up coming from ReBuild Houston reserves — though there would be restrictions on how those funds could be used. The source of funds for the ReBuild Houston program is the monthly drainage fee paid to the city by property owners, which went into effect in 2011. Councilmember Stephen Costello, who championed the ReBuild Houston campaign and voted against yesterday’s measure, tells ABC13’s Miya Shay that passage of the amendment is “going to make my job a little harder as I’m talking to the community, about a lock box for Rebuild Houston.” Supporters of the changes claim they’ll help neighborhoods have a bigger say in what drainage and construction projects get funded. [Houston Chronicle ($); abc13; previously on Swamplot] Photo of drainage inlet installation near Westridge and Linkwood subdivisions: ReBuild Houston

05/28/14 2:00pm

HIGH FIRST WARD HISTORIC DISTRICT GETS CITY COUNCIL HIGH FIVE Boundary of High First Ward Historic District, First Ward, HoustonThe High First Ward is the newest historic district in Houston, having been voted in by a 12-5 count of city council members this afternoon. The stringy selection of 55 lots (pictured at right), marked down from the original 149, includes properties along Spring, Shearn, Crockett, Summer, White, Silver, Sabine, and Colorado streets in the First Ward, west of Houston Ave. and south of I-10. According to tweeting Chronicle reporter Mike Morris, a motion by council member Stephen Costello to redraw the district map in order to exclude a couple of properties was rejected by a 4-to-13 vote. [Twitter; previously on Swamplot] Map: HAHC

02/26/14 12:45pm

Bungalows in Starkweather Historic District, E. 31st 1/2 St., Independence Heights, Houston

A collection of a couple dozen or so bungalows along E. 31st 1/2 St. between Yale and Cortlandt in Independence Heights just a block or so north of the 610 Loop is the city’s newest historic district — and perhaps the one with the most colorful name: Starkweather. The subdividing of the neighborhood predates the establishment of Independence Heights as an actual independent city in 1915, but most of the homes were built between the late 1920s (when the city was annexed by Houston) and the 1940s. They were originally marketed to the African American community in the neighborhood. Here’s a map:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Independence Heights
04/24/13 4:55pm

CITY COUNCIL APPROVES CHANGES TO DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE City council today gave a long-awaited thumbs-up to a new regime of amendments to its development ordinance, known as Chapter 42. Among the many changes: a new, higher upper limit on townhome density for the huge donut of land bounded by Loop 610 and Beltway 8. Developers will now be able to squeeze them in at a rate of 27 units per acre, matching the allowed density in the Inner Loop. [Planning and Development; previously on Swamplot]

10/04/12 3:23pm

The regional tourism building planned for the northern of the 2 blocks between Minute Maid Park and the GRB will be called the Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage, Mayor Parker announced today. It’ll be named after beer distributor and $8-million-donor John Nau; fundraisers hope waving the rendering pictured above will help drum up an additional $32 million to get the thing built. ($15 million more is coming from Houston First, the “government corporation” that runs the city’s convention center, the Hilton Americas Hotel, and several city performance venues.)

The design leaves room for 2 houses dating from 1904 and 1905 and moved to the site last year, the only surviving structures from the neighborhood on nearby blocks named Quality Hill that by the 1930s had vanished — along with its storied reputation for integrity and elevation. The rendering also shows (at far right) the saved-from-scrap 1919 Southern Pacific 982 steam engine parked on the curb across from the East End Light Rail Line along Capitol St. Between the houses and the locomotive will sit the Nau Center’s signature dome entrance, held aloft, the rendering from Bailey Architects shows, by a ring of dainty columns resting at sidewalk level and a circular wall of glass.

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY