03/22/17 11:00am

HOUSTON BIKE PLAN UP FOR A VOTE AGAIN THIS MORNING AMID MORE CALIFORNIA-IZATION FEARS Existing High Comfort Bike Lanes, Houston Bike Plan ca. March 2017This morning’s city council meeting has the Houston Bike Plan back on the docket, following the most recent round of public-input-based tweaking to the plan (as well as a delay of the vote, which was initially scheduled for earlier this month). Over in the Chronicle Dug Begley recaps some of the arguments being made for and against the years-in-development guidance plan, which have a bit of a chicken-vs-egg flavor: do only 0.5% of Houstonians bike to work because safe-feeling bike paths are scarce outside of certain Inner Loop neighborhoods? Or are those areas where the active bikers are already clustered the only ones where bike path improvements are warranted? Councilman Greg Travis, one of the folks who pushed back the vote at the last council meeting, told Begley he does see a need for some kind of bike safety improvement plan, but adds that he’s “not sure this is the plan for Houston. We’re not Amsterdam or San Francisco, and we don’t know what’s needed here, really needed.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of existing ‘high-comfort’ bike paths: Houston Bike Plan Interactive Map

03/03/17 11:30am

Encampment removal at Louisiana St. and Congress Ave., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Among the flurry of in-the-works policies Mayor Turner announced yesterday related to reducing the number of homeless folks in Houston: some staffed bare-bones shelters consisting of at least a fence,roof and a bathroom, either under overpasses or on private land. Just where would those be set up? The city says they’ll be looking for suggestions from city council members and communities of spots in their own districts where shelters and services might be a good fit.  Per Rebecca Elliott’s report, Turner told the Chronicle this week that he thinks it’s “important for people who are saying ‘we don’t want them here’ to join in with us in helping to identify acceptable locations.”

Here’s a list of other plans floated yesterday, none of which yet come with an expected price tag:

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Scrounging for Change
01/24/17 10:15am

CITY HOPES TO CHOP A DECADE OR 2 OFF THE BRAYS BAYOU FLOOD CONTROL TIMELINE Flooding around The Halstead 4620 N Braeswood Blvd., Meyerland, Houston, 77096 At the current rate of federal funding trickling in for the completion of the Project Brays flood control project, the work could take another 20 years or so to complete, Mike Morris writes this week — noting that the Harris County Flood Control District originally expected about $50 million in federal reimbursement every year, but has been getting an average of $11 million annually in recent years. The city is now planning to speed the project up by asking to borrow $46 million from state-level funds to give to the county, potentially helping it meet or beat a 2021 completion deadline. And “yes,” says city flood czar Steve Costello, “the city is going to be taking [a] risk because we’re going to be waiting for the money, but we’re confident that this is the start of a long-term relationship and we think it’s going to work very well.” (If it does work well, the city may do the same thing for work on White Oak and Hunting bayous.) [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Tax Day flooding at Brays Bayou and 610: Chris Klesch

01/16/17 10:30am

HUD ORDERS GO-AHEAD ON BRIARGROVE AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROJECT OR SOMETHING KINDA LIKE IT Proposed Housing Development at 2640 Fountainview Dr., Briargrove, Houston, 77057Houston Public Media reports that the city is mulling over its options with regards to the letter sent last week by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which relayed the agency’s findings that the nixing of the mixed-income apartment complex at 2640 Fountainview Dr. was based in part on “racially motivated local opposition.” Among other things, the letter orders the city to okay the project (or a similar project within another “low minority and high opportunity” census tract), to develop a plan to promote other similar projects in other low-poverty areas, and to work out incentives for property owners in those same areas to accept housing vouchers.  [Houston Public Media; previously on Swamplot] Images of proposed apartments at 2640 Fountainview Dr.: Houston Housing Authority

01/13/17 12:30pm

CITY-WIDE DRAINAGE SWAT TEAM POSSIBLY BANKROLLED BY HEIGHTS WATERWORKS SALE Draft SWAT project mapMayor Turner announced plans for a dramatically monikered Storm Water Action Team at this week’s council meeting, along with 22 projects at the top the program’s initial list, based on metrics of urgency like frequency of 311 calls. The goal of the program is to deal with non-bayou-centric flooding issues like collapsed culverts and junk-clogged drainage ditches; flood czar Steve Costello said after the council meeting that the city wants to resolve the fixable issues at each site within 90 days of a site visit and initial drainage triage. Meagan Flynn writes this week that the $10 million currently budgeted for the program comes mostly from a one-time sale of city land; that land might well be the Heights Waterworks properties at W. 20th and Nicholson streets, which were sold to apartmenteer Alliance in mid-December for a reported $15.2 million. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Draft map of 22 SWAT project locations: City of Houston SWAT program materials

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