TREE-CUTTING SETTLEMENT BUYS NEW LANDSCAPING AROUND KIRBY DR. WENDY’S City 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
GOLFERS APPEAR TO HAVE WON GUS WORTHAM It 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
THE BACK AND FORTH ON DUNLAVY ST. Back 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
CITY MAY SOON CAN RULES THAT FORCE HOUSTON FOOD TRUCKS TO SPACE OUT What 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
Houston’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
UBER AND LYFT ARE NOW FULLY STREET LEGAL IN HOUSTON By 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
CITY COUNCIL VOTES TO DRAIN HOUSTON’S DRAINAGE FUND City 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
HIGH FIRST WARD HISTORIC DISTRICT GETS CITY COUNCIL HIGH FIVE The 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
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:
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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]
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.
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A NEW TEETOTALING CIRCLE LANDS ON LANCASTER PLACE By a vote of city council, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School today became the seventh private school in the city to be granted a 1,000-ft. alcohol-free zone around its campus. Included within that circumference around 1800 Sul Ross St.: the H-E-B Montrose Market that opened last November on the former site of the Wilshire Village Apartments. Last year St. Stephen’s lost a court battle over restricting alcohol sales at the grocery store, though the battle did end up delaying the start of H-E-B beer and wine sales until shortly before New Year’s. The new restrictions will not apply to businesses that already hold alcohol licenses, but they could make a difference to other developments planned near the corner of Dunlavy and West Alabama. [St. Stephen's; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Divino restaurant, 1830 West Alabama: Gabe C.
Why is Houston the only major city in the country that bans propane-equipped food trucks from operating Downtown — and one of the few that prohibits all food trucks from serving near seating areas or even setting up their own chairs for customers? A few clues appear in Katherine Shilcutt’s fascinating account of Tuesday’s city hearing, during which council members expressed a few concerns: that food-truck purveyors might be selling “other items” on the sly, or that there might not be a sufficient number of city inspectors to police the existing fleet. But, Shilcutt reports, “The questions got even stranger when Council Member Andrew Burks began hinting at the possibility of terrorists using food trucks’ propane tanks as weapons, a comment that prompted laughter from the audience.”
The possibility of overfueled taco trucks blowing up Downtown Houston, however, wasn’t the only frightening specter Burks conjured up before the mostly mobile-food-friendly crowd:
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RED-LIGHT CAMERA TAKEDOWN GETS GREEN LIGHT A city council vote this morning means that Houston’s on-again-off-again red-light cameras will likely all be coming down in 60 days. The city agreed to a settlement with the camera vendor that would give American Traffic Solutions $4.8 million, plus a share of funds collected from red-light runners. [abc13; previously on Swamplot] Photo: West U Examiner
TINY “FREESTANDING” INNER-LOOP BARS AND RESTAURANTS ESCAPE INCREASED PARKING REQUIREMENTS [Note: Story corrected and updated below.] The planning commission has made a few adjustments to the proposed changes to the city’s parking rules it’s likely to forward to city council after a meeting today. The revised draft ordinance exempts freestanding restaurants smaller than 2,000 sq. ft. and bars smaller than
1,000 2,000 sq. ft. from the major increase in parking spaces the new rules will be requiring of most new eat-and-drinkeries — as long as they’re inside the 610 Loop. Also included: a major potential boon for bike parking. By providing 4 bicycle spaces in place of each required car space, new Inside-the-Loop businesses would be able to reduce their parking requirements by up to 10 percent. [Planning & Development (see 3 PDF links at bottom of page); previously on Swamplot] Update, 1:45 pm: As a few local restaurateurs have noted, the exemption may turn out to be not much of a change at all: “The major bright, flashing verbiage in that should be ‘free-standing,’” notes chef Justin Yu of the just-announced Oxheart. “I’ve looked for the past 4 years for a quality free standing building under that size. Unless I build it myself, it doesn’t exist.”