06/02/17 4:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: AREN’T THESE THE HEIGHTS DESIGN GUIDELINES WE’VE BEEN ASKING FOR? “Here we go again with the sky-is-falling BS on the historic ordinance. For years, the builders have whined about how they needed a design guide for the Heights. HAHC takes 2 years to collect input from the HDs [historic districts] on design guidelines. There were many meetings, direct mailings, surveys and even direct invitations from Steph McDougal to have one-on-one meetings with stakeholders to discuss the design guidelines. The response HAHC got from the HDs was that we are sick and tired of builders trying to fill every lot with gratuitous square footage. Additions are fine, but building a 3300-sq.-ft. house behind a bungalow is atrocious. And stop with the BS about families. Families do not need giant houses. They need affordable houses. Every time I talk with a family about moving to the Heights they always say that they have been priced out because everything is so huge and expensive.” [Old School, commenting on June Is Your Last Chance To Make Noise In Person About the New Heights Historic District Design Guidelines] Photo of 519 Heights Blvd.: HAR

06/01/17 4:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: NOSTALGIA FOR THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE HISTORICAL HEIGHTS BUILDING GUIDELINES “The big problem isn’t just the restriction on the size of the addition, it’s how they will allow you to add the square footage. Instead of allowing you to build out your attic with dormers, or do an addition on top of the back half of the house, they want you to basically build a new historically incompatible structure in your existing back yard and connect it to the house through some little hallway which will look like crap, AND use up your yard/permeable surface, AND create a structure looming over your neighbors’ backyards. The first year or 2 of the historic district, things worked pretty well in regards to stopping teardown and allowing responsible additions. Then it all went off the rails.” [Arlington Gal, commenting on June Is Your Last Chance To Make Noise In Person About the New Heights Historic District Design Guidelines] Illustrations of Heights houses: Dalia Rihani

05/31/17 5:00pm

JUNE IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO MAKE NOISE IN PERSON ABOUT THE NEW HEIGHTS HISTORIC DISTRICT DESIGN GUIDELINES As of this evening, the Heights-applicable design guidelines being presented at the public meeting planned for June aren’t posted on the City’s website yet, but they purportedly will be by the end of next week. In the meanwhile, Jonathan McElvy has a rundown of some of the proposed rules, which he suggests in the Leader today has shifted his view of the codification process from a cause for celebration (no more seemingly arbitrary denials of that raised eave that looks just like your neighbor’s!) to a potential cause for concern — particularly for those hoping to populate the neighborhood with families wanting to add on to their bungalows. “What should frighten people the most in the Heights,” writes McElvy, is that “the proposed guidelines say that if you have a 6,600-square-foot lot, your home can be no more than 2,700 square feet. If you have a 5,000-square-foot lot, your home can be no larger than 2,200 square feet — including garage and porch square footage. If you’ve got an opinion about that, the meeting will be on June 20th at the Heights Fire Station from 6 to 8. [The Leader; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 511 E. 24th St.: HAR

05/18/17 3:00pm

LYFT PREPARES TO DIVE BACK INTO HOUSTON, WOOS DISGRUNTLED UBER DRIVERS AT IAH Barring an out of character veto from governor Greg Abbott, that Texas law that Uber and Lyft have been angling for (the one that would stop cities from requiring more stringent background checks on their rideshare drivers, like Houston did) should go into effect shortly, now that the state Senate has passed the measure with more than 2 thirds support. Lyft pulled out of Houston in late 2014 over the local rule change, while Uber just made some noise about doing so. Meagan Flynn reports for the Press that a Lyft rep was spotted in a waiting lot at IAH on Monday passing out business cards to Uber drivers, some of whom were on a brief strike over wages and company policies. The rep said the company would be back in town soon, if the bill becomes law; the company has also put out a few job ads for Houston operations staff. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Radiant Fountains sculptures near IAH: elnina via Swamplot Flickr Pool

05/15/17 4:45pm

LAWSUIT ALREADY FILED OVER THE TENT BAN THAT TOOK EFFECT FRIDAY This morning the Texas ACLU filed for an injunction on the City’s new ordinances aimed at Houston’s homeless folks and panhandlers, Meagan Flynn reports this afternoon for the Houston Press. The new rules (which among other things ban sleeping in tents or boxes, make it illegal to possess a grill or more than a 3-by-3-by-3-foot box’s worth of stuff in public, and prohibit panhandling close to people, ATMs and payphones) went into effect on Friday. An ACLU staff attorney said in a statement that the rules step away from Houston’s previously “humane approach” to reducing homelessness, adding that “they’re meant to get people into shelters with ‘tough love,’ but the truth is the shelters are full and Houston’s homeless have nowhere else to go.” Flynn points out that the Coalition for the Homeless’s homeless count last year estimated that only 164 shelter beds were vacant on a night when 1,046 people were sleeping on the streets. [Houston Press; previously on SwamplotPhoto of previously cleared homeless encampment under Louisiana St. Bridge downtown: Christine Wilson

04/14/17 11:15am

UNTIL WE FORGET THE ALAMO WASN’T ALWAYS JUST A TEX-MEX CHAIN Mural by Wiley Robertson, 3301 Cline St., Fifth Ward, Houston“Once you start erasing history, who knows where it ends?” writes Cort McMurray in today’s Chronicle, scripting out a taste of potential dystopian franchise future for Houston and Texas’s most prominent landmarks should that bill that would gut preservation rules across the state make it through the legislature this session. The problem with the bill, he argues, is that it “makes forgetting easy” — and “in a place with no patience for memories, no place is sacred.” Before launching into a scene depicting how the Alamo might come to be repurposed into imaginary family-friendly megachain Casey Dilla’s, McMurray writes that “using a broad, vaguely worded standard — just what does ‘widely known’ mean? — to address the question of what’s historically significant to a community is a little like rewriting Hamlet entirely in emojis: a lot of really important stuff is going to be lost. And we will be left with a state that’s little more than the affable hell of FM 518 at Highway 288, traffic and pavement and an endless supply of family-friendly chain restaurants, serving an awful pastiche of Tex-Mex.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Mural commemorating Peacock Records, the former home of which was demolished last month: Spectrum Audio

02/15/17 5:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHERE THE RUNOFF TAX FLOWS MATTERS LESS THAN COLLECTING IT City of Houston Public Works Project Map“Just collecting the tax on impermeable surfaces is valuable on its own. It makes landowners think twice about creating (or even keeping) flood-worsening pavement. Where the money goes sort of morally determines whether the fee is a form of legally-imposed direct responsibility for flood costs, or just pure financial disincentive that helps the city with flood costs or whatever else — it would be better with the spending restriction, but I’ll gladly take either one.” [Sid, commenting on City Loses Latest Appeal on 2010 Drainage Fee ElectionMap of past, ongoing, and planned drainage and street projects: ReBuild Houston interactive map

02/10/17 11:00am

CITY LOSES LATEST APPEAL ON 2010 DRAINAGE FEE ELECTION City of Houston Public Works Project MapThis week the state’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals upheld a 2015 ruling calling for a new election on the ReBuild Houston drainage and road-fixup fee. As in another local case involving charter invalidation and large sums of collected assessment money, the city is mulling over further appeal options, though the case’s last trip to the Texas Supreme Court didn’t go in the city’s favor. The Chronicle‘s Katherine Driessen also writes that the fund’s future is now murky: the decision doesn’t stop the city from collecting the fee for now, since that collection was authorized through another city ordinance — it may, however, remove restrictions on how the money can be used. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of past, ongoing, and planned drainage and street projects: ReBuild Houston interactive map

01/26/17 11:15am

WHITE OAK MUSIC HALL’S OUTDOOR SOUNDMAKING CAPPED UNTIL TRIAL IN MAY White Oak Music Hall Lawsuit Map, Near NorthsideThe judge judging the lawsuit filed by some Near Northside residents against White Oak Music Hall has issued another temporary injunction this week, this time limiting the venue to no more than 2 events on the venue’s outdoor Lawn area between now and May 15th, according to a document filed with the county clerk’s office. That means the Pixies show recently announced for April will still happen as planned (though the venue will have to pay for sound monitoring to prove they’re not passing city decibel limits, or cranking up the bass more than the order allows). Chris Gray writes that outdoor shows at the Raven Tower aren’t affected, as long as they comply with the volume and vibration metrics; a press release from the venue says all the indoor shows at both venues are still on as well. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Image of map submitted in Theresa Cavin et al v. White Oak Events, LLC: Harris County District Clerk’s office

01/12/17 1:30pm

UN-RE-ZONING OF MISSOURI CITY TRACT PAVES WAY FOR SHIPMAN’S COVE MASTER PLANS Proposed Site of Shipman's Cove Subdivision, Missouri City, 77545 The Missouri City council voted last week to approve a “planned development” zoning classification for a woody 95.3-acre tract at the edge of the Creekmont and Newpoint Estates subdivisions off Hwy. 6 at Watts Plantation Rd., which master plan planner Ashton Woods wants to turn into a 287-unit housing development called Shipman’s Cove. The January vote came after a determination by the city’s attorney that the failed September vote on the same issue had technically passed: Councilmembers now says that the vote to change the undeveloped land’s zoning classification (an act that would have required a 75 percent majority among the 7 council members, and fell 1 vote short of that hurdle) actually only counted as a vote to zone it for the first time — which only needs a simple majority for approval. Amelia Brust reports that neither the city council nor city attorney “explained what prompted the further review, nor did they identify the outside legal counsel hired by the city” that helped review the situation; Missouri City mayor Allen Owen also said at the time of the vote that multiple lawsuits looked to be in the works. [Community Impact] Image of planned site of Shipman’s Cove: Missouri City

Feels Like the First Time
12/15/16 2:15pm

STATE LEADERS LOOK TO BAN PROPOSED GALVESTON BAG BAN, STOP LOCAL CALIFORNIA-IZATION galveston-seagullsMembers of Galveston’s city council expect to vote next year on a ban on plastic bags, writes Harvey Rice this week — and also expect the state government to try to overturn that ban, whether by lawsuit or through new legislation. Proponents of the ban note that the bags frequently make their way into the water around the island, where they may start new careers decorating the local beaches or killing birds and turtles that try to eat them. Rice notes that top members of the state government believe, however, that the bigger problem is Texas cities being “California-ized” (as governor Greg Abbott called it) by their own locally-developed rules; this include the 2014 Denton fracking ban that inspired a no-local-oil-and-gas-regulations-allowed law last session, invalidating dozens of older municipal ordinances around the state. Attorney general Ken Paxton has also sued Brownsville over a fee on retailer bag use, and supports the ongoing lawsuit that put the brakes on Laredo’s recent bag ban (which in turn caused Port Aransas to quietly stop enforcing its own ban, until the Texas supreme court weighs in). The Chronicle‘s editorial board also notes that state senator Bob Hall from Edgewood in Northwest Houston has already filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session aimed at eliminating all local bag rules. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of Galveston seagulls: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

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

09/26/16 2:15pm

2709 Bagby St., Midtown, Houston, 77003

A reader wonders why the house above at 2709 Bagby St. is just now getting a yellow note from city inspectors, who doled out an orange one right across the street last year. The new tag is stuck to the gate of the property formerly listed as the address of probably-not-just-a-modeling-studio Aloha Modeling Studio, which appears to have removed its signage in the few years following the city’s late 2000s push to enforce that then-decade-old sexually-oriented business ordinance. Per the new tagging (closeup below), the current beef with the city appears to be over some smaller issues — namely, some debris scattered around the lawn, and that loose board on the second story:

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Hanging Questions in Midtown
09/19/16 2:00pm

YALE ST.’S MIDDLE-AGED TREES JUST GOT MORE EXPENSIVE TO CHOP DOWN Yale St. Green Corridor, Houston Heights, 77008Now that the petitioning and voting on the matter has wrapped up, The Houston Heights Association and Trees for Houston had a party this weekend to celebrate Yale St.’s designation as the city’s first official green corridor (between 6th and 19th streets. Organizers gave out baby trees as party favors, Nancy Sarnoff reports, noting that the existing treescape is largely the product of area folks planting seedlings “on both sides of the four-lane road in 1986. Volunteers kept them watered and fought city efforts to expand the roadway, which would have eliminated many of the trees.” Houston’s general colorless tree laws give the city jurisdiction over cutting down certain trees more than 20 inches wide; the green corridor label, defined in 1991 but never actually used before now, trims that protection threshold down to just 15 inches wide along the 1.6-mile stretch of Yale. Other than the reduced belt-size standards, the same rules apply for getting approval to cut down a protected tree anyway — whether by planting  new trees, going after tree preservation credits, or making some pay-by-the-inch contributions (as adjusted for inflation) into the parks and rec department’s tree fund. [Houston Chronicle; city tree ordinances] Photo of Yale St. trees: City of Houston

08/24/16 4:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO EASE HOUSTON INTO THE ZONING ZONE Illustration of Master Planners“Another example of the city’s zoning-style regulations that have been built up over the last 20 years or so. They couldn’t get people to vote for zoning, so they are building a zoning apparatus slowly and in small pieces.” [Anonymous, commenting on The Setback Setbacks at 1403 McGowen St.Illustration: Lulu