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

08/19/16 2:45pm

WHITE OAK MUSIC HALL READY FOR FULL OPENING, NOISE CITATION HEARING Rendering of White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main, Houston, 77009This week marks the official opening of White Oak Music Hall’s 2 indoor stages, writes Erin Mulvaney. Construction on the permanent concert spaces has wrapped next to the temporary-but-indefinitely-employed outdoor stage where the venue has been holding concerts since April. Per Jennifer Ostlind of the Houston Planning Department, all required parking for the venue is in place, though Mulvaney notes that “the temporary stage, which the partners plan to use in perpetuity for roughly 30 shows a year, did not require a permit or parking to accommodate the crowds.” Mulvaney also writes that the developers are getting ready for a September hearing on the noise ordinance citation the venue received in May; a study by hired sound scrutinizers on the night of the citation reportedly shows that sound at the venue didn’t pass 75 decibels. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Rendering of White Oak Music Hall complex: Shau

06/28/16 11:45am

Rendering of Heights Mercantile Building 3, 3A

Experimental ice cream shop Cloud 10 Creamery looks to be collecting building permits for a space at 711 Heights Blvd., one of the 1920s bungalows prepping for a second career in retail (as shown above) as part of the Heights Mercantile development. The project, which straddles 7th St. and its bike trail companion between Yale St. and Heights Blvd., hit a potential snag last year when the city didn’t approve a variance request that would have lowered the number of required new parking spaces. But the updated site plan below shows the workaround — the Golden Eagle Binder & Tab Co.’s former spots at 717 and 724 Heights, which were purchased by the developers last May, are depicted as additional parking lots:

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7th at Yale
05/11/16 3:30pm

TABC regional headquarters in Heights Medical Tower, 427 West 20th Street, Suite 600 Houston Heights, Houston, 77008

A group called the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition PAC is hoping to bring about a vote on allowing beer and wine sales in the technically dry section of the Houston Heights. The group published a notice on May 5th announcing an application to the city to start collecting the petition signatures required to get the measure on a local option ballot.

Here’s the text of the required public notice:

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Watering Down the Dry Laws
04/29/16 10:45am

CITY RESPONSES TO UBER THREATS CITE BACKGROUND CHECK CATCHES, DATA UBER SUED TO KEEP PRIVATE Uber HQ in Houston, 5714 Star Lane, Houston, 77057Mayor Turner held a press conference this week in response to Uber’s current PR push regarding Houston’s licensing requirements on Uber drivers. The rideshare company and ubiquitous favorite ‘[blank] of [industry]’ fill-in is threatening to pull out of Houston over the city’s rule that drivers must pass more stringent (specifically, more fingerprint-requiring) background checks than what Uber internally requires. Turner says the city’s checks have turned up criminal history in applicants already OK’d by Uber’s screening processes, including charges for DWI, assault, and murder. Meanwhile, city administrator Lara Cottingham tells Michael Barajas that Uber’s claims of drivers waiting 4 months for city licenses are exaggerated; the actual normal wait is a few weeks, Cottingham says, but the city can’t release data to support that because Uber sued in 2015 to block open records requests regarding its business practices. “The number of drivers is increasing, their revenue is increasing, everything seems to be working out for them very, very well,” said Cottingham, adding that because of the lawsuit she “can’t tell you how successful they are.” Uber lobbied last legislative season for less-stringent state-level licensing rules that would supercede local regulations. [KHOU, Houston Press; previously on SwamplotPhoto of Houston Uber HQ, 5714 Star Ln.: Uber Houston

04/01/16 10:15am

3516 Montrose Blvd. Signs and violation notices, First Montrose Commons, Houston, 77006

3516 Montrose Blvd. Signs and violation notices, First Montrose Commons, Houston, 77006

The big blue sign wrapping around the lot at the northeast corner of Montrose Blvd. and Marshall St. got decorated with a dayglow red tag from the city this week, calling for the banner’s removal. The sign is advertising the midrise condominium building planned for the lot at 3615 Montrose, formerly the site of the River Cafe; the Philip Johnson/ Alan Ritchie design’s footprint also extends into the lot to the north, whose slated-for-destruction 1910 brick house is currently gigging as a sales center for the development. The shot above looks due south at the angled northernmost portion of the sign, toward the intersection of Montrose and W. Alabama St.

Tags from a city inspector call out the “130 x 8 x 10”-ft. ground sign, as well as its smaller next-door companion piece, which refers to the condo building as “The Glass House” (no, not that one). Here’s what the whole scene looks like from up in the air, from the Parc IV tower across Montrose:

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Montrose at Marshall