The headline suggestion in a 6-page policy paper published last week under the banner of Rice University’s Baker Institute comes in item 2 of a helpfully numbered list of 15 things Houston might want to do or think about to make future never-seen-this-before flooding events a little less catastrophic: Author Jim Blackburn, an environmental attorney, pioneering Houston-area naturalist, and longtime let’s-not-flood advocate, proposes a “fair but extensive home buyout and removal program” targeted at homes that have been flooded 3 or more times since Tropical Storm Allison in 2001: “It is unlikely we can develop strategies to protect them from severe rainfall events that are much more frequent than labels such as ‘100-year’ or even ‘500-year’ rainfall events suggest,’ he writes.
Among the less radical proposals put forward in his list is the suggestion to map and categorize the Houston region by its propensity to flood: “safe” areas that didn’t flood — and should therefore become “the backbone of the Houston of Tomorrow” — “transitional” areas (only “single-event” flooding); and “buyout” areas — which can be targeted for parks and “future green infrastructure.”
Other ideas and issues from the paper that Blackburn hopes will “initiate a conversation” are summarized here:
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The City That Floods
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO HELP CANINO’S NET THAT DESTINATION FISH MARKET APPEAL “Something that seems to make other markets around the world such successful destinations (Pike Place, Borough Market, Reading Terminal, etc.) is their accessibility within a dense urban core. In each case, the locations are accessible to pedestrians and located near high-traffic public transit locations. They are also near other walkable destinations like stores and restaurants, art galleries and museums; within walking distance from hotels and other destinations. It will be interesting to see how this works out in Houston on Airline Dr., with all of the car traffic and expansive space needed to accommodate parking. I hope Airline and Cavalcade get to be a little more walkable, and buses run there more often.” [Nearnort, commenting on Destination-Ization Plans for Airline Dr. Farmers Market Show New Rooftops, Playground, Multistory Observation Tower, Some Whitewashing] Rendering of plans for Canino Market on Airline Dr.: MLB Capital Partners
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: WATCH FOR TOMORROW’S FLOODING TODAY! “Homeowners in the area would be wise to keep a keen eye as to the elevation of the current Fiesta property, document with photos and watch as the builders elevate the ground of the property two or more feet above existing grade. This elevation of property will push water off the commercial property and onto lower lying homeowners and existing small businesses. I attended a talk this week with a flooding expert from Texas A and M who pinpointed development as the primary driving cause of Houston’s flooding. This was a highly intelligent and well regarded college professor and researcher. He says he gets phone calls from first time flood victims and always asks if anything was recently built in the area. Often they will say that a Wal-Mart or something similar was built immediately before their flooding problem started. This is real, everyone. Document your lawsuit evidence today.” [Tired of flooding, commenting on H-E-B To Scoot Groundbreaking Back to End of Summer Break, Scoot Building Up Toward N. Shepherd] Illustration: Lulu
Another potential future target in
striking walking range of that 542-space parking lot Lovett Commercial looks to be planning at Center and Silver streets: the color-splashed warehouse redo sketched out above, as seen in another of the company’s current leasing fliers. This one is for a facelift of the 1970s building former occupied by Mass Electric Construction Company at 1201 Oliver St., a few blocks west down the railroad tracks past Sawyer St. Clustered nearby are a fair number of other Lovett-affiliated developments (including some of the artsy hubbub between Sawyer and Silver).
Renderings and site plans suggest a cidery could be taking over the west end of the building — the flier includes a north-is-down look at plans for splitting up the space, including a cutout for a breezeway:
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Wash Ave Sketch
That cluster of demo work along Liberty Rd. lately appears to be clearing the way for the boxy flock of yet-unbuilt townhomes drawn out above, one of which is now listed on HAR for a smidge below $270,000. The homes are shown as a set of 12 in the listing, with the development’s baker’s dozen rounded out by a new retail structure filling the southwest quarter of the block. (Not shown: the former Lucky 7 supermarket building at the corner with Des Chaumes St., which went up for lease a couple of times over the past few years.) (Also not shown: the gate around the development, as mentioned in the listing.)
Both the proposed retail spot and the townhomes are shown with rooftop hangout spaces (or at least are described as able to have a rooftop patio added, for a price bump). The homes themselves, the listing also notes, can be tweaked to include a downstairs kitchenette to give them that special Air-BNB flavor.
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Popping Up in Fifth Ward
A CHECK ON EXPIRATION DATES AMID THE HEIGHTS FOODIE BOOM The restaurant–heavy redevelopment of various used car dealerships and auto shops along N. Shepherd Dr. might bring with it some future trouble for the Heights area, Jonathan McElvy suggests in his column for the Leader this week. McElvy worries that too many new spots chasing after trends in the “culinary preferences of Houston’s red-hot foodie community,” (as he notes recently closed-for-re-concepting Heights restaurant Glass Wall described it) may mean that the area is “about to enter a period of constant turnover along our most important corridor.” Noting the startling estimates on how many restaurants close in fewer than 5 years (whether due to lack of business knowledge, bad construction traffic, or sheer bad luck), McElvy writes that while there’s little to be done to curb the popularity of “farm-to-table restaurants that know how to plate a dish but don’t have a clue how to pay franchise taxes on time . . . it is not going to help our community if 1 business opens and another closes every other week.” [The Leader; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Karen S.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW LONG UNTIL HOUSTON’S FLOODWATERS WASH AWAY THE OIL MONEY? “But hey, why bother [with impermeable ground cover]? I’m sure this city will continue to grow and prosper and the taxes will still come pouring in, years after it exacerbates its reputation as a flooded-out mess far behind the tipping point. It will make our elected leaders look so smart when the pension system fails anyway because energy companies choose to move to Austin, OKC, DFW and Denver, because they can’t in good conscience relocate people to the flooded mess of our city. Oh wait — you say energy companies would never leave Houston? Remember, the oil companies fled New York decades ago. Recently BP has moved its onshore group to Denver. Exxon is gone to the Woodlands (and lets not pretend that didn’t have anything to do with escaping the hot mess of city hall mismanagement.)” [Tired of flooding, commenting on Where 2 New Buildings and 542 New Surface Parking Spots Could Fit North of Washington Ave.] Illustration: Lulu
RESIDENTS NEAR SMART FINANCIAL CENTRE: DON’T WANNA LIVE WITH ‘EM, MAYBE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT ‘EM Mike Snyder reports from a dead empty plaza at the new Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land for the Chronicle this week — utilizing the deserted backdrop for some quiet contemplation and speculation regarding the development’s likely ability to draw long-term business. So-called “destination center” projects like Smart Centre and Town Square are “a big part of [Sugar Land’s] long-term financial strategy to broaden our economic base and keep our property taxes low,” city business director Jennifer Mays tells Snyder — but Snyder and others suggest that a lack of nearby residential development may make it harder for Smart Centre to take off the way Town Square has. Snyder also notes that 900 new apartments were originally planned near Smart Centre, but were nixed on account of objections from “residents concerned that renters would increase traffic, crowd schools and damage their suburban lifestyle.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Smart Financial Centre
The paved lot now being marketed as 1818 Washington Ave. (across Silver St. from that recently recolonized cluster of ex-nightclub buildings, and bookended to the east by the former bakery now housing B&B Butchers) appears to be marked for some higher purposes, per recently released leasing materials for the property. Plans on Lovett Commercial’s flier for the site show 2 structures (rendered above as things might look from Washington Ave., facing toward Tacodeli) that pretty much fill up the whole piece of land — but fear not, parking-requirement hawks! The land directly north of the property, a 2-block elongated space nestled mostly between Center St. and a stretch of Union Pacific railroad, is marked up to become a 4-plus-acre surface lot, with room for 542 cars or so; that’d likely more than make up for the parking spaces that B&B would lose, too.
That’s the apparent plan for now, anyway — the flier does point out that some kind of garage structure is probably on the table for later on. As for the yet-unbuilt spaces for lease: The site plans show an L-shaped 2-story building, plus a smaller, squatter freestanding restaurant space tucked back along the corner of Silver and Center. The larger structure has spots marked off for a couple of upstairs patios, as well as office use:
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The Dallas-based real estate and restaurant developers at Syn Hospitality Group are hoping to have a Houston branch of flag-slathered bar and restaurant America Gardens open later this year (as rendered above), part of their in-the-works Midtown Common development over on Caroline St. just north of McGowen. The group went after some early city approvals earlier this year to bundle together a handful of property parcels on the block into the edgy unreserved shape shown above. That footprint, mostly sticking along Caroline but stretching across to claim a bit of frontage on Austin St. as well, leaves out the buildings occupied by Core Church Midtown, which is squeezed between the auto and auto accessory pairing of Fast Traffic Auto Work and Austin Radio and Speedometer.
The group has released a few renderings of the first planned restaurant’s red-white-and-blue-bedecked interior, as well as its large outdoor patio:
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Dallas Comes to Austin St.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WILL THE BAYOU CITY PLEASE START ACTING LIKE IT? “Is the new business going to incorporate the bayou, or keep its back turned to it? Would be nice to see the trend continue of businesses along the bayous turning around and accepting the existence of a recreational green belt and trail network in its backyard, rather than using that as the side for the dumpsters.” [Superdave, commenting on Sixties Ex-Dry Cleaning Spot To Be Made Over as a Brays-Side Wine Bar] Photo of Brays Bayou at Stella Link Rd.: Frank Karbarz
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE MARCH OF PROGRESS, AS PERFORMED BY HOUSTON MIXED USE PROJECT PLANS “Rendering 1: Shiny multifamily tower, midrise condo and office buildings, multilevel retail center with parking neatly concealed in above- and below-ground garages tucked under the buildings. Sleek architecture looking like something on Vancouver Island or in Dubai. Rendering 2: [Single] midrise office building and 6-story stucco apartment complex with hats. Big parking garage with a 2 story retail strip center wrapped around one side. Rendering 3: 4-story ‘Houston wrap’ apartment complex. One-story strip center with big parking lot. Final rendering: Large strip center with big box anchor and acres of parking. Architecture identical to retail center recently built in Pearland. [Old School, commenting on ] Outdated rendering of mixed-use development planned along Allen Pkwy.: Tianqing Group
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW HOUSTON GOT ITS SPRAWL, AND OTHER TALES OF PSEUDOZONING “Blame our city’s efforts at ‘planning’ in lieu of zoning. In the early 70’s, due to insufficient wastewater infrastructure, the city enacted a ban on apartment buildings of more than 4 units inside the Loop (driving much of apartment development to Uptown and Meyerland) and enforced a 5000-sq.-ft. minimum lot size. This gave rise to the Montrose 4-plex (of which there are still some examples remaining), but put a cap on residential density inside the loop. Then in the 1980’s, we got 25-ft building setbacks, followed by mandatory minimum parking requirements. This added a cap on commercial density to go with the cap on residential density. The rest is history: for the next couple of decades, the car became the focal point of the built environment, and we became the low-density city we are today. With repeal of some of the more retrograde density caps we’re starting to get some residential density, but setbacks and parking minimums are still getting in the way of the necessary commercial density needed for real walkability.” [Angostura, commenting on Comment of the Day: No, Sprawl’s Not Just a Number After All] Illustration: Lulu
SUNNYSIDE PASSED OVER FOR LIST OF HOUSTON PLACES THAT ALWAYS GET PASSED OVER The Texas Low Income Housing Information Service released a statement right after Mayor Turner’s Monday announcement on the Complete Communities program questioning why Sunnyside didn’t make the cut, Steve Jansen reports this week for the Houston Press. Despite the neighborhood’s oft-heralded blight resume (it made the LARA team during Mayor White’s time in office, and even got rolled into its very own tax increment reinvestment zone last year, a distinction theoretically reserved for “unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted” areas), Sunnyside didn’t make the list of the first 5 pilot neighborhoods for the new program, which so far looks like it might shuffle existing development money toward the targeted areas without adding any new cash. The statement, coauthored by a Sunnyside-area civic association leader, notes that the neighborhood even has a ready-to-go redevelopment plan that’s been in the work for the past few years. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Map of pilot areas for Complete Communities program: City of Houston
COMMENT OF THE DAY: FOR WHOM THE TRAIN ROLLS “. . . The few large cities that you’re referring to, where central living expenses are far higher than Houston, all provide far more extensive mass transit options. I know I have multiple transit options after midnight in other large cities — not so for Houston. For those without reliable transportation and non-office hours, the availability of Park and Rides does not solve or address accessibility issues.” [joel, commenting on Grand Central Park’s Official Debut; Houston’s Not All Sprawl] Illustration: Lulu