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
MAYOR PARKER ENCOURAGES NEIGHBORHOOD GROUPS INTO LAWN MOWING BUSINESS It’s worked for parents — why not the city? A new program will pay civic groups and nonprofit organizations $75 a pop to keep up overgrown lots abandoned by property owners in their neighborhoods. Mayor Parker announced the so-called Mow-Down Initiative yesterday in the Third Ward. How’s it gonna work? First, the city will come in with tractors and run over the big stuff, and then residents will take over, KUHF reports: “[Mayor Parker] says 100 lots around Houston will be included in the program to start, and she expects the city will save thousands of dollars in maintenance costs by engaging civic groups instead of hiring contractors.” Another nonprofit, Keep Houston Beautiful, says it will provide lawnmowers, trimmers, and other equipment for the work, free of charge. [KUHF] Photo of lot in East End: Allyn West
MAYOR PARKER INTENDS TO BAN TEXTING AND DRIVING IN HOUSTON If the bill that would outlaw texting and driving statewide, vetoed 2 years ago by Governor Perry, doesn’t catch on this time around, Mayor Parker says she will move to ban the act in Houston: A press release today says that the mayor’s “Houston, It Can Wait” campaign, part of a national push to limit texting-induced accidents and fatalities, “will be guided by a task force consisting of representatives of law enforcement, government, education, corporate, medical, professional and faith-based organizations.” And it appears that Mayor Parker intends to use another local resource to help her get the word out: “Several entities . . . have agreed to broadcast a public service announcement featuring Mayor Parker and rapper Bun B.” [City of Houston] Photo of Southwest Fwy.: Flickr user KreinikGirl
MAYOR PARKER ASKS CITY COUNCIL TO DECRIMINALIZE DIVING IN PUBLIC DUMPSTERS A Houston man’s arrest for Dumpster diving outside City Hall was news to Mayor Parker: “And I had to say, really?” says the mayor in teevee reporter Doug Miller’s story. “There’s an ordinance for that? Give me a break.” And Mayor Parker has since requested that city council revise the 1942 ordinance that criminalizes rummaging: Lawyers who want to see it repealed, reports the Houston Chronicle’s Mike Morris, say that the ordinance “adversely impacts homeless persons and absorbs law enforcement time that could otherwise be spent preventing more significant criminal activity.” But, reports Morris, potential changes won’t mean Houstonians will be free to help themselves to whatever and wherever they’d like: “[S]pokeswoman Janice Evans said the proposed repeal will be amended . . . to ensure that it only addresses the situation which saw [the man] cited for picking through a public trash can. Rummaging through trash cans or recycling bins at homes and businesses still will not be allowed . . . .” [KHOU; Houston Chronicle] Photo of Dumpster: Flickr user nicksaltman
ACTUALLY, SAY CRITICS, ‘ONE BIN FOR ALL’ MAYBE NOT BEST IDEA Mayor Parker’s prize-winning garbage program was questioned yesterday by activists and environmentalists, reports Hair Balls’ Vanessa Piña — especially because the $1 million the city won from Mayor Bloomberg seems awfully puny in light of the expected $100 million the new sorting facility could cost. And, reports Piña, critics are suggesting that “One Bin for All” seems kinda unnecessary: “There is a successful partnership between the city and waste management, and material is daily being handled. Waste Management’s single stream sorting facilities are running at an estimated 50 percent of capacity and can easily handle more if the city will only provide more carts to our citizens,” says Leo Gold. And here’s Dr. Robert Bullard, public affairs dean at Texas Southern: “For someone who has done research and written more than 18 books on this stuff it is rather odd that we would be opting for an unproven, risky idea.” [Hair Balls; previously on Swamplot] Photo of recycling bin in the Heights: Charles Kuffner
HEY, WE’RE DRIVING HERE! An online petition aimed at Mayor Parker’s desk has just one demand: Block off a street, once a week, for pedestrian use: “Options abound,” the petition states: “McKinney downtown (between City Hall and Discovery Green), Rice Boulevard (between Main and Kirby), or Harrisburg. Westheimer between Shepherd and Bagby . . . . After seeing such a street in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, one Houstonian wrote, ‘Just let pedestrians take over once a week. Let a thousand Sunday night walks bloom. Just a simple avenue for families to walk a stretch in the company of others. A boost for local businesses. A reason to get out on a Sunday night no matter the time of year. A space for performance artists and musicians and writers to interact directly with a wider public.'” [Sign On; previously on Swamplot] Photo of utility pole on Harrisburg: Swamplot inbox
And this one seems almost preordained by the stars: Aries Motel, the last of the City of Houston’s “dirty half-dozen,” those multi-family/commercial buildings so blighted not even Mayor Parker can love them, has been tagged to go down today. The Gladstone St. motel sits on 10,000-sq.-ft. lot in Sunnyside, just west of Scott and north of Bellfort.
Yesterday morning, Macy’s announced that it would be closing its store Downtown at 1110 Main this spring. But what’s going to happen to the building? Mayor Parker, who knows a thing or two about demolition, said yesterday afternoon that Kenneth Franzheim’s former Foley’s is coming down: “Macy’s is losing the lease, and the owner of that piece of property wants to build something else,” she told KUHF News. The owner in this case would be 1110 Main Partners, an entity connected to Hilcorp Ventures, whose president, Doug Kelly, told the Houston Chronicle yesterday that the company has “no specific plans to announce” about the site. Well, announcing plans is one thing:
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT WOULD HAVE KEPT EXXONMOBIL DOWNTOWN? “Exxon pulling up stakes for Springwoods is something that I think Mayor Parker and the Houston Partnership should have worked hard to prevent. Encouraging ExxonMobil to build a new tower or towers in the CBD would have strengthened the core economically, provided food, beverage and hotel jobs downtown, and a built in constituency for Metro. Had this been in Chicago, you better believe the mayor’s office would have fought tooth and nail to insure a marquee name stayed downtown.” [ShadyHeightster, commenting on Headlines: Ben Milam Demo Details; Germantown Makes History]
Here’s the kind of campaign true fans of demolition can get behind: That’s Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker in the driver’s seat, about to trash a balcony at the Winfield I Condominiums at 10110 Forum West Dr., near the intersection of the Southwest Fwy. and Beltway 8. In taking the ceremonial first whack at a derelict complex, the city’s honorary demolisher-in-chief is campaigning in favor of a city bond issue on the November ballot that would generate $15 million to remove “blighted properties” like the Winfield. Though Proposition E is listed as a measure for housing bonds, the mayor’s office notes, the funds would “all go toward demolishing dangerous and abandoned buildings to make way for future affordable housing.”
Photo: Jessica Michan
A DAY FOR HOUSTON TO CELEBRATE DEMOLITION A mere 189 homes and businesses will be knocked down beginning Saturday, designated by Mayor Parker as the city’s third annual Demo Day. That number is down a bit from last year, when the city marked the occasion by beginning the destruction of more than 400 structures deemed blighted (it took a while). Members of the Houston Contractors Association will be donating their bulldozing services for the citywide event. Most of the structures appeared on Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Reports this week; the city’s official list is here (PDF). The mayor will be on hand at 4007 Ebbtide St., just behind Madison High School, to make sure that home gets the smashing it deserves. Photo from last year’s event: Houston Contractor’s Association
Neighborhood residents hoping to weigh in on the details of the proposed settlement announced 2 weeks ago in the lawsuit filed against the city of Houston by the developers of the proposed Ashby Highrise were greeted at last night’s meeting with Mayor Parker with news that the agreement had already been finalized. The settlement requires the city to approve and permit a 21-story mixed-use tower at 1717 Bissonnet St., as long as the predicted traffic it generates meets a few prescribed limits. The agreement also puts a few restrictions on traffic flows in and out of the building on separate driveways facing Bissonnet and Ashby St., and requires developers to build an 8-ft. fence and camouflage the 5-story parking garage behind it with greenery where the building backs up against homes on its south and east sides. Also included: some lighting and noise-mitigation requirements, and a free morning and afternoon weekday shuttle service for the project’s future residents to and from the Med Center.
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MAYOR PARKER NOT BACKING BEYONCé MONUMENT IDEA, BUT SHE’S COOL WITH THE TUNES In announcing plans for a fundraising venture that would include construction of some sort of monument to Houston native Beyoncé Knowles, Armdeonce Ventures’ Marcus Mitchell indicated last night that there was official civic support behind the project. “We’ve gotten support from the city of Houston, from the mayor,” Mitchell told Fox 26 reporter Kristin Kane. “We’re waiting for a very nice letter from the mayor right now.” But if Mayor Parker sends him one, the letter may not include what Mitchell is after. Just out from the Twitter feed of Janice Evans, a spokesperson for the mayor: “Fox is wrong. The City of Houston is not behind, working with or having anything to do with an effort to build a monument honoring Beyonce.” To soften the blow, she adds, later: “But we do heart Beyonce and her music.” [MyFox Houston; Twitter] Photo from Run the World video: Beyonce Online
Eastwood’s original Rufus Cage Elementary School would become a landmarked “community facility” under a plan announced today by Mayor Parker. The 1910 2-story brick schoolhouse at the intersection of Telephone Rd. and Baird St. last served as a schoolhouse in 1983; under Parker’s plan, the city would buy the building for $100,000 in credit from HISD, which the school district could use to acquire a city property or right-of-way to be named later. HISD’s trustees approved the sale earlier this month, but city council will have to vote on the plan too. After taking ownership, Parker says, the city would pursue a landmark designation for the property and “work with the neighborhood to seek proposals for conversion of the building to another use.” The schoolhouse, a small auditorium, and a warehouse sit on a triangular 28,700-sq.-ft. lot.
Photo: Candace Garcia
In time for campaign season, Mayor Parker announced yesterday that the city would begin cracking down on bandit signs placed on public property by fining violators under an existing city ordinance that — as far as she knows — has never been enforced. Political candidates will be given 24 hours’ notice for each violation before being charged $200 a pop, she said. Collected funds will be used to defray the cost of removing the signs — which reached $450,000 in 2009.
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