Houston City Council voted unanimously yesterday to purchase 2 vacant parcels of land — just under 8 acres total — off Reed Rd. in Sunnyside for a new community service center and health clinic, as well as an adjacent park. Unlike the more remote site the officials first proposed for the new service center — on city property next to a former landfill that’s still home below ground to 3.5 million tires — the Reed Rd. location has never been developed, is just down the street from the existing center at 9314 Cullen Blvd. (pictured at top), and is now privately-owned.
A garbage incinerator once located on the 299.5-acre landfill on Bellfort St. just east of 288 closed in 1974 after a report from the Environmental Protection Agency said it was letting off deadly levels of lead into the air. The city commissioned new soil tests last year and argued that the brownfield — shown above — was safe. But the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says it’s still contaminated with metals, pesticides, solvents, and potentially toxic volatile organic compounds.
Here’s what the furnace — dubbed the Holmes Road Incinerator — looked like around the time the city shut it down:
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Holmes Road Incinerator
HOW THE CITY SKIPPED OUT ON A SUNNYSIDE APARTMENT COMPLEX FOR THE PAST 9 YEARS
How does a 24-unit apartment building — one of those 1,000-plus Houston complexes the University of Texas School of Law’s recent study identifies as missing a Certificate of Occupancy — go nearly a decade without having the document? In 2012, public works inspected the Bellfort Townhomes on Bellfort St. between Cullen and Scott and called it a “material risk to the physical safety or health of the building’s tenants.” The building’s owner told an inspector that he’d apply for a Certificate — granted after landlords bring their buildings into compliance with city code — when the city contacted him the next year. But then, public works simply lost track of things. For 3 years starting in 2014, the department had no contact with 4410 Bellfort until it came time for the building’s next inspection last January — which resulted in the same findings as the previous one. Why the lapse? “According to the head of Houston’s Multi-Family Habitability Division, after the Division identified properties without a Certificate in the first round of inspections, the Division’s practice was to close the property’s inspection file as long as the owner submitted an application for a Certificate of Occupancy,” write researchers Heather K. Way and Carol Fraser, “even if the owner never successfully obtained the Certificate.” At least one group made sure to stay in touch with the city, though: “During this three-year period, tenants and nearby residents called 311 at least eight times to report sewage overflow issues at the property.” [UT School of Law Entrepreneurship and Community Clinic; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Bellfort Townhomes: Swamplot inbox
UT STUDY: HOUSTON SUFFERING FROM EPIDEMIC OF DILAPIDATED APARTMENTS
A new study from the University of Texas School of Law says that Houston is full of deteriorating apartments, has weak building standards, does a bad job enforcing its own rules, responds slowly to residents who seek help with unsafe homes, fails to keep track of its own building data, and struggles to communicate clearly between departments overseeing different aspects of safety. Houston has the third highest number of occupied apartments in any U.S. city — but of all the complexes in the city, nearly a third are missing Certificates of Occupancy, according to the researchers. The yellow dots on the map above indicate the 1,000-plus multifamily structures that lack the document, which certifies that a building has passed a basic inspection for structural, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing issues. On top of that, the city only employs 2 health inspectors to check for sanitation problems like bedbugs, rodents, mold, and sewage leaks inside Houston’s 320,000 occupied rental units. “In summary,” says the study, “the City of Houston is operating a largely dysfunctional system for addressing tenant safety that appears to have little or no oversight by city leaders.” [UT School of Law Entrepreneurship and Community Clinic; more info] Map of multifamily properties without Certificates of Occupancy as of July 2017: Texas Low Income Housing Information Service
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
This is the rendering for Harbor Hospice, what Three Square Design Group and Camden Construction are saying they hope will serve as a kind of template for similar facilities to be built in Texas and Louisiana. The whole 24,000-sq.-ft. thing will have room for 32 beds and a 5,000-sq.-ft. outpatient clinic; Real Estate Bisnow’s Catie Dixon reports that construction could begin as early as this summer. A site plan from Camden shows the hospice going up outside the Loop southeast of Sunnyside, across from the Houston Amateur Sports Park on Mowery Rd. That’s west of Hwy. 288, between Airport Blvd. and W. Orem.
Rendering: Camden Construction
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.