09/20/17 4:00pm

THE MANY DILAPIDATED PROPERTIES OF SCOTT WIZIG Writer Rachel Monroe catches up on the real estate empire of Scott Wizig, whose extensive operation scoops up properties at tax sales — and lets you know about it by means of those often hand-scrawled bandit signs offering them for seemingly sympathetic terms. Using a scrambled web of LLCs, Monroe explains, the Bellaire resident became the biggest private owner of derelict houses in Baltimore: “Wizig wouldn’t speak with me for months. When he finally agreed to, he didn’t want to discuss how he profits from buying up distressed properties. By the time we spoke, he was trying to rid himself of his Baltimore properties, just as he’d done before in Buffalo. He presented his work as a form of charity: In his view, he helps the city by selling homes and providing financing to people who otherwise couldn’t afford them. (The Houston Press has reported on his company’s sales of legally uninhabitable houses to undocumented immigrants.) He donates to local minority youth groups and hosted a book signing last year for Martin Luther King III and Representative John Lewis. . . . It’s true that in Baltimore, unlike in Buffalo, Wizig focused on selling his properties to other investors rather than renting them out to low-income tenants. But to those who live next to his unmaintained properties, the precise shading of his business model offers little comfort.” [The New Republic] Photo of 5441 Ridge Wind Ln., for sale in Quail Ridge: Wizig’s SWE Homes

09/13/17 4:30pm

Here’s a map showing the 600,000 acres in Harris County over which the Air Force Reserve’s 910th Airlift Wing will be flying modified C-130 cargo planes staged from Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio in order to conduct an aerial spray operation beginning Thursday evening. The marked zones to the north, south, east, and west of inside-the-Beltway Houston will be graced with a mist of Dibrom, an insecticide meant to reduce the threats posed by millions of mosquitoes arising from thousands of impromptu pools formed in Harvey’s wake. Harris County public health officials suggest persons “concerned about the exposure” — and area beesremain indoors during the nighttime insecticide-disbursement procedure, which might take a second evening to complete.

Map: Harris County Public Health

 

 

09/12/17 10:30am

Here, courtesy of a Swamplot reader, are a few exterior views of the building at 1318 Westheimer after its weekend fire. “The damage is pretty severe,” Shawn Bermudez wrote on Facebook Saturday evening. The owner of Royal Oak Bar & Grill, which shut down in this location last September, had been renovating the property in order to reopen it as a bar named Present Company. That work was a month from completion, Bermudez estimates. Among the additions to the former 1950s home: new steel doors and windows. And here’s a view showing the current state of the new piggyback patio added in back:

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Bar and Grill
09/11/17 3:00pm

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
09/08/17 5:00pm

WHAT THE HARVEY FLOODING DID TO BUFFALO BAYOU PARK “Please know that Buffalo Bayou Park was designed to flood, although we did not anticipate three historic flooding events in 1-1/2 years,” Buffalo Bayou Partnership president Anne Olson remarks drily in an email update this afternoon. So what’s the damage? “The bottom two thirds of the park are still under water, and we expect that they will remain so for several more weeks as water is released from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. Due to these circumstances, it is difficult for our staff to assess the impact the flowing water has had on the footpaths and landscape in these areas. We do know that the Johnny Steele Dog Park, which is still submerged, will be closed for two or three months.” Water and sediment that flooded the Buffalo Bayou Cistern is still draining, slowly, but the electrical system installed when the long-hidden underground space was made available for tours and art installations appears to be working. The Wortham Fountain and the trail lighting system have been damaged, Olson reports. The Bayou City Adventures kayak kiosk at Lost Lake and the Bike Barn at Sabine St. has been shut down for the remainder of the year at least; areas east of the Sabine St. bridge are mostly still underwater. But Olson reports landscaped areas in the upper areas of the park, where trails have already reopened, survived with only a small amount of damage: “We are extremely fortunate that the Lost Lake and Wortham Insurance Visitor Centers did not take on water. Both facilities are open and the Kitchen at The Dunlavy is operating with normal hours. Food trucks also are back in the entry court at Sabine Street from Thursday-Sunday.” Update: The Bike Barn at Sabine St. has resumed normal hours as of September 9. [Buffalo Bayou Partnership] Photo: Adam Brackman.  

09/08/17 11:15am

Today’s the day a 48-ft.-long trailer-mounted 1MW Aggreko generator is expected to park on the Louisiana St. side of the Hogg Palace Lofts, a Randall Davis Companies rep tells residents. The goal: Power restored in all 79 units by the end of the day. But generator power won’t be going to elevators, corridors, or the building’s retail tenants (which include the Pad Thai restaurant on Louisiana). Those areas will have to wait until replacement electrical equipment arrives and is installed to restore permanent power in the building. References to a series of so-far-unsuccessful efforts to repair existing equipment are included in a series of emails sent to residents by the building’s management over the last 2 weeks.

The 8-story building at the corner of Louisiana and Preston has been without power since around 8 am on August 27th. “What we as tenants have been able to piece together is sub-level parking levels of the Lyric Center and the new Lyric Center garage became flooded as the bayou took a short cut down Prairie and took a left on Louisiana,” a tenant tells Swamplot. Water coursed into those parking garages down entrance ramps, then “made it under the street through vaults or conduits or whatever into the basement of the Hogg where it shorted out the electrical equipment.”

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Harvey Outages
09/07/17 3:45pm

SOMETHING POWERFUL IN THE CROSBY AIR This vivid description is included in the original petition of a lawsuit filed today against Arkema, operators of the chemical plant off the Beaumont Hwy. in Crosby — by 7 first responders injured after incidents there last week: “In the early morning hours of August 31, 2017, the first of several explosions occurred as a result of the abandoned chemicals heating up and igniting. Although the explosions had occurred, no one from Arkema alerted the first responders who were manning the perimeter of the arbitrary mandatory evacuation area. Immediately upon being exposed to the fumes from the explosion. and one by one. the police officers and first responders began to fall ill in the middle of the road. Calls for medics were made, but still no one from Arkema warned of the toxic fumes in the air. Emergency medical personnel arrived on scene. and even before exiting their vehicle, they became overcome by the fumes as well. The scene was nothing less than chaos. Police officers were doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe. Medical personnel, in their attempts to provide assistance to the officers became overwhelmed and they too began to vomit and gasp for air. Some of the police officers. unable to abandon their vehicles due to their weapons being present, jumped in their vehicles and drove themselves to the nearest hospital. The other officers and medical personnel were all placed in an ambulance, and were driven to the hospital.” [Houston Chronicle; International Business Times] Still image of smoke from fire after Thursday’s explosion: abc13

09/05/17 4:15pm

By late afternoon on Sunday, August 27th, there were 2 ways out of several of the 3-story buildings at the Meyergrove Apartments at 4605 N. Braeswood — which back up to Brays Bayou in the southwest corner of the 610 Loop. There was rescue by boat (above) — from which you’d arrive to safety on a dry portion of the freeway:

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Harvey Ops
08/28/17 4:30pm

Water levels from Harvey have made the underpass just north of Center St., where Houston Ave. tucks under the rail lines, impassable. But there are consequences to trying to drive around the underpass structure, as this photo taken yesterday afternoon by a Swamplot reader attests: The ground drops off sharply on the south side of the tracks to the west of the street, and that’s not so easy to see if you’re driving south.

Photo: Kelsie H. Dos Santos

Avoiding High Water
08/25/17 4:45pm

HARVEY NOW PREPPING FOR SOME SERIOUS GULF COAST HUNKERING OF ITS OWN The “most likely scenario” now predicted for Hurricane Harvey is a 5-day-long visit to southeast Texas, during which the storm will spend its time sucking up moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and heaving it landward. “Expect floods. Lots of flooding,” writes Eric Berger in this afternoon’s Space City Weather update: “Like widespread 10 to 25 inches of rain over the next five or six days. Or maybe more. That means you, Pearland. Take a bow, Katy. You’re on deck too, Baytown. Have some water, League City. Looking at you up there in The Woodlands, too.” [Space City Weather] Graphic: National Weather Service

08/25/17 3:32pm

SANDBAGGING IN MEYERLAND What kind of person would pay close to $5,000 to have 18,000 pounds of sandbags delivered and installed in a low stack in front of a 5-ft.-high waterproofing barrier surrounding her home? The owner of a Meyerland single-story 4-bedroom (pictured above) 1 block south of Brays Bayou that flooded “for the first time” in the Memorial Day deluge of 2015 (according to a real estate listing of that year) and then twice more in the past year or so.This may not even work,” Kristin Massey tells Houston Public Media’s Marissa Cummings. “It’s just an effort to hope that it will.” Massey says she would have installed more sandbags if more had been available: “I would have liked to have gone higher than 11 inches, but I have about half or a third of what I need.” [Houston Public Media] Photo: Houston Public Media  

08/24/17 4:45pm

THE BIG WET PICTURE FOR A POSSIBLE HARVEY HANGOUT A Hurricane Harvey shown veering slightly further to the east than previous reports suggested is now expected to reach the Texas coast late Friday night or early Saturday morning as close as 125 miles southwest of Houston — with a rating at the high end of Category 3. But heavy rainfall could continue for days if the storm stalls or retreats instead of moving inland and clings to the coastline as it travels east. The National Weather Service now expects flooding in the Greater Houston area and points east to continue through Tuesday, with rainfall ranging from 15 to 25 in. [Space City Weather; National Weather Service] Image: National Weather Service

08/21/17 2:45pm

A SOUTHAMPTON BLOWUP OVER THE STATUE OF DICK DOWLING IN HERMANN PARK For the second time in 5 years, FBI and ATF officials on Sunday raided the house at 2025 Albans St. in search of explosives. Both ventures resulted in the arrest of one of its residents, now-25-year-old Andrew Cecil Earhart Schneck. Schneck, who was released from probation last year, had pled guilty in federal court 2 years earlier for knowingly storing explosives in the 2013 incident. He was arrested again this past Saturday night after a Houston park ranger reportedly found him kneeling in the bushes with tubes of nitroglycerin and the explosive HMTD, a timer, wires, a battery, and a detonator in front of the Carrara marble statue of Confederate commander and Houston saloon owner Richard Dowling. The statue was the first public artwork ever created by the city of Houston, and originally stood in Market Square outside of city hall when it was created in 1905. Albans St. and the alley to the south of it between Hazard and Wilton streets in Southampton have been under evacuation orders since Sunday, and gas service to the area has been turned off; law enforcement officials say they are working to “safely and properly dispose of” hazardous materials found inside the home “through a series of controlled detonations” — that may take place this afternoon. Nearby residents should expect to hear loud noises and smoke as a result of the detonations, they warn; there’s also a possibility of damage to adjacent properties. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of Richard Dowling statue at Hermann Park: Patrick Feller [license]

08/03/17 1:15pm

YOUR BEST SOURCE FOR WILLOWRIDGE HIGH MOLD INFESTATION UPDATES Curious about the extent of the mold found throughout Fort Bend ISD’s Willowridge High School this summer? Wondering if all the penicillium discovered on the campus at the tail end of Chimney Rock Rd. can be cleared out in time for the first day of school? As of today, there’s a new website for that: Check out this page for updates on remediation efforts; an accounting of band, JROTC, and athletic uniforms locked inside (they’ll be professionally cleaned); as well as a bit of backstory noting how investigators think the whole fungus fest began — after power was shut down in late June in advance of a planned construction project: “It is believed that the conditions outside (with increased humidity) combined with the fact that there was no A/C in the building factored into the rapid growth of the mold spores.” [Fort Bend ISD] Photo: Fort Bend ISD

07/10/17 11:45am

THE TIME MY BROTHER AND HIS FRIENDS ALMOST BLEW UP A GAS PIPELINE IN THE BAYOU One Houston summer in the early 1960s: “My brother and his friends were playing, pretending they were WWII soldiers and they were running around shooting fake machine guns and then they would go over and jump in the bayou pretending it was a foxhole. And I went over and I heard them talking . . . they were going to build their own bomb. And I told them you know you better not do that. . . . The next thing I know I see them in the garage and they’ve got a bunch of my dad’s leftover firecrackers and they’re splitting them open and pouring them into this big prescription bottle. I tried to find my mother. And she ended up being next door. When I ran next door I was standing in the backyard and I heard this loud boom and looked at where the explosion came from and it was right where my brother and his friends had been playing. I heard sirens in the distance and a helicopter started flying real low over the pipeline. . . . Shortly after that there was a knock at the door and it was the police. . . . they said that the magnitude of this explosion had blown an almost-6-ft.-deep hole right above the Shell gas pipeline [that ran along the bayou] and it could have blown up our whole neighborhood had it been a little bit more than that.” [Texas Standard] Photo: Adam Baker [license]