01/04/17 3:00pm

Former Houston Chronicle Building, 801 Texas Ave., Downtown, Houston, 77002

El Big Bad’s corner at Travis and Prairie streets now provides a view straight into (and even through) some long-hidden interior sections of the former Houston Chronicle headquarters at 801 Texas Ave. The building — or, rather, group of buildings bundled together behind in a single mid-1960’s skin — has been coming down gently since the judge for the Hines-Hearst-Linbeck tunnel lawsuit gave the okay over the summer. Most of the 10-story original section of the relocated paper’s former headquarters, on the south side of the block facing Texas Ave. at the Travis corner, has already been removed; a reader snapped the shot above yesterday, as what’s left of the complex was being draped in black again for the next phase of the pull-apart.

Photo: Christine Wilson

Shrunken Headquarters
12/21/16 5:15pm

HIGH SPEED RAIL CASE HEADS TO TRIAL Proposed High Speed Rail Routes MapA trial has been set for July 3rd for the case over the would-be bullet train between Houston and Dallas, Kyle Hagerty reports today. Judge Halbach denied bullet train developer Texas Central a preliminary injunction it had requested, which would have forced some unenthused landowners along the proposed rail route to allow the company surveying access to their properties. The surveying is only one of the hangups currently facing the project; in addition to delays on the project’s environmental impact studies, Hagerty writes that the rail company “admitted to having less than 1 percent of funding needed for the project,” and notes that the estimated completion date has been scooted back from 2021 to 2022. [Houston BisNow; previously on Swamplot] Map of proposed high speed rail routes: Texas Central

12/21/16 1:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: COMPARING THE INGREDIENTS IN HOUSTON’S NIMBY STANCES White Oak Music Hall Lawsuit Map, Near Northside“Just amazing what our city can do in [terms of] jeopardizing huge sums of taxpayer money to help Southampton fight off developers and laughable amounts of ‘increased traffic’ — and then turn a blind eye to communities having to do garage and bake sales just to fight to keep their children’s sanity and dignity.” [joel, commenting on Ban and Bake Sale for White Oak Music Hall; Hurricane Ike’s Last Blue Tarps] White Oak Music Hall lawsuit map: Harris County District Clerk’s office

12/20/16 10:45am

Montrose Management District marker, W. Dallas at Montrose

Montrose Management District marker, W. Dallas at MontroseThe Montrose Management District reports that the first of its shiny new neighborhood marker signs went up over the weekend at Montrose Blvd. and Dallas St., despite the recent movement in the ongoing lawsuit between the organization and the group of property owners petitioning to dissolve it. The case, which was filed in 2012, is still open, though the judge recently filed a handful of findings and judgment documents stating that not all of the signatures that went into forming the district were valid, and that the agency must pay back the $6.5 million it’s collected since then. The district has said it has no plans to do that any time soon, and intends to keep on keepin’ on until any appeals wrap up, which could be years from now.

The signage is part of the sundry prettification projects the district has planned for the neighborhood, which include redoing the colored lighting on the bridges over US 59 — thanks to a funding assist from the city, TxDOT, and the Houston Galveston Area Council:

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Sightings on W. Dallas
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

12/15/16 12:30pm

womh-lawsuit-map-large

A lawsuit filed yesterday by a group of 9 residents of the area around White Oak Music Hall asks for both a temporary and permanent stop on the construction and permitting of the permanent outdoor stage planned for the venue, as well as its required entourage of new bathrooms. The suit also asks for a stop on all other amplified outdoor events at the complex (including those on the other smaller outdoor stages by bar-on-a-stick Raven Tower), and for damages related to noise nuisance issues — allegedly including sleep deprivation and bass-fueled vibrations strong enough to rattle windows and picture frames. (There’s also an affidavit from a schoolteacher in support of the plaintiffs’ contention that a neighborhood child diagnosed with a specific condition has been suffering panic attacks directly related to the noise.)

The map above of the area around Little White Oak Bayou‘s I-45 crossunder was included with the group’s filing. The map shows the 2-part venue’s stages in red and Raven Tower in its signature blue, along with some quarter-mile radius circles drawn over the sea of orange residential land; pink is for parking lots, and yellow shows the venue’s Lawn area.

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Stage Fight
12/08/16 11:00am

20706 Vanderwick Dr., Katy, TX, 77450

20706 Vanderwick Dr., Katy, TX, 77450

The speckles above on the tile floor at 20706 Vanderwick Dr. in Katy are some of the stragglers left behind by a surprise termite swarm early this year, according to a lawyer for the new owners. Todd and Carla Greene, who bought the 1982 home in September, are currently suing Texas Certified Home Inspection, which purportedly inspected the kitchen for wood-chewing critters at the end of August prior to the sale closing. The couple alleges that Carla was using the stove in the kitchen about 6 months later (a few days after the pair’s March move-in) when thousands of insects began to emerge from multiple kitchen drawers and cabinets; the shots above were taken after the action died down.

Per the University of Kentucky’s entomology folks, the termite exodus was right on time. The couple hired an exterminator, who found several areas of extensive wood damage around the kitchen — here’s a shot inside the vent in the island stove:

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Unwelcoming Committee
12/01/16 11:00am

Montrose Management District boundaries

Montrose District Bike Houston Bike Rack, Montrose, HoustonA judge in Texas’s 333rd district court signed off on a finding this week siding with the plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging that the Montrose Management District has been illegally levying taxes within its boundaries (shaded in blue above). Per state law the district only needed 25 signatures from would-be affected property owners to form in 2011; the case went to court back in 2012 after around 988 other property owners within those boundaries signed petitions to shut the district down.

The court’s freshly filed judgement document says that the formation of the district required the initial sign-on of 25 property owners who would be subject to the taxation by the new district; the court ruled that although the district did have 26 signatures, 3 of those folks weren’t actually taxed for all of the years the district has been in operation — dropping the number of valid signatures down to 23, and rendering the basis for the district’s authority moot. The judge also says the district must now pay back the money collected so far — around $6.59 million.

Map and photo: Montrose Management District

Taxing Outcome
11/29/16 11:00am

San Jacinto River at I-10 Crossing, Channelview, TX 77530

Weather permitting, an area along the edge of the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund site under the I-10 East bridge should be getting around 800 cubic feet of new rocks piled onto it this week and next, according to this month’s EPA update on the project. The agency asked International Paper and McGinnis (which might be on the hook financially for much of the final cleanup) to cover up some recently-discovered areas of the nearby riverbed that were scoured as deep as 8 feet in some places by this spring‘s torrential flooding; the tarp-with-rocks-on-it armored cap itself doesn’t appear to have been damaged, but the EPA says the extra rocks will help ensure its continued protectiveness.

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Armor Under I-10
10/17/16 11:00am

JUDGE TO SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE OF LAW: NOPE, SWITCH YOUR NAME BACK UNTIL UH LAWSUIT IS OVER 1303 San Jacinto St., Downtown, Houston, 77002On Friday a judge issued a temporary injunction on South Texas College of Law’s sudden June rebranding, agreeing that the University of Houston has a point that the new name (Houston College of Law) and new color scheme (red and white) might be a bit confusing. Gabrielle Banks reports that the 2 schools will get together on Wednesday to talk through the name-change reversal; UH’s legal team notes that South Texas will have to “remove their billboards, change their website, remove merchandise from stores and change their name [back] in the American Bar Association database” — at least until the lawsuit (filed less than a week after the name change was first announced) wraps up. [Houston Chronicle; previously on SwamplotPhoto of South Texas College of Law at 1303 San Jacinto St.: South Texas College of Law

09/29/16 2:45pm

San Jacinto River at I-10 Crossing, Channelview, TX 77530

Aerial View with Delineated San Jacinto Waste Pits Cap, I-10 at San Jacinto RiverYesterday the EPA released their recommendations for what to do about the toxic muck in the San Jacinto Waste Pits, after more than a decade of local and federal agencies poking and fishing around in the area (on either side of the I-10 crossing of the river). So far the Superfund site has been temporarily dealt with by the 2011 placement of a pretty-much-just-a-tarp-with-rocks-over-it armored cap, which the EPA says has already been repaired at least 7 times; the document released yesterday notes, however, that disturbances at the site caused by weather and previous nearby sand mining operations “could cause a catastrophic release of the highly toxic waste materials from the impoundments, if they remain in place.

The EPA wants to remove about 202,000 cubic yards of contaminated material (roughly enough to fill the floor of the Astrodome with a 13-foot-deep layer) but says it’ll have to be done carefully so as not to accidentally stir up the waste into the surrounding river while trying to get it out; the removal would also probably take place in stages to avoid potentially exposing too much of the waste at a time to storms or flooding. Here’s the EPA’s map of the 2 sites where the paper sludge was originally dumped in the 1960s — the (capped) northern area is outlined in blue and labeled Cap Site, while the southern site (outlined in yellow and labled Southern Impoundment) is covered in part by the Glendale Boatworks building, next to Southwest Shipyard:

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Not Keeping a Lid on It
09/15/16 2:45pm

O'Quinn Medical Building, 6624 Fannin St., Medical Center, Houston, 77030

The double hypodermic needles atop the Cesar Pelli-designed O’Quinn Medical Building have just gotten brightened up: a lighting designer from FUSE sends Swamplot these bare-all shots of the Madonna tower’s roof following the company’s just-wrapped installation of a new LED setup around the tips. Down below, Texas Children’s Hospital announced earlier this week that it has bought the tower from Baylor-slash-St.-Luke’s, along with a Baylor outpatient clinic down the street. Texas Children’s told the Chronicle that it isn’t planning to boot tenants until they can move into that under construction campus on Cambridge St., somewhere around 2020.

Nor does the new owner have plans to change the tower’s name right away — though many of the physicians who petitioned against the building’s O’Quinn christening in 2005 aren’t likely to mind if they do. At the time, dozens of doctors signed a document insisting that the current namesake, Houston’s own John O’Quinn (of fen-phen and breast implant lawsuit fame), “bears partial responsibility for the litigious environment in which we work,” and that it was offensive “to have money we earned — and which he took by suing us — going to name after him a medical building in which we work every day.”

The sunset shot above looks west across the Rice campus (that’s the stadium that played backdrop to JFK’s go-to-the-moon speech, given 54 years ago this past Monday, on the right above the octagonal base); the itty-bitty silhouette of the distant Williams Tower can be seen poking up from the horizon on the left. Here’s the tip itself, so close you can almost see the filament in the flashing bulb:

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Feeling Shiny and New on Fannin
09/09/16 5:45pm

CONN’S SLOWS GROWTH, LOOKS TO SQUEEZE MORE FROM DEBT COLLECTION, MATTRESSES 11051 Northwest Fwy., Spring Branch East, Houston, 77092Previously investigated home appliance and furniture retailer Conn’s is slowing down on plans to add new stores in the wake of the quarterly net losses announced yesterday, Mike D. Smith writes this afternoon. The Woodlands-based national chain (which has about 20 Houston area locations and 55 in Texas) has scaled back expansion plans to adding just 3 stores next fiscal year, despite grander talk last December. Among the initiatives in the works to boost profits: pushing the store’s mix of goods toward more higher-margin items like furniture and mattresses. Also on the list: boosting customers’ interest rates on in-house loans repayments and adding more months to payback plans. National retail consultant Howard Davidowitz tells Smith that both ideas look like steps toward a more sustainable business model for the company (which has been threatened with a class action lawsuit by its investors for allegedly hiding profit losses caused by targeting customers with lower credit scores): “The reality is, that’s how people live,” Davidowitz said. “The question is, ‘How much am I paying every month?’ And that’s going to determine in their minds whether they can afford it.” [Houston Chronicle] Photo of Conn’s at 11051 Hwy. 290 in Spring Branch: Conn’s 

09/07/16 4:15pm

Ashby Highrise Site, 1717 Bissonnet St. at Ashby St., Boulevard Oaks, Houston

The gates are wide open this afternoon at 1717 Bissonnet, notes Mike Bloom, who sends along a few pictures of today’s excavator-vs-concrete action at the scene. Some workers and some pipes can be seen hanging around as the operator cracks into a bit of former parking lot on the northwest corner (a survivor of the Maryland Manor demolition back in 2013).

And a permit related to foundation and sitework were issued this week, following the smattering issued for some electrical and fire line work back before June’s appeal ruling (which declared that the surrounding neighborhood can’t be awarded damages for a project that hasn’t actually been built yet.) Might some deeper digging be on the way?

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Stirrings at 1717 Bissonnet
08/30/16 5:30pm

Billboards and signs near Gulfgate, Houston, 77087

In the wake of a multi-year legal tiff between TxDOT and an Austin-based real estate company over a freestanding Ron Paul 2012 sign outside of an erotica shop on Hwy. 71, a district appeals court has just struck down central parts of the Texas Highway Beautification Act, Dug Begley reports today. The ruling may have eventual implications for city makeover enthusiast Scenic Houston’s long-term de-billboarding quest, and comes right on the heels of the announcement last week that an additional 13 signs around Houston would be coming down.

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Signs of the Times