04/06/18 1:00pm

A LAWSUIT OVER RIVERSTONE’S VANISHED LEVEE More than 400 residents of Fort Bend County’s Riverstone development — between Hwy. 6 and the Brazos River — are suing the engineering firm that designed their stormwater systems, alleging that the design left one portion of the community flooded by the runoff from the other during Harvey. The roughly 3,700-acre area is divided into 2 Levee Improvement Districts — LID 19 (shaded blue on the map) and 15. “It became very clear when we passed into LID 15 that something was not right,” one LID 19 homeowner said in a press conference. “We were inundated with water in our neighborhood, and just on the other side of the street everything seemed to be perfectly fine.” Both LIDs were designed by Costello, Inc. the company founded by Houston’s flood czar Steve Costello. (He’s said he divested from it in 2015.) That firm’s failure to consider what would happen when a levee that ran between the 2 districts — along Hagerson Rd. — was removed is what downstreamers say is to blame for much of their soggy state. In total, reports the Chronicle’s Rebecca Elliott, about a third of the 1,760 homes in LID 19 flooded. [Houston Chronicle] Map of Riverstone LIDs 15 and 19: Riverstone LIDs

03/29/18 2:30pm

GARDEN OAKS MAINTENANCE ORGANIZATION LIKELY TO FILE FOR BANKRUPTCY ON ACCOUNT OF ALL THAT MONEY IT HAS IN THE BANK The Garden Oaks Maintenance Organization has hired a law firm to handle an anticipated bankruptcy filing — which could come as soon as Monday, reports The Leader’s Jonathan McElvy. Two years ago, a lawsuit that the organization had filed to enforce its deed restrictions against a pair of homeowners backfired when the court ruled that GOMO itself had not been formed legally. (An appeals court has since ruled that it does still have power to enforce the neighborhood’s bylaws.) As a result, in the wake of the initial ruling, “every dollar GOMO spends now could be challenged in court,” writes McElvy. With close to $600,000 in its bank account, GOMO now appears to face 2 options, he notes: “Either the board disbands and lets a judge tell them how to disburse that money, or they try a legal maneuver that seeks a judge’s permission to reorganize, so they can continue operations as the gatekeeper of Garden Oaks.” If this story sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it is. GOMO’s predecessor entity was disbanded before the current organization began in 2001 because it was, McElvy says, “formed illegally, as well.” [The Leader; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox

03/08/18 11:00am

Make no mistake about the signage now up along Hwy. 6 across Schiller Dr. from the Aldi near Westpark: the travel stop it’s announcing is Nebraska-born Bucky’s — not the Texan Buc-ee’s. Construction vehicles are now pushing dirt around west of the Highway 6 RV Resort where the new complex plans to go.

Last year, Buc-ee’s filed a lawsuit against Bucky’s to stop the transplant from moving ahead with plans to build at least 6 new Houston-area locations. One Bucky’s is now open on NASA Pkwy. in Nassau Bay, but besides that, all other operational Bucky’ses are currently out of state: in Omaha, St. Louis, and the Chicago area.

Across the street, Twistee Treat Westpark is flanked by Golden Corral and a Take 5 Oil Change, and backed up by a Palace Inn:

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The Buc Stops Here
02/05/18 10:00am

I-45 STRIP CLUB SAYS HPD’S 3-FT. DEAL WITH COMPETITORS IS DRIVING IT OUT OF BUSINESS A new lawsuit filed by Fantasy Plaza — just south of North Bank Rd. at 8503 N. Fwy. — accuses the city and other strip clubs of working together on what Fantasy claims “amounts to a commercial bribery scheme.” Five years ago, 16 of Fantasy Plaza’s competitors — some of which had been accused of facilitating human trafficking — settled a series of lawsuits with the city. As part of the settlement, the clubs agreed to get rid of their “VIP rooms” and also “to donate annually to a fund that maintains a Houston Police Department unit dedicated to investigating human trafficking,” writes the Chronicle’s Francisca Ortega. The clubs now pool together at least $1 million each year for the fund. In return, HPD agreed not to enforce a law that prohibited topless dancers from coming within 3 ft. of customers — but only for the 16 clubs making payments. Fantasy Plaza wasn’t one of them. Now, according to the club’s suit: “Because Fantasy Plaza must abide by city law, Fantasy Plaza cannot compete for customers in the same manner as the Clubs. This has caused-and will continue to cause, Fantasy Plaza to lose business and ultimately fail.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Fantasy Plaza

11/03/17 2:00pm

MONTROSE DISTRICT APPEALING JUDGE’S ORDER TO RETURN $6.6 MILLION IT COLLECTED FROM LOCAL BUSINESSES The new judge now in charge of the 5-year-old lawsuit against the 6-year-old Montrose Management District earlier this week affirmed the decision announced by his predecessor late last year — that the taxes the group imposed on the West Montrose Management District were not validly assessed, and that all $6.6 million should be returned to its payers — and parceled off a dispute about attorneys’ fees into a separate case. The final judgment clears the way for the district to appeal the ruling in state court, which it did yesterday. “The district stands by its position that it is operating within its legal charter granted by the State of Texas,” a statement put out by the organization reads. “No refunds for assessments collected in the West Montrose Management District (the only portion of the district under dispute in this legal action) will be made, pending the outcome of the current appeal.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Montrose Management District

11/02/17 12:45pm

2100 MEMORIAL’S EVICTION ORDER, COMPLETELY TRANSFORMED A statement from the Houston Housing Authority yesterday says it “is making every effort to comply” with a judge’s temporary restraining order issued last week ordering the public agency to fix the fire-safety systems at the 14-story 2100 Memorial senior living apartment complex, test the building’s electrical transformers, and replace them if necessary. Judge Daryl Moore also prohibited the authority from terminating the leases of any of its tenants without demonstrating better cause than it has. An estimated 80 percent of the former Holiday Inn’s residents have already moved out. [Houston Chronicle; more; previously on SwamplotPhoto: Realtor.com  

10/20/17 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW LAST NIGHT’S A$AP MOB SHOW ON THE WHITE OAK MUSIC HALL LAWN MIGHT’VE BROUGHT DOWN THE HOUSE “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. WOMH should cut a deal fast to make major sound mitigation improvements before the court and the City shuts them down. People on both sides of I-45 are hopping mad about the concert last night. It is a huge roll of the dice to expect a bunch of jurors to say: ‘Yeah, a big concert venue in the middle of a residential neighborhood is no big deal.’” [Old School, commenting on FEMA Aid Deadline Extended; Pre-Trial Outdoor Shows Can Go On at White Oak Music Hall; Hakeem Olajuwon in the Red Mango Biz] Video clip of last night’s outdoor concert (NSFW): FIRST CLASS BEATS

10/03/17 5:00pm

2100 MEMORIAL RESIDENTS PROTEST BY PAYING THEIR RENT, STAYING HOME Singing “We shall not be moved,” a group of residents remaining at the 2100 Memorial senior-living apartments just west of Downtown marched into the 14-story building’s leasing office one by one today to deliver their rent checks, Florian Martin reports. A notice delivered 15 days ago to residents of the tax-credit facility owned by the Houston Housing Authority gave them 5 days to move out of the building, but a spokesperson later told Swamplot that the authority would not enforce that deadline. In the meantime, a lawsuit filed just before the move-out date seeking to force the authority both to make repairs to the electrical system and to allow residents to remain in their homes has been revised and expanded to 17 named resident plaintiffs. Flooding compromised the former Holiday Inn building’s fire-safety and electrical systems; the Housing Authority says it is working with residents to find them new places to live. [Houston Public Media; previously on Swamplot] Photo: 2100 Memorial

09/25/17 12:15pm

2100 MEMORIAL LAWSUIT: LET THESE PEOPLE STAY Three tenants of the Sixth Ward senior housing facility known as 2100 Memorial filed suit against the Houston Housing Authority on Friday, a day before Saturday’s unenforced deadline for all residents to leave the building. Acting for the tenants, Lone Star Legal Aid claims the agency violated the rights of the building’s residents by failing to hold a hearing in which tenants could contest the decision. The agency has not given residents “any evidence to support any of the allegations of unreasonable danger which rendered the apartments uninhabitable,” the lawsuit claims. Although the building’s first floor flooded, the tenants’ apartments suffered “little, or no, damage” from the storms, the lawsuit states. Lone Star Legal Aid claims the lawsuit means the HHA will now have to “produce the facts that support its decision.” [Lone Star Legal Aid; KHOU; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Realtor.com  

08/28/17 12:30pm

WHY YOU MIGHT WANT TO FILE YOUR HARVEY INSURANCE CLAIMS BEFORE FRIDAY Suffered property damage from Hurricane Harvey and have access to a smartphone, computer, pen and paper, or your insurance agent? Forget about waiting for waters to recede before filing any insurance claim. You’ll want to do it now — or at least before Friday. What’s the rush? The new Texas law formerly known as House Bill 1774, passed by the Texas Legislature this session and signed by Governor Abbott in May, goes into effect on September 1. The “hailstorm lawsuit reform” measure reduces property owners’ leverage with insurance companies in weather-related claims — by making it more difficult for homeowners to sue agents successfully, increasing the obstacles to filing and carrying through with lawsuits over insurance coverage, and limiting the penalties insurance companies could face if they lose a lawsuit against you. To prevent your coverage from falling under these stipulations, notify your insurance provider of your claims before the law goes into effect, and document your correspondence. [Community Impact; Texas Tribune; Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog] Photo: Randy Poole  

06/29/17 4:45pm

Note: Story updated below.

A couple of days after a lawyer from Zillow sent McMansion Hell author Kate Wagner a letter demanding she take down from her website all the images of homes she’d ever found on the real estate listings aggregator site and artfully marked up with satirical commentary, an attorney from the Electronic Freedom Foundation has responded with an artful letter on Wagner’s behalf and a blog post of its own. (And it’s perhaps worth noting that in creating the delightful graphic above to illustrate its no-can-do response to Zillow’s threat to sue, the foundation itself chose to work from a Creative Commons image.) Writes EFF’s Daniel Nazer: “Using humor and parody, Wagner tries to illustrate the architectural horror of modern McMansions. . . . Importantly, Zillow does not own, and cannot assert, the copyright in these photos. But even if it could, McMansion Hell’s annotation of photographs for the purpose of criticism and commentary is a classic example of fair use.

So what’s the fallout?

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Fair McMansion Use
06/13/17 1:30pm

FINGER COMPANY POKES INTO THE MONTROSE DISTRICT LAWSUIT FRAY A corporate appendage of the Finger Companies has filed a document to add itself as a plaintiff to one of the lawsuits trying to shut down the Montrose Management District, Nancy Sarnoff reports this week for the Chronicle. The company’s Museum Tower along Montrose Blvd. sits a few blocks south of US 59 in a narrow south-pointing offshoot of the district’s boundaries, making it one of the property owners assessed a regular tax; Sarnoff writes that Finger’s new filing zeroes in on that 2016 petition to dissolve the district, which proponents say has garnered signatures from property owners of about 80% of the district’s land area; the filing claims that the district has been trying to invalidate individual signatures in an effort to bring that total back down below the required threshold for dissolution. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Museum Tower

04/24/17 11:00am

Demolition of Houston Chronicle Building 801 Texas Ave., Downtown Houston

That’s pretty much it for the surface-dwelling sections of the Houston Chronicle‘s former bundle of headquarters structures at 801 Texas Ave. — a reader captured the minor dustup above on Friday, and activity on the site is now mostly at or below ground level. Work to shore up the section of basement the district court ordered Hines’s Block 58 to leave behind (for tunnel use by Linbeck-controlled neighbor and plaintiff Theater Square) was mostly wrapped up last fall, according to some December court filings.

Other documents filed as part of the case show that the legal compromise set up last summer (which allowed the demo of the Chronicle building to go forward after all) has hit a few bumps since then: Theater Square filed a motion to find Block 58 in contempt of court late last year, and a trial appears to be scheduled for June.

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Texas Ave. Tunnel Tussle
03/07/17 4:30pm

HARRIS COUNTY GETTING IN ON THE PASADENA REFINERY AIR POLLUTION LAWSUIT ACTION Pasadena Refinery System plant at 111 Red Bluff Rd., Pasadena, TX 77506In the wake of the lawsuit the Sierra Club and Environment Texas filed last week alleging that the century-old Pasadena Refining System plant has violated the federal Clean Air Act some thousands of times, Harris County attorney Vince Ryan has filed another suit against the plant.  This one’s to do with the facility allegedly breaking state level environmental laws, Diana Wray writes in this week’s Houston Press; incidents of particular note include last summer’s major sulfur dioxide leak, which briefly shut down both the nearby Washburn Tunnel and the rest of the Ship Channel (while sending Galena Park into duck-and-cover mode). Wray writes that both lawsuits seem mostly geared toward getting the plant to clean up its act; each suit also has the potential to require that some kind of compliance watchdog or overseer be assigned to plant to ensure that it’s doing so. [Houston Press; previously on SwamplotPhoto of Pasadena Refinery Systems, Inc. plant at 111 Red Bluff Rd.: Center for Land Use Interpretation (license)

02/16/17 11:15am

Uptown MD and TIRZ 16 Boundaries

A new lawsuit was filed yesterday against TIRZ 16, the Uptown Development Authority, and the city, alleging that the creation of the reinvestment zone in the Galleria area was in violation of Texas law, since the zone can’t reasonably be considered “unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted.” Rather, the filing claims, the city ordinance that originally created the TIRZ used the justification that the Uptown area needed traffic decongestion to avoid losing its status as one of the wealthiest districts in the city, and to avoid draining business to the city’s ever-expanding suburban fringe. A hearing is going on today over a possible injunction on further spending or work on Uptown projects, and Mike Morris says that city council delayed a vote yesterday on allowing Uptown an additional $65 million in debt.

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Uptown Up for Trial