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 $6.6 million should be returned to its payers — and parceled off a dispute about attorneys’ fees into a separate case. The final judgment clears the way for the district to . “The district stands by its position that it is operating within its legal charter granted by the State of Texas,” a statement put out by the organization reads. “ appeal the ruling in state court, which it did yesterday No refunds for assessments collected in the West Montrose Management District (the only portion of the district under dispute in this legal action) will be made, pending the outcome of the current appeal.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Montrose Management District
2100 MEMORIAL’S EVICTION ORDER, COMPLETELY TRANSFORMED A statement from the Houston Housing Authority yesterday says it “i s making every effort to comply” with a judge’s ordering the public agency to fix the fire-safety systems at the 14-story temporary restraining order issued last week 2100 Memorial senior living apartment complex, test the building’s electrical transformers, and replace them if necessary. Judge Daryl Moore also prohibited the authority from terminating the leases of any of its tenants without demonstrating better cause than it has. An estimated 80 percent of the former Holiday Inn’s residents have already moved out. [Houston Chronicle; more; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Realtor.com
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW LAST NIGHT’S A$AP MOB SHOW ON THE WHITE OAK MUSIC HALL LAWN MIGHT’VE BROUGHT DOWN THE HOUSE VIDEO“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
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 . A notice delivered deliver their rent checks, Florian Martin reports 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
2100 MEMORIAL LAWSUIT: LET THESE PEOPLE STAY Three tenants of the Sixth Ward senior housing facility known as 2100 Memorial , a day before Saturday’s filed suit against the Houston Housing Authority on Friday 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
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, . [Community Impact; notify your insurance provider of your claims before the law goes into effect, and document your correspondence Texas Tribune; Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog] Photo:
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
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 ; the filing claims that the district has been trying to dissolve the district, which proponents say has garnered signatures from property owners of about 80% of the district’s land area 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
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
HARRIS COUNTY GETTING IN ON THE PASADENA REFINERY AIR POLLUTION LAWSUIT ACTION In the wake of the lawsuit the Sierra Club and Environment Texas filed last week alleging that the century-old has violated the federal Clean Air Act some Pasadena Refining System plant 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 Swamplot] Photo of Pasadena Refinery Systems, Inc. plant at 111 Red Bluff Rd.: Center for Land Use Interpretation ( license)
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
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHERE THE RUNOFF TAX FLOWS MATTERS LESS THAN COLLECTING IT “Just collecting the tax on impermeable surfaces is valuable on its own. It makes landowners think twice about creating (or even keeping) flood-worsening pavement. Where the money goes sort of morally determines whether the fee is a form of legally-imposed direct responsibility for flood costs, or just pure financial disincentive that helps the city with flood costs or whatever else — it would be better with the spending restriction, but I’ll gladly take either one.” [ Sid, commenting on City Loses Latest Appeal on 2010 Drainage Fee Election] Map of past, ongoing, and planned drainage and street projects: ReBuild Houston interactive map
CITY LOSES LATEST APPEAL ON 2010 DRAINAGE FEE ELECTION This week the state’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals upheld a 2015 ruling calling for a new election on the ReBuild Houston drainage and road-fixup fee. As in another local case involving charter invalidation and large sums of collected assessment money, the city is mulling over further appeal options, though the case’s last trip to the Texas Supreme Court didn’t go in the city’s favor. The Chronicle‘s Katherine Driessen also writes that the fund’s future is now . [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] murky: the decision doesn’t stop the city from collecting the fee for now, since that collection was authorized through another city ordinance — it may, however, remove restrictions on how the money can be used Map of past, ongoing, and planned drainage and street projects: ReBuild Houston interactive map
HOUSTON-TO-DALLAS BULLET TRAIN PUTTING THE BRAKES ON ALL THOSE LAWSUITS The company planning to build a bullet train between Houston and Dallas appears to be altering the legal strategy it had been using to try to get landowners to allow crews on their land to survey property along the proposed 240-mile route. Texas Tribune reporter Brandon Formby says Texas Central Partners has (including one in Harris County that withdrawn 17 lawsuits across the state had a trial scheduled for July) and settled 21 others that had sought court-ordered access. Officials of the private company now say they will seek an “open dialogue” with property owners about letting crews in. The company tells Formby it has already reached land-purchase options with more than 3,000 landowners, accounting for 30 percent of the total number of parcels it needs, and 50 percent in the 2 counties along the route adjacent to Harris County: Grimes and Waller. The company announced last week that the train is now expected to begin operating in 2023. [Texas Tribune; Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot] Map of proposed high-speed rail routes: Texas Central Railway
WHITE OAK MUSIC HALL’S OUTDOOR SOUNDMAKING CAPPED UNTIL TRIAL IN MAY The judge judging the lawsuit filed by some Near Northside residents against White Oak Music Hall has issued another temporary injunction this week, this time limiting the venue to no more than 2 events on the venue’s outdoor Lawn area between now and May 15th, according to a document filed with the county clerk’s office. That means the Pixies show recently announced for April will still happen as planned (though the venue will have to pay for sound monitoring to prove they’re not passing city decibel limits, or cranking up the bass more than the order allows). Chris Gray writes that outdoor shows at the . [Houston Press; Raven Tower aren’t affected, as long as they comply with the volume and vibration metrics; a press release from the venue says all the indoor shows at both venues are still on as well previously on Swamplot] Image of map submitted in Theresa Cavin et al v. White Oak Events, LLC: Harris County District Clerk’s office