04/25/18 12:00pm

CITY COUNCIL APPROVES MUD FOR 800 NEW HOMES ON PINE CREST GOLF COURSE Houston’s city council voted today to approve a proposal to create a municipal utility district for an 800-house development Meritage Homes wants to build on the former Pine Crest Golf Course. The golf course, which lies within the 100-year floodplain, is located at the corner of Gessner and Clay in the Brickhouse Gully watershed — where 2,300 residential structures flooded during Harvey. Today’s vote was on a proposal identical to one that was considered by the council last October but instead referred to the mayor’s office for further review. A representative of Meritage Homes told the Chronicle following the initial proposal that it would publish an analysis of “where or how floodwaters would flow across the surrounding land” after construction. But it later decided not to — reported the Chronicle’s Mike Morris — claiming that such a study would have been “irrelevant” in light of the city’s new standards for building in floodplains. A no vote by city council today would not have necessarily killed the project, council member Brenda Stardig noted to Morris — although it would have forced Meritage to find an alternate source of funding for the neighborhood’s infrastructure. The developer bought the 150-acre former golf course from MetroNational last year. [Houston Chronicle; more; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Meritage Homes

04/23/18 4:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE SELF-DRIVING BUS ASPHALT PALIMPSEST CHALLENGE “Have any readers here taken the [southbound] exit off of 59 to the West Loop lately? If some hypothetical autonomous driving system could navigate that tangle of past and present lane markings, then they might just have something to build on.” [TimP, commenting on METRO Now Testing Out Self-Driving Buses for Houston] Photo: Roy Luck [license]

04/20/18 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: FROM THE DOWNTOWN DAYS INN WATCH TEAM “Before I left work, a guy was at the very top pulling a long rope he had tied to a wooden structure hanging on the corner of the building. It looks like a homemade trebuchet. I’ll keep posting updates if anything major happens; hell, it’s in my sight line all day.” [Kim, commenting on Cleanup Crews Now Polishing Downtown Houston’s Most Famous Abandoned Building] Photo of former Days Inn at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy.: Guy Mahaffey

04/19/18 3:45pm

METRO NOW TESTING OUT SELF-DRIVING BUSES FOR HOUSTON Preliminary tests of the new autonomous buses METRO is studying for potential use in Houston have gone well so far, agency board member Sanhjay Ramabhadran said at a luncheon in Cy-Fair on Tuesday — “although,” he added, “they tend to overheat in the Texas weather.” The next test phase, METRO spokesperson Jerome Gray tells abc13, “will be on the campus of Texas Southern University with a small bus at slow speeds.” If it goes well, a prototype could then graduate to real traffic. Last January, the U.S. Department of Transportation named Houston one of 10 official proving grounds for driverless buses “in part for its miles of HOV lanes that could easily work as testing lanes.” [abc13] Photo: METRO

04/19/18 1:00pm

Crescent Communities sent a letter last week to all residents of The Georgian apartments at 2511 Willowick, just north of Westheimer, letting them know that they’ll be kicked out of the complex in 6 months. The existing 114 units — home to residents over 55 — will be torn down and replaced with what the letter describes as “a new apartment building with integrated retail.” Crescent closed on the 53-year-old complex in 2015 after the purchase stalled the previous year.

Obviously, the redevelopment of this site will require you to find a new home, and we are dedicated to assisting in this transition,” reads the letter. To that end, the owner is letting people out of their leases early, offering some financial assistance to relocate, and “engaging a relocation specialist to assist residents.” The final move out date is October 15.

At the northern end of the 3.4-acre property, townhouses line Wickersham Ln.:

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Aged Out of Highland Village
04/19/18 11:30am

CLEANUP CREWS NOW POLISHING DOWNTOWN HOUSTON’S MOST FAMOUS ABANDONED BUILDING A reader in the KBR Tower 2 blocks east of the former Days Inn at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy. reports sightings of several different crews that have appeared outside the north face of the hotel within the past week. A pair of crane trucks have been parked at the foot of the hotel’s garage, and a swing-stage scaffold is hanging near the top of the podium. Also noted: Workers have cleared out debris from inside the garage, and accumulated trash has been removed from the pool of the 31-story hotel-turned-Vedic-school. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Kimberly Knight

04/18/18 3:00pm

NASA TO STUDY HOW LOUD SUPERSONIC JET GETS BY FLYING OVER GALVESTON Lockheed Martin is pitching its planned supersonic passenger plane as the quietest yet — despite its top speed of 940 mph. The company says a prototype will be ready within the next few years. But NASA won’t wait that long to find out how loud it’ll be: “the government agency will use an F/A-18 Hornet aircraft to replicate the softer sonic boom and measure how receptive Galvestonians will be,” reports the Chronicle‘s Andrea Rumbaugh. After lifting off from Ellington Airport, the plane will dive down at a 53-degree angle off the Galveston coast, breaking the sound barrier as it does. “Most of that sound will go toward the water,” writes Rumbaugh. But when it pulls up, “some of the sound will travel toward Galveston. By the time it reaches the island, it will be at the sound level expected from NASA’s X-plane.” Five hundred chosen residents and a handful of sound monitors will listen up for 10 non-consecutive days in November and provide feedback on the noise level — which NASA’s project manager says shouldn’t be that bad: “If a traditional sonic boom is hearing a thunderstorm directly overhead,” he explains “then the new reduced sonic boom will be like hearing a storm rumble far in the distance.” [Houston Chronicle ($)] Rendering of Low Boom Flight Demonstration X-plane: NASA

04/17/18 5:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE CITY SHOULD HAVE BEEN BUYING PARK SPACE SOONER “Back in the Mayor Parker days, the city would just take the green space fees and use them to plug holes in HPARD’s budget. As was typical for the time, the reasoning from the Parker administration was basically: ‘Nothing says we can’t do that.’ Sadly, back then, market value was about half of what it currently is in the Heights and other hot markets in town where larger tracts are becoming exceedingly rare. Many opportunities to add park space were missed.” [Old School, commenting on A New Heights Park for the Shuttered Bus Stop on N. Main?] Illustration: Lulu

04/17/18 4:30pm

AFTER HARVEY, WILL KINGWOOD PROPERTY TAXES BE ENOUGH TO FUND A NEW EVACUATION ROUTE? What would it take to turn Northpark Dr. into an all-weather evacuation route for Kingwood? “We’re going to have to bring it up out of that [floodplain],” TIRZ 10 consultant Ralph De Leon tells the Chronicle‘s Melainie Feuk, “which means the road’s going to have to come up.” The goal: “In a Harvey-like event, the road will still be passable and you can move people from the back of Kingwood to 69,” says city councilmember Dave Martin. TIRZ 10 had planned to issue bonds to fund a mile-and-a quarter segment of the project — between Russell Palmer Rd. and the Eastex Fwy. — but hit a snag. “Our big holdup,” TIRZ chairman Stan Sarman now says, “is waiting to see what’s going to happen to the appraised value.” Still in the works: the TIRZ’s funding application for the other portion of the road — east to Woodland Hills Dr. — which it plans to send in to the Houston Galveston Area Council sometime between June and July.  [Houston Chronicle] Map of Northpark Dr. between Eastex Fwy. and Woodland Hills Dr.: Houston City Council

04/05/18 4:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: BACK TO NATURE “Cities with a ‘home flood rate’ of over 25 percent — like Bellaire — should really consider mandatory green space, meaning some property owners simply cannot rebuild. Tough in the short term but the city can front good money to buy them out . . . because all that park land, trails, fishing, sports fields will pay back multi-fold when these communities are Edens in the midst of a major city.” [movocelot, commenting on Bellaire’s Flooded Home Count; Chicken Salad Chain Making Houston Debut] Illustration: Lulu

03/30/18 12:00pm

KHOU READY TO JOIN GALLERIA OFFICE BUILDING MIX KHOU will soon join the company of the Egyptian Consulate, Houston Sabercats Rugby team office, financial firms, energy companies, and attorneys in the new studio it has planned in the 22-story highrise on the corner of Westheimer and Bering Dr. The move will be a big change for the news organization — which evacuated its standalone 58-year-old building on the south side of Allen Pkwy. during Harvey and moved temporarily into Houston Public Media’s office on Elgin St. A recent renovation on the 5718 Westheimer tower (formerly known as Capital One Plaza) added landscaping to the field next door to it and redid its lobby as well as other interiors. KHOU hopes to settle in a 3-floor spot in the structure — including 2 studios, 2 control rooms, and office space — next year. In the meantime, the station expects to open the tiny satellite studio it has planned in the GRB’s frontage on Discovery Green. [Houston Chronicle; more; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 5718 Westheimer: LoopNet

03/28/18 12:00pm

OXY IN TALKS TO BUY CONOCOPHILLIPS’ CAMPUS Occidental Petroleum has its eyes on the 62-acre campus on N. Dairy Ashford off I-10 that ConocoPhillips has been planning to vacate since last year. In an email to Oxy employees, CEO Vicki Hollub said the company had found “a unique opportunity to acquire an office campus with the space and amenities to create a more modern work environment.” Oxy arrived in Greenway Plaza a few years after ConocoPhillips set up shop in its then-newly-built Dairy Ashford complex during the early 80s. Renovations made over the Conoco campus — pictured above — in 2008, but last year, the oil giant announced it’d be taking off for the 22-story Energy Center 4 building it had leased on the other side of I-10. The highrise neighbors the 2-stories-shorter Energy Center 3 tower, where employees of Conoco’s Lower 48 business unit are already stationed. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of ConocoPhillips headquarters, 600 N. Dairy Ashford Rd.: W.S. Bellows Construction  

03/27/18 4:00pm

MEMORIAL BEND’S WILDER DAYS “My family was the first to own 419 Electra back when it was first built and I was 6,” a reader writes. “My siblings and I loved playing in the bird sanctuary beyond the back fence (Is the treehouse we built still there?) And swinging on rope swings over the creek with all the water moccasins! One time the dad at the house next door pulled out a tree stump in his backyard and a whole nest — literally dozens — of baby rattlesnakes crawled out. All the dads in the neighborhood ran to the house with hoes and shovels and the moms kept all the kids back. On summer nights, there were so many tiny baby frogs on the sidewalks you couldn’t walk without stepping on one. I imagine all those kinds of critters are gone now. It was a sweet, family neighborhood, with lots of kids playing games, biking in the street, and listening for the dinner bell. Of course, there was the peeping tom who lived next door in the now-McMansion, and the exhibitionist across the street who stood in the doorway with his open robe when all the neighborhood kids home from school, but doesn’t every neighborhood have its charms?” The house came down last month — one of about 19 demolitions approved for the neighborhood since Harvey. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of 419 Electra Dr.: Memorial Bend Architecture

03/23/18 5:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: AMID DEMOLITION, SOME SOJOURN HEIGHTS CHURCH PARTS FIND SALVATION “. . . We couldn’t find a taker for the limestone. I’m not a mason, so I’m not sure what turned so many off from it when they came to look at it. I know one flaw is that it was quarried with inconsistent thicknesses throughout, which made it not an ideal candidate for paving stones and challenging in vertical applications. We would rather it have been reused, just couldn’t make it happen. We were, however, able to salvage most of the steel windows that were in good shape from the building to be repurposed. Hopefully that brings you some good cheer. They’re beautiful windows.” [Scott, commenting on Churchyard Excavator Now Breaking Down Walls Between Sojourn Heights’ Current Home on Aurora and Its Soon-To-Be Sanctuary] Photo of windows salvaged from demolished building on Sojourn Heights campus, 608 Aurora St.: Joe Meppelink

03/21/18 2:00pm

KING’S BIERHAUS OWNERS WILL HATCH EGGHAUS NEXT DOOR Egghaus Gourmet is what the father-and-son owners of King’s Bierhaus are planning to call the new breakfast restaurant they have planned next to their existing beer hall in the strip center on T.C Jester, just off Ella. The Chronicle’s Greg Morago reports that Hans and Philipp Sitter have already “secured the Egghaus space” on the east side of the building. Upon opening, the new restaurant will bring the tenant count of the 17,500-sq.-ft. strip to either 3 or 4, depending on the state of another neighboring business: Tea & Victory. Announced last September, the board game cafe is still in its incubation phase, but a representative now tells Swamplot it’s looking at an early April opening. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of 2042 and 2044 E. T.C. Jester: JJ J.