11/15/18 3:00pm

Since 1995, a new kind of land designation has been cropping up all along Houston’s outskirts: the LPA, or limited-purpose annexation. It’s a way for the city to collect sales tax in small, usually commercial, portions of unincorporated areas without formally annexing them or providing them with city services. Often LPAs are established inside an existing MUD (as shown above in yellow), although they doesn’t have to be (as shown by the blue). “The pursuit of these agreements is often framed by the city as a commuter tax,” according to a recent report from Rice’s Kinder Institute, “aimed at collecting revenue from residents who live outside of Houston but who use the services provided by the city.”

But there’s another reason why more than 200 LPAs now encircle the city, mainly between Hwy. 6 and the Grand Pkwy. Last year, the Texas legislature passed a bill that limits cities’ annexation power by allowing the communities they want to annex to hold their own referenda before their extra-territorial turf can be snatched up. One exception: A referendum isn’t necessary if the city and the area to be annexed have a preexisting agreement that says so. Many of Houston’s LPAs include this carve-out, meaning that when they expire — the typical term is 30 years — the areas they regulate will be up for grabs by the city . . . no local vote needed.

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Limited Purpose Annexations
11/15/18 10:45am

A Swamplot reader sends these photos showing signage up a block north of the Waterway Ave. bridge in The Woodlands, where a new venue called Mahoney’s Texish Bar & Restaurant is picking up in place of Tsukiji Japanese Cuisine. The restaurant’s decision to mince words in its title, coupled with the presence of a shamrock on its logo suggests some sort of Texan-Irish fusion will be its focus. And according to trademark applications the restaurant’s filed this month, the phrase “We Are Texish,” and similar taglines will feature prominently on its employees uniforms.

Here’s what the space used to look like:

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By the Waterway
11/14/18 1:00pm

COASTAL DEFENSE EXPERTS SAY IKE DIKE WON’T BE ENOUGH WITHOUT A BACKUP WALL With the public comment period underway on the Ike Dike proposal the Army Corps issued last month, Rice University scientist Jim Blackburn weighs in on the project: “We think that there is too much remaining surge exposure,” he tells the Chronicle‘s Nick Powell on behalf of the research team he heads. Why’s that? “The storms that are being analyzed by the Corps are, in my opinion, too small,” Blackburn says. “They’re just not making landfall at the worst locations, with the type of wind fields and characteristics we’re seeing.” Had the Corps’ methodology accounted for a worst-case storm, says Blackburn, its analysts would’ve seen that the projects they proposed — 70 miles worth of walls and gates between High Island and San Luis Pass — are inadequate without a key addition: an upstream gate that’d run across the middle of Galveston Bay, further shielding the Ship Channel and its adjacencies from floodwaters. “We are going to argue that to any governmental entity that is interested,” says Blackburn, adding, “I think we need options. If all of our eggs are in a $30 billion federal appropriation, that just sounds too risky to me.” One key selling point for the gate: It could be built in about half the time the other proposals would take and at a fraction of their cost, says Blackburn, between $3 billion to $5 billion. [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Map of Ike Dike proposal: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

11/13/18 3:00pm

The 2016 lawsuit that just last week resulted in a multi-million dollar judgment against Houston developer Urban Living isn’t the only litigation the firm’s caught up in right now. Since the beginning of the year, the same plaintiff, Preston Wood & Associates, has filed 4 more suits against the developer and its partners, alleging that at least 6 more Urban Living projects were based of derivatives of the design firm’s copyrighted townhome plans.

One of the projects, dubbed The Modern on Sabine, is shown at top on the corner of Sabine and Bingham streets. Another, The Modern on Austin, went up in place of a few row houses torn down at Austin and Tuam near the end of 2013:

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The Kicker
11/13/18 12:30pm

WHAT’S NEXT FOR HALLIBURTON’S EMPTY OAK PARK CAMPUS ON BELLAIRE? A newly-formed group of real estate experts is now brainstorming ideas for Halliburton’s 48-acre former Oak Park campus at 10200 Bellaire Blvd., just west of Beltway 8. Included in the brain-trust: architecture firm HOK and landscape and planning firm SWA Group — as well as Hines and Transwestern, which will handle property management and leasing, respectively. They’ve all been called in by a private investment group that bought the complex over the summer and that’s headed up — reporter Ralph Bivins has said — by longtime Sharpstown land huckster Lawrence Wong. Halliburton employees began trickling out of their offices in the bow-tie-shaped 1979 building 3 years ago, leaving behind the amenities (a basketball court, daycare center, and auditorium) and adjacencies (a conference center and 5-story garage) that the new owner is now touting. Photo: LoopNet

11/13/18 10:15am

Aside from the presence of workers, the only hint you’ll find that construction has begun on the MDI Superfund site is the sign now standing at the location itself (and the HAIF thread where a user first called attention the whole scene). It’s facing toward the end of Gillespie St., a tiny Fifth Ward road that crosses over Hirsch Rd. and some railroad tracks 3 blocks north of Clinton Dr. before petering out into the eastern edge of the vacant, 35-acre industrial site. There, 3 acres are now giving rise to 42 new townhomes put there Urban Living, the Houston developer that received a multi-million dollar bill in court last week for copying copyrighted townhome plans at a handful of other sites. It’s calling this latest batch East River Yards (an apparent nod to the other industrial tract just south, the gradually crumbling KBR campus that’s been redubbed East River.)

The East River Yards houses will cluster around 3 shared driveways, all of which let out onto Press St.:

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East River Yards
11/09/18 5:00pm

How exactly did lawyers for Preston Wood & Associates — the firm awarded $29 million from Urban Living and its partners yesterday for copyright infringement — come up with such a pricetag for the developer’s misdeeds? It all boils down to the number of times Urban Living shared versions of Preston Wood’s townhouse plans without including a credit to the firm.

Urban Living’s principal Vinod Ramani said in deposition that “somewhere between 8,000 and 15,000 emails” containing copycat images of Nagle Park Place — shown above — had been sent out. And a Google analytics report tallied up the number of times visitors had accessed the Urban Living website where Nagle marketing materials were presented to them. Each email and each transmission of a website image to viewer counts as a distinct violation under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. By the jury’s accounting, Urban Living distributed uncredited versions of Preston Wood’s work 11,516 times. Multiply that by the statutory penalty of $2,500 per violation, and you’ve got your grand total: $28,790,000.

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Show Your Work
11/09/18 2:30pm

A Swamplot reader sends the photo at top showing a relative newcomer to the semi-circular metal retail structure in the foreground: Mattress Outlet. It opened for business 6 months ago at the corner of Hempstead Rd. and Post Oak southwest of what’s now the Northwest Mall (and what public and private officials say could become the Houston end of that Dallas-bound high-speed rail line.) The 2 huts have been there for decades were at one time neighbored to the south by 2 more of their kind — until that pair vanished around the turn of the century.

Signage isn’t up yet, but a custom hardwood furniture business is now on its way into larger, blue hut next-door:

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Cozy New Digs
11/09/18 9:45am

THE WOODLANDS CAVALRY UNITS ORDERED TO RETREAT FROM WALMART, COSTCO PARKING LOTS Effective January 1, mounted patrols will no longer be present at the 2 stores opposite each other on Hwy. 242 at I-45 — reports The Villager’s Marialuisa Rincon — although they’ll remain at Town Center and Hughes Landing. The Woodlands’ contract with the company that provides the equestrian detail, Alpha & Omega Services, previously made up 13 percent of the township’s $14 million law enforcement budget, reports Rincon. But unlike police officers, the riders “don’t carry guns and are prohibited from intervening if a crime is in progress — instead, they’re required to contact law enforcement if an incident merits police attention.” The cuts will save the town $470,000 a year until the contract goes up for renewal in 2020. They’ll also require Alpha & Omega to eliminate positions from its force for the first time since arriving 23 years ago in The Woodlands — which has become “our crown jewel,” said the company’s president, adding: “Every operation we have in the country, we bring our troopers here to train.” [The Woodlands Villager] Photo: Alpha & Omega Services

11/08/18 3:00pm

Just this morning, a federal judge ordered developer Urban Living to pay nearly $28 million to Houston home design firm Preston Wood & Associates. Preston Wood sued Urban Living in 2016, claiming that the developer and its business partners made unauthorized use of copyrighted townhome plans Preston Wood had provided 2 years earlier.

The plans were used to build and market 5 developments — including Patterson Street Landing, shown at top just north of Wash Ave. Another, EaDo Place, went up on Polk between Nagle and Live Oak. in 2015:

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Infingement Lawsuit
11/08/18 10:30am

Frenchy’s Chicken is gearing up to open a new restaurant on Scott St. so that it’s original — there since 1969 — can get out of the way of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church‘s planned expansion. (You can see the church’s slated roofing peeking out behind Frenchy’s in the photo above.) The restaurant’s new location: 2 blocks south of the current one, in the former O’Sat Auto Detail shop pictured at top on the northwest corner of Blodgett St. There, a spate of building permits filed within the last few months reveal Frenchy’s management is about to get started on renovations.

It’s a bit of a detour from the chain’s original relocation plan. Last May, Frenchy’s top brass Percy Creuzot III (the son of the chain’s founder Percy “Frenchy” Creuzot, Jr.) told the Chronicle‘s Cindy George he’d staked out a spot 5 blocks north of the current one where Alabama St. ends across from UH’s indoor football practice building. Sure enough, Creuzot’s business partner Anthony Gaynor consolidated several adjacent lots he owned at the southwest corner of Alabama and Scott 2 into a single property last year — and a few months afterward, demolished the building it that’d done stints on it as number of different barbecue joints:

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Third Ward
11/07/18 5:00pm

How’s this for dockless bike-share pricing: $15 for unlimited rides? Too bad though, the offer has already sold out.

Remember the fleet of nearly 100 bikes from MoBike that mysteriously vanished from The Woodlands last month? MoBike itself, it turns out, pulled them off the streets starting in October and put them in 2 self-storage rentals: one at Amazing Spaces on I-45 just north of Vision Park Blvd., and the other 5 miles down the freeway at the U-Haul Moving and Storage center near the Rayford-Sawdust Rd. exit — which the company used as a repair shop. But no announcement was made and the great bike-share vanishing was kind of mysterious. Residents who called up the township to ask where the bikes had all gone — according to The Villager’s Jeff Forward — were told that the township hadn’t received any communication from MoBike about what had happened.

Then . . . the bikes showed up on Craigslist:

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No MoBike in the U.S. of A.
11/07/18 1:30pm

THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF THE WOODLANDS’ DOCKLESS BIKE FLEET The sudden disappearance of dockless bikes from their usual hangouts in The Woodlands left staff at the town’s newspaper scrambling to figure out where they all went last week: “A Woodlands Villager reporter drove to four areas where the popular ride-sharing bicycles were routinely located and found no bikes,” writes editor Jeff Forward. When reached for comment, township official Nick Wolda told him that the Chinese company behind the fleet, MoBike, became tough to get a hold of starting in July. But the 100-or-so bikes it handed over last year were still there: “In August, we were rocking and rolling and ridership numbers were good. Then, all of the sudden, the bikes started leaving. We were starting to field calls from residents about them, asking where they were.” Wolda never received word from MoBike that the company planned to skip town, and the only mention reporters could find of the firm’s intentions was a note a former employee wrote on his LinkedIn profile: “Mobike decided not to pursue the Houston market — my position was eliminated as of July 2018.” Officials are now holding the few stray bikes that have been spotted since the vanishing act for safekeeping. “If the company wants to come get them, that’s fine,” Wolda says. [The Woodlands Villager; previously on SwamplotPhoto: MoBike  

11/07/18 12:30pm

League City’s city council voted to relegate the Chester L. Davis Sportsplex on I-45 to a less prime spot on the other side of the interstate so that a whole bunch of buildings — collectively dubbed Epicenter League City — can take its highway-adjacent place and hopefully, “make League City a dynamic cultural center and national destination,” according to the official press release. (The map above shows the plans with east facing up.) Freeway exposure for it all is limited by the pair of car dealerships — Mac Haik Toyota and Clear Lake Nissan — situated right up on the northbound feeder road. But behind them lies the 106-acre development’s urban nucleus, a shop-lined central green space bookended by some kind of water park and an opposing “Live/Work Village,” with an outdoor entertainment complex and convention center to the immediate north. Beyond that core, things give way to the parking lot, retail, and office hodgepodge that’s more of a familiar sight.

While a private developer has signed up to fund the Epicenter’s construction, League City officials appear to have their work cut out for them on the new, larger sportsplex — which they want to look something like this:

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The Epicenter off I-45
11/07/18 10:30am

The art venue formerly known as galleryHOMELAND has selected Bayou City Cycles‘ old shop at 1303 Cullen Blvd. for its new exhibition space, headquarters, and — as shown in the rendering above — curbside landscaping. The 6-year lease it’s taking across from Kroger should allow it to make a new name for itself as Space HL, a rebranding that Glasstire‘s Brandon Zech explains is supposed to call attention to the organization’s new focus on stuff besides art, like lectures, experimental performances, and other programs. About 1,000 sq.-ft. of the building will be for exhibitions, reports Zech, but don’t discount the backyard — which could host outdoor events, or you never know, he writes, maybe even “built-out shipping container projects spaces.”

That’d be a new one. The gallery’s last location across in the industrial row across Commerce St. from Tout Suite was a shared parking lot. It’d flirted with relocating from there to a quarter portion of the Imperial Linen & Cleaners building on Harrisburg Blvd. that’s slated to get redone as something retail- and restaurant-ready but changed its mind when the building took on Harvey damage, writes Zech.

What’ll become of the paint-job Bayou City gave its building when it took over from El Miramar Bar in 2016?

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Eastwood Micro Galleries