05/27/14 1:45pm

HOW A DEVELOPER MAKES FRIENDS IN GERMANTOWN 121 Payne St., Germantown Historic District, Woodland Heights, HoustonFisher Homes owner Terry Fisher has been scuffling with city officials and residents of the Germantown Historic District over the dilapidated state of the recently renovated 104-year-old bungalow at 121 Payne St. that he bought last year, got permission for a 2-story addition, but then let sit for months with an opened-up roof protected only by a blue tarp. Fisher may have had some difficulties maintaining the sticks and stones on his property (“demolition by neglect” is how one inspector put it), but he sure has demonstrated a way with words: “The neighbors and anyone else who doesn’t like me is welcome to go walk off a bridge,” he reportedly texted to Woodland Heights Civic Association member David Jordan: “Just try and remember I am a property owner in that neighborhood also and I’m just as important as the others. Considering how much I own, I may be more important. The latest document attesting to that importance: the violation letter he received from the planning department ordering him to stop work on the Payne St. property and address concerns identified by the inspector. But Fisher tells reporter Erin Mulvaney his text to Jordan has been taken out of context: “God gave me two cheeks and I do what I can to turn them, but enough is enough,” he tells her, explaining that he lives in Spring, rather than in the Heights, where many of his developments are, in part to avoid ending up next door to a development he doesn’t like. “I have done nothing wrong,” Fisher says, “I’m not just a big bad developer. I’m a human, too.” But wait, there’s more: “I’m not ashamed of anything, including the Payne house,” says Fisher, who according to the article has been developing in Houston for more than 30 years. “At the end of the day,” he tells Mulvaney, “I’ve never done anything intentionally wrong. Anything has been out of ignorance.” [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo of 121 Payne St. in better times: HAR

04/21/14 1:15pm

Jaguar Stuck in Concrete at Buffalo Speedway and Southwest Fwy., Greenway Plaza, Houston

This photo of a Jaguar F-Type V8 S stuck in a patch of freshly-poured concrete started making the rounds of internet auto-fan sites last Friday afternoon. The earliest online reference appears to be this tweet from SpeedSportLife before noon — but the Houston car publication was apparently just passing on a photo it had no more information about. In several forum appearances readers immediately speculated that the scene had likely taken place in Houston, and on the Houston Reddit board a poster tersely declared that the site was the intersection of Weslayan and 59. But a couple of other commenters help peg the incident location a couple of overpasses to the east:


Stuck in Traffic
03/26/14 11:30am

Burned Axis Apartments at 2400 West Dallas St. and Montrose Blvd., North Montrose, Houston

A reader reports this morning on the aftermath of the blaze yesterday that destroyed the Axis Apartments — from a balcony perch west of Montrose Blvd.: “The firemen are packing up this morning on West Dallas after continuing to fight the fire through the night. I live in one of the townhouses across the street from the fire yesterday. I got home from work in the evening to find my house in good shape, a little smokey and singed and a broken window but otherwise fine. The firemen sprayed down the fronts of the houses to keep them cool.”

Here’s an amazing sequence of views of the same section of the 5-story apartments JLB Partners was building at 2400 West Dallas, from before the fire:


Pictures of a Disappearance
03/26/14 10:15am

Construction Worker Jumping from Fourth Floor Balcony During Fire at 2400 W. Dallas St., North Montrose, HoustonThis video uploaded to YouTube by Karen Jones shows a construction worker seemingly trapped on a fourth-floor balcony of the blazing Axis Apartments in North Montrose yesterday afternoon. According to a construction supervisor working on the neighboring Finger Properties apartment complex who spoke to a Houston Chronicle reporter, the fire started on the northeast corner of the L-shaped structure’s roof. Jones doesn’t identify her filming location in the video, but it appears to be taken from an upper floor of a low-rise office building along Rylis St. in the American General complex. That would mean the imperiled worker was on a balcony facing north, and that the rescuing fire worker was on a ladder truck in the parking lot immediately west of the Magnolia Cemetery.


Jumping from the Flames
02/26/14 4:30pm

59 FEEDER ROAD CONSTRUCTION WITHOUT END Road Construction, North Side Feeder Rd., U.S. 59 West of Kirby Dr., Upper Kirby, Houston“Why is there always construction on the feeders between Weslayan and Kirby especially when it seemed like nothing needed to be done?” writes a Swamplot reader, who is under the impression that the work started sometime last summer. “It looks like they are only redoing the road, not adding sewers, nor laying power lines, and doesn’t seem to making it wider. One side is done and then they come back and do the other side! . . . I hope you can find out why they are tearing up a perfectly good feeder road.” Alas, doing so would spoil the chance to indulge in the fantasy of having encountered along the Southwest Fwy. a truly eternal feeder-road replacement cycle. We’ll illustrate that here with the above photo from earlier today of a fresh concrete placement (with shopping cart) on the north side feeder just west of Kirby Dr. Update, 2/27: Clever reader JD finds an actual report outlining the scope of the reconstruction project from last year posted in an obscure online publicationPhoto: Swamplot inbox

01/10/14 11:15am

Apartments, 2233 Welch St., Vermont Commons, Montrose, Houston

A passer-by sends this photo showing the scene this morning at the site of the Chateau Ten scaffolding accident that took place a few days before Christmas. The plank-covered Mercedes is gone, but the neighboring apartment building at 2233 Welch St., still wearing its recent quoined stuccover, doesn’t look much worse for the dust-up — does it?


Flashing News Update
12/23/13 10:15am

Scaffolding Collapse, Chateau Ten, Spann and Welch Streets, Vermont Commons, Houston

A reader who happened to be on the scene Saturday morning when scaffolding collapsed on the side of the Chateau Ten condo building going up at the corner of Spann and Welch streets just south of River Oaks sent Swamplot these photos and a report shortly after the incident. The Randall Davis development is under construction behind the empty lot on San Felipe on which Hines is planning to build a 17-story office tower:

“I did not see the collapse, but I heard it . . . It sounded like an explosionpower went out immediately.” The correspondent reports running out to find scaffolding for the 6-story building down, “completely covering a house (and Mercedes) and scaffolding bits were dangling from power lines. I called 911. I don’t think anyone is hurt.”

What could have caused this construction accident?


Stucco, Interrupted
07/24/13 3:05pm

HOW CAN A HOMEBUYER JUDGE CONSTRUCTION QUALITY? A reader who’s been following discussions of various construction efforts in Swamplot comments has a few questions: “There seems to be a big controversy among the commentators about what constitutes ‘quality construction.’ Are the big differences between old homes and new homes simply that one or the other are built to better standards? . . . Is it the materials that matter more than the construction crew themselves? How is one supposed to do his/her due diligence when purchasing a home? Find the builder, go look at other homes and how they have stood up, take a class on construction (which I’m not sure many of the people actually building the homes have done)?” [Swamplot inbox]

07/11/13 4:45pm

It looks like these 4-story townhouses are filling out a bit here on the corner of E. 2nd and Heights Blvd., where in late April their stick-frame precursors fell over in a wind-aided collapse. Fortunately, no one was hurt, though the garage doors of several finished and already occupied neighboring units were damaged. Keystone Classic Homes is the builder of this 8-pack located just south of White Oak Bayou.


05/08/13 1:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THAT SLOW-MO BUILD DOWN THE STREET “Builders started 6442 homes, but how many have been finished? One house on my street broke ground almost exactly a year ago and as of today, it has a foundation, framing, Tyvek wrap, most of a roof, a little plumbing, and a little drywall. The house and its ‘dry’wall have been open to the elements for a few months now, including during the torrential rains of a few weeks ago. There have been only 2 workers working on it at a time, and no one has been working on it at all in the past couple weeks. It’s not like I’m in a slow-moving undesirable area; on the contrary, I’m near the border of 77098 and 77006 where houses are going under contract within a week of landing on the MLS, and asking prices are 1.5x –- 2x what they were 5 years ago. I’ve read that all of the construction employees have defected to work on commercial sites. Maybe that rumor is true.” [GoogleMaster, commenting on Headlines: Houston Tourism Boost; Downtown MegaBus Congestion]

05/03/13 10:00am

A new stick frame began going up Wednesday on the corner of Heights Blvd. and E. 2nd St., on a concrete slab cleared of the heap of wood studs, trusses, shear walls, and framed staircases that had landed there with a crash last Saturday night. All remnants of the 2 toppled Keystone Classic Homes 4-story townhouses in the Madison Park development just south of White Oak Bayou have been swept away. The site, pictured above in a photo taken by a Swamplot reader this morning, now looks rather different from the way it appeared last Sunday:


05/01/13 3:35pm

A Swamplot reader writes in with some identifying info about the Katy homebuilder whose Heights Blvd. townhouse construction collapsed into a pile of sticks over the weekend. The collapse of two 4-story structures under construction shortly after the end of Saturday night’s storm didn’t end up injuring anyone, but it did set back construction and marketing efforts for the Madison Park development just south of White Oak Bayou.

The builder of the toppled properties at 103-117 E. 2nd St., in a corral of townhomes built earlier by another developer, is Keystone Classic Homes, an LLC managed by Michael D. Surface. That appears to be the same Mike Surface who found himself in local headlines a couple of years ago, before and after he admitted to a judge that he intended to influence his longtime friend, Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole, with approximately $100,000 in cash and gifts. As part of a plea deal, Surface ended up pleading guilty to filing a false income tax return and making false statements to federal officials in connection with that bribery case, which centered around county contracts; in November 2011 he received a sentence of 2 years’ probation, along with a restriction barring him from being able to do any business with federal, county, or city governments for 5 years.

And then there was Surface’s job on the Astrodome.


04/30/13 2:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE NEW TALLER TOWNHOMES THAT FELL OVER NEXT DOOR “Just to add a little clarification here. I live in one of the already existing structures there. They have been there since 2008 and have fared quite well during storms since being constructed. The ones that collapsed had started being built about 5 or 6 weeks ago. They were being built by completely different builders. There were two frames up. Each were four stories tall. The crazy thing was how tall they were. The second story on the new construction was taller than the third story of the ones that had already been there. They were however a completely different design than the already existing ones. In any event the weather wasn’t that bad. I was awake when they collapsed and actually saw the second one fall after the first hit it. Scary. Regardless of wind sheathing, that should not have happened. Someone could have been seriously injured or worse.” [Mike, commenting on The Heights Blvd. Townhomes That Collapsed Overnight]

04/30/13 1:45pm

There’ll be a — um — slight delay in the move-in date for the purchasers of the brand-new Madison Park townhomes at 111 and 107 E. 2nd St., just south of White Oak Bayou. Yes, it appears that the 2 stick-framed structures backing up to Heights Blvd. that toppled violently Saturday night — an hour or so after a not-exactly-fierce storm passed through the area — were in fact among the 4 that developer Keystone Classic Homes had been claiming on its website and in a construction-fence-mounted banner were already sold. Their listing in MLS provides perhaps a more conservative assessment: A bank of 4 townhomes — including 111 and 107 — were listed as “pending,” usually an indicator that a contract has been accepted by the seller but that no closing has yet taken place.

If you happen to be the lucky buyer on hook for one of these addresses — presuming you still want in — how much time will the weekend’s rack-and-rumble set you back?


04/29/13 1:30pm

Note: Story updated here.

Some big bad wolf huffed and puffed and blew down a couple of 4-story stick-framed townhomes under construction at the corner of Heights Blvd. and 2nd St. around midnight Saturday night. Several readers have written in with accounts and photos, and a source close to the action reports that no one was hurt. A few neighboring garage doors on completed (and occupied) townhomes were damaged by wayward wall parts, however, and the driveway shared by new owners in the Madison Park complex was blocked by a Three Little Pigs–worthy pile of studs, which was cleared out of the way the following day by the builder, Keystone Classic Homes.