Venturing into the upper reaches of the now officially emptyBarker Reservoir near Addicks Clodine Rd. and south of the Audi West Houston dealership on I-10, reader Kyle Steck finds a mostly dry landscape. (The pictured lakes in the images are features shown in maps of the area.)
“In a few weeks it will turn from brown dead apocalypse to green wonderland,” he predicts.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: A WATERSHED APPROACH TO PAYING FOR FLOOD CONTROL “. . . I think that if we are going to be realistic about the way that we finance flood control, that the core of such a plan needs to take a page from how flood insurance gets underwritten. Everybody pays a property tax to a watershed-specific flood control entity, but that tax is adjusted based on the elevation of their first-floor living area relative to the Base Flood Elevation. If you’re more than a few feet above it, your tax is very low. If you live more than a few feet below it . . . you’re probably going to pay so much in taxes that it’ll become immediately economic to raise your structure or demolish it. Right away, the inventory and value of property subject to flood risk is reduced; and what’s left that is tolerably at-risk pays for its own reduced need for risk mitigation. And . . . if we’re too gun shy to pull the trigger on a plan like this, which would totally wipe out a lot of people’s equity in vast swaths of real estate, okay well that’s where people not at very much risk should be expected to pay more taxes even without receiving very much in the way of benefits. Yeah, I’m basically proposing Obamacare for flood control in Houston, but only as a humane alternative which reveals a startling truth: that the big money for this sort of thing is unlikely to come from up on high, from the feds or the state government (and it shouldn’t IMO). Financing this stuff locally is going to hurt. One thing is very very clear: whatever kinds of administrative bodies are created or re-jiggered to deal with this issue have got to address legacy development first and foremost. We need a plan to cope with what is already on the ground. This is not something that we can just build ourselves out of, going forward, with stricter rules for new development, feel the catharsis, hold hands and sing Kumbaya, and call it a day.” [TheNiche, commenting on An 8th Wonder Distillery; New Bridges for Brays Bayou; How Apartment Buildings Get On Your Nerves]
SURVEYING THE SOGGY AFTERMATH OF HOUSTON’S ULTIMATE HOME-TOUR TEST Talk about timing: The Rice Design Alliance’s annual home tourthis past March opened to inspection 6 structures built in Houston floodplains with some sort of strategy to make it through a major water event. How’d these properties survive the cataclysm that followed only 5 months later? A 1965 Meyerland home on the tour by Houston architects Brooks and Brooks one block north of Brays Bayou was damaged, Jack Murphy reports. And his follow-up story on the RDA’s H2Ouston tour includes no word on the Harvey experiences of François de Menil’s 5-story Temple Terrace townhome or the 3-story butterfly-roof home on Logan Ln. backing up to Buffalo Bayou Taft Architects built in 1996. But 2 more recently built homes on the tour — 2-story structures by architects Brett Zamore in Linkwood and Nonya Grenader in Shirkmere survived without much more than messes in their garages (and a flooded-out car), according to Murphy. Then there’s the Sunset Coffee Building fronting Buffalo Bayou Downtown, which serves as the offices of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, and which in its recentredo by Lake Flato and BNIM (pictured), was designed to take on water: “All sources indicate that the design performed as anticipated. . . . The staff moved exhibit materials to the second floor and secured the elevator on an upper floor. But there are always issues. The grease trap filled with water, thermostats need to be replaced, and the elevator shaft had five feet of standing water at the bottom, causing electrical issues. Security cameras mounted on the building filled with water and malfunctioned. The fire alarm went off for four days, making the area sound like a war zone, even catching the attention of a CNN reporter. Still, water didn’t crest into the offices on the second floor. (It was almost this high during Allison.) Shortly after the waters receded, the building was habitable again.” But this sort of resilience wasn’t just added to the building by its renovators: “The BBP’s Rebecca Leija and Anne Olson told me their insurance adjuster said the Sunset Building, built in 1910, was well-suited to handle floods due to its height and angle relative to the bayou. Sure enough, in plan the building is set at an angle to the bayou’s flow, presenting a corner to floodwaters rather than a flat face. And, its east façade breaks slightly, perhaps to further reduce the surface area ‘seen’ by floodwaters and therefore reduce their force on the walls and foundation.” [OffCite] Photo of Sunset Coffee Building renovation: Adam Williams
WHAT MAKES WEST HOUSTON THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE OF REAL ESTATE DISCLOSURE “None of the more than half a dozen residents interviewed by The Texas Tribune and ProPublica after the floods said they knew they were living inside Addicks or Barker — many of their neighborhoods are several miles away from the dams. Several local officials — including Houston’s ‘flood czar’ and a neighboring county executive — said they had no idea the neighborhoods had been built inside the flood pools. Several real estate agents said they didn’t realize they were selling homes inside the pools.” This from the latest exposé on how 14,000 homes came to be located in designed-to-flood areas inside the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. First, the good news: Of those 14,000 homes, only 5,138 of them flooded this time! Among the many additional OMG-worthy revelations from this latest report from the crack Houston-flooding investigations team of Neena Satija, Kiah Collier, and Al Shaw: Of those homes built inside the reservoirs, at least 4,000 of them were built after Tropical Storm Allison hit in 2001. That’s interesting to note, considering that a Harris County Flood Control District report published in 2003 warned that as many as 2,000 acres of private land inside the reservoirs might easily have flooded in that storm if the rains had fallen in a slightly different location. Also included: this little glance at the area’s real-estate future: “One five-bedroom home in Lakes on Eldridge . . . was listed for $678,000 about two weeks before it flooded during Harvey. The seller’s agent, Moira Holden, tried to put a positive spin on things when she updated the online listing that decreased the asking price by $10,000. ‘Unfortunately this stunning home did flood and is being refurbished to the highest spec!’ it says. ‘Fabulous chance to choose your finishes!‘ When asked if she would disclose to potential buyers that the home was inside Addicks Reservoir, Holden didn’t have a clear answer. ‘I will obviously disclose whatever we are required to disclose,’ she said, pointing out that the home wasn’t in a floodplain. ‘I would hope that the buyer’s Realtor would do their due diligence on that.'” [Texas Tribune; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 13119 Shermons Pond, for sale in Lakes on Eldridge: HAR
HERE COME THE HARVEY LOW BALLERS Outsiders moving into town to buy up homes from distressed owners for pennies on the dollar in the wake of local catastrophe is a proud and longstanding Houston tradition: It keeps the city’s reputation for real-estate shenanigans intact, even as oldtimers mellow. It’s how Sir Allen Stanford got his illustrious start! Plus: Investments that must be recouped can help keep zombie neighborhoods that maybe-shouldn’t-have-been-built-there-or-that-way-in-the-first-place alive. But you don’t have to be a wet-carpetbagger to get in on the fun: Reporter Prashant Gopal heads to the Redneck Country Club on Airport Blvd. in Stafford for a well-attended pep talk by local trashed-home recycler Eddie Gant, then follows local real-estate agent Bryan Schild as he drives through neighborhoods looking for deals: “One of Schild’s prospects is Joseph Hernandez, a disabled U.S. Army veteran married to a housekeeper. The couple are living in a hotel and saving money by eating only two meals a day. Schild has made them a painful offer. If they walk away from their two-bedroom house, worth $127,000 before Hurricane Harvey, Schild will pick up the mortgage payments, paying nothing else. Although he says he sympathizes with the Hernandezes’ plight, he thinks the offer is fair because he figures the home is now worth less than its $65,000 mortgage. Hernandez is in a bind. He didn’t buy flood insurance because his house wasn’t in a high-risk area. He can’t afford to rebuild, and he’s been told he’s eligible for only $23,000 in federal assistance. If he turns over the deed, he’s looking at losing the entire $60,000 in equity he had before the flood. ‘It’s blurry, what’s coming,’ he says. ‘We’ll probably have to sell to an investor, and that’s not good. We were forced out.’” [Bloomberg BusinessWeek] Photo of Hernandez’s home in Bear Creek Village, before it flooded: HAR
HOUSING AUTHORITY READY TO DEMOLISH MORE THAN A THIRD OF CLAYTON HOMES AFTER HARVEY FLOODING 112 of the 296 apartments at Clayton Homes have been deemed “uninhabitable” by its owner, the Houston Housing Authority, which is now seeking to demolish them. The affordable-housing complex tucked between Hwy. 59 and Buffalo Bayou north of Runnels St. in the northwest corner of the East End was flooded after Hurricane Harvey; subsequent investigations conducted by local researchers led by the New York Times and by the authority found numerous health and safety problems in the residences, including festering mold and high levels of E. coli. Submitting a demolition request for those units allowed the authority to receive and distribute “tenant protection vouchers” that will allow their residents to relocate to any voucher-accepting unit in the city, a spokesperson for the agency says: “Since Hurricane Harvey caused extensive damage to many of HHA’s public housing properties, housing options within HHA’s public housing program are now exhausted, which is why residents are receiving vouchers.” The agency says it is also helping Clayton Homes residents not eligible for the vouchers as well to find new homes — with relocation assistance services and one-time payments — and that it is refunding rents collected for periods when homes in the complex were uninhabitable. Photo: Apartments.com
Here’s a commandeerable after-and-before flooding shot, taken from a drone hovering 300 ft. above Hwy. 6 just north of the Barker Reservoir spillway. Move the slider at the bottom of the image to toggle slowly between the 2 views, taken Thursday, August 24th (on the right, not long before the arrival of Hurricane Harvey) and Tuesday, August 29th (on the left, after stormwater filled the reservoir and the flooded the area). You can also rotate and zoom the image with your pointing device or finger.
In the initial view, the camera is facing straight down Addicks-Howell Rd.; the wider Hwy. 6 appears to veer off to the left. Addicks-Howell marks the entrance to Fleetwood, the adjacent neighborhood. Rotate the view 180 degrees to see the spillway.
Houston visualization firm Reality Imaging & Mapping Technologies took the panoramic images and stitched them together to create the immersive and zoomable view, which can also be experienced as a VR image. Click here to view the image in its own browser window.
ALLEY THEATRE FLOODING DRAMA CAME FROM AN ALLEY THIS TIME, NOT THE TUNNEL Harvey flooding caused an estimated $15 million of damage to the Alley Theatre’s basement-level stage, lobby, and dressing rooms, but for the most part spared its recently renovated box-office entrance, main stage, and upper-level lobbies. The good news, relayed by theater managing director Dean Gladden in an email to members: Submarine doors in the tunnel prevented water flowing from the Theater District’s underground parking garage from entering the theater as it had during Tropical Storm Allison. But this time there was another way in: a fresh-air intake vent in the Alley’s drive-thru Alleyway driveway fronting Jones Plaza on Texas Ave. (pictured at left in the above photo): “Harvey’s waters crested so high that this in-take vent provided an opening that enabled the flood waters to enter the building unimpeded. The water was so powerful it knocked through a cement block wall and blew open locked doors. When the cement block wall collapsed, it broke a 2-foot fire line that started spewing water out at 150 gallons a minute. About 900,000 gallons of water would come from this source before it was turned off. The flood water from the bayou would account for 2.8 million gallons of water. The water would reach 10-feet high in the Neuhaus Theatre and lobby and 15-feet high in the basement level. The Alley Theatre below ground was completely flooded.” [Alley Theatre] Photo: Jason Hrncir
Pet Supermarket in Meyerland Plaza has reopened after taking on water after Hurricane Harvey, but it appears to be an exception among big-box stores lined in a row on the former mall site. Signs in front of Old Navy, OfficeMax, and Dressbarn declare the stores are closed — and direct customers to other locations, according to these photos and a report from a Swamplot reader. Here’s the scene in front of Old Navy, where notes in the window declare the store is closed “until further notice“: