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
COMMENT OF THE DAY: A BETTER IDEA FOR WHAT TO DO WITH THE SPACES UNDER FREEWAYS IN HOUSTON “. . . This gave me an idea. That land under freeways isn’t good for retail or anything inhabited. But it could be a perfect place to dig down and create auxiliary stormwater detention facilities.
Yeah the water will be filthy, like your friends bikes usually are, but floodwater usually is. And as auxiliary detention they would only be used in extreme rainfall events (once or twice a year during so-called ‘hundred year’ storms).” [ZAW, commenting on Comment of the Day Second Runner-Up: Things To Think About Before You Start Planning Under-Freeway Developments] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY SECOND RUNNER-UP: THINGS TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE YOU START PLANNING UNDER-FREEWAY DEVELOPMENTS “One conclusion I’ve made about the U.S., compared to European countries, is that we don’t use space efficiently. We’ve got all these open ditches, grass patches . . . along our roadways. So this Tokyo solution appeals to me.
But while I haven’t traveled extensively, I feel that selling/renting under-highway space to retail smacks of third-world. Would Houston ever go for that?
There is so much filth that washes off roadways and would filter into/onto these shops. A friend has his bike storage cage under the apartment driveway. It’s just a drive! yet the bikes always have a greasy blackness on them. Ever park in an airport garage for more than a couple days? Your car is filthy.
Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t/couldn’t eat a taco made under the Pierce Elevated.” [movocelot, commenting on Midtown Sears Closure Nets Rice 9 Acres near the Wheeler Transit Center] Illustration: Lulu