02/11/19 5:00pm

LEON COUNTY JUDGE RULES BULLET TRAIN COMPANY CAN’T USE EMINENT DOMAIN ON ACCOUNT OF IT’S NOT REALLY A ‘RAILROAD’ YET On Friday, the judge for Texas’s 87th District Court declared that Texas Central, the company planning a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas, cannot use eminent domain to snatch up land within Leon, Freestone, or Limestone counties — 3 of the 10 counties that the train’s proposed 240-mile route is set to traverse. Texas law does allow “railroads” to use eminent domain in seizing land for projects, it’s just that Texas Central doesn’t actually count as a one in the court’s view because it hasn’t actually laid any track yet and doesn’t currently operate any trains. “Texas Central is appealing the Leon County judge’s decision,” the company tells the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley, “and meanwhile, it is moving forward on all aspects of the train project.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of proposed bullet train route: Texas Central

02/11/19 3:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: SURVIVAL OF THE WEIRDEST “As I have long observed, pretty soon the only remaining example of the original housing stock of the greater Rice Military neighborhood will be the Beer Can House.” [Miz Brooke Smith, commenting on Daily Demolition Report: Roll Out] Photo: Candace Garcia via Swamplot Flickr Pool

02/06/19 3:30pm

BUC-EE’S’S FIRST OUT-OF-STATE LOCATION SUED FOR SELLING GAS TOO CHEAP Well, that was fast. Two weeks after opening, Buc-ee’s first out-of-state location in Robertsdale, Alabama has become the target of a federal lawsuit brought by a rival travel center chain that claims the newcomer has been violating the Alabama Motor Fuel Marketing Act, reports John Sharp of Al.com. The 35-year-old law prohibits gas stations from selling fuel for less than it costs to buy and transport it to a retailer. Between the store’s grand opening on January 21 and the end of the month, its regular gas prices have fluctuated between $1.80 and $1.87 per gallon, according to the plaintiff, Oasis Travel Center (whose location 4 miles east of the Buc-ee’s on I-10 features something it calls the Derailed Diner, a Southern-style restaurant built to look like a train car that crashed into the rest of the building). According to AAA, the average price of gas in the area has stayed much closer to $2 flat since Buc-ee’s arrived. [Al.com; previously on Swamplot]

01/31/19 9:30am

TRANSPORTATION BUFFS ARE STAKING OUT HOUSTON’S MOST DANGEROUS INTERSECTIONS TO BETTER UNDERSTAND WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEM A handful of intersection inspection personnel were out at Long Point Rd. and Gessner on Tuesday for their second round of roadside surveillance at what they’ve deemed one of the city’s most dangerous crossroads for pedestrians. The team — made up of an engineer from Houston’s public works department, a Federal Highway Administration rep, and members of local advocacy groups LINK Houston and Bike Houston, reports News 88.7’s Gail DeLaughter — has been scrutinizing what goes on out there and at 5 other intersections where a 2017 map showed pedestrians take a beating from cars: Fondren and West Bellfort, Bissonnet and Wilcrest, Shepherd and Allen Pkwy, Taylor and Spring St., and Spur 527 and Holman St. What they’re paying attention to: traffic counts, the times of day that crashes occur, the usefulness of pedestrian traffic signals as well as “how long it takes to safely cross the street, and how cyclists use the roadway,” reports DeLaughter. After wrapping up observations at the end of this week, the group will submit a report to the city recommending changes that’d make each intersection safer. [Houston Public Media] Photo: LINK Houston

01/28/19 4:00pm

TERMINAL B AT GEORGE BUSH AIRPORT WILL STAY CLOSED AFTER THE SHUTDOWN A spokesperson for George Bush International Airport tells the Chronicle that due to “staffing issues,the security checkpoint and ticketing counter at IAH’s Terminal B will remain closed indefinitely. The terminal’s entry area has been shut down since January 13, at which time the federal government shutdown was still in full swing. Flights will continue to depart from the terminal, but passengers scheduled to board them will check in at Terminals C and E before making their way to the gates. [Houston Chronicle]

01/25/19 3:15pm

TALLYING UP NEW HOUSTON HOME CONSTRUCTION IN 2018 The year-end numbers from Houston’s planning department are in: 5,483 new single-family home building permits were issued in 2018. At least 615 of them were issued for properties within the 100-year floodplain, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis published by Matt Dempsey and Mike Morris back in October, a month after the city’s new rules for development in floodplains took effect. And at least 600 were issued for homes in the 500-year floodplain. Since September, new homes in both of the 100- and 500-year zones have been required to go up at least 2 ft. above the 500-year floodplain elevation. [Houston Planning Department] Photo of 1505 and 1503 Everett St.: HAR

01/25/19 12:30pm

ASTRODOME RENOVATION BUDGET ISN’T ENOUGH FOR AIR CONDITIONING, SAYS COUNTY JUDGE LINA HIDALGO While looking into those Astrodome renovation plans to raise the floor and slip 2 levels of parking underneath it that the previous commissioners court set aside money for last April, new Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo appears to have had a revelation: “What I’m discovering,” she tells Houston Matters’s Craig Cohen on air yesterday, “is that the 105 [million dollars] that was allocated is not enough to air condition the building.” And so she asks: “Is the current design enough for folks to actually want to rent it out? I don’t want this to be a white elephant,” she says. “So that’s what I’m trying to figure out.” [Houston Public Media] Photo of Astrodome: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

01/24/19 12:30pm

NEWLY-PROPOSED STATEWIDE FLOODING FUND WOULD BE SPRINKLED WITH $1.2B FROM TEXAS’S RAINY DAY RESERVES State Senator Charles Perry filed a trio of bills on Tuesday that aim to create a state-level plan for flood mitigation, to be funded by $1.2 billion drawn from Texas’s $11 billion rainy day fund, reports the Texas Tribune’s Carlos Anchondo. If the House and Senate agree to tap the state’s nest egg by a two-thirds vote — a level of consensus that’s proven difficult to reach in the past, notes Anchondo — the legislation would then divide Texas into regional flood planning groups that trace the outlines not of municipalities, but rather of the state’s watersheds in order to “ensure one community’s plans do not inadvertently negatively impact a neighboring community,says Perry. (The Texas Water Development Board would oversee the mapping and could choose to deviate from watershed boundaries in exceptional cases.) Within every watershed group, a representative from each county would receive a single vote, which they’d use to hash out a regional flood plan including both physical projects (such as reservoir improvements) and strategies (such as strengthening building codes). Taking a look at each region’s plan, the state would then compile a ranked list of flood mitigation approaches across Texas and kick in portions of the $1.2 billion for them accordingly starting sometime in 2024 . . . at the earliest. [Texas Tribune; press release] Photo of the Texas Senate chamber: Arthur LeBon [license]

01/23/19 3:00pm

THE TIPLINE IS STANDING BY Indoor petting zoo opening up in one of those abandoned Sears stores? To cover this city well, Swamplot needs your tips. So if you see something interesting going on in your neighborhood, let us know! Taken some nice pics from around town? Send them to our Flickr group. If you’ve uploaded a video to YouTube you think we might be interested in, send us a link. While you’re at it, be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and sign up to be on Swamplot’s email list.

01/22/19 10:00am

BUC-EE’S HAS OPENED ITS FIRST BRANCH OUTSIDE OF TEXAS, AND MORE ARE TO COME Buc-ee’s opened its fourth location along I-10 yesterday morning at 6 a.m. . . . in Robertsdale, Alabama. With 124 gas pumps, the new 50,000-sq.-ft. store, writes the Chronicle’s Julian Gill, “is almost identical to the one that recently opened in Katy,” except it doesn’t have a car wash. Next up: another out-of-state Buc-ee’s in Daytona Beach, Florida according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, whose reporter Clayton Park notes that it too will have a 120-pump setup. “Plans also show a 125-foot-tall sign pole for Buc-ee’s,” he adds, “featuring the head of a cartoon beaver above the word ‘Daytona.’” [Houston Chronicle] Photo of Lake Jackson Buc-ee’s: Judy Baxter [license]

01/18/19 3:00pm

THE HERITAGE SOCIETY IS RUNNING OUT OF MONEY TO MAINTAIN THE COLLECTION OF OLD HOUSES IN SAM HOUSTON PARK Although the 10 old buildings in Sam Houston Park are owned by the city, it’s the nonprofit Heritage Society that keeps them all standing at an average cost of $300,000 to $350,000 a year, reports the Chronicle‘s Molly Glentzer. But, she writes, “Even before Hurricane Harvey inundated the park and flooded the 1868 Pillot House,” the Society was borrowing heavily to finance building upkeep,” and its financial outlook is now pretty dire. Starting next month, all 15 of its full-time employees will downshift to part-time status. “General park hours will remain the same, open dawn-to-dusk daily,” writes Glentzer, “but the organization will need to lean more than ever on its volunteers.” The Heritage Society does receive some money from the city, but the mayor’s chief development officer Andy Icken tells Glentzer that “the city hasn’t agreed to provide more funding, and there is no proposal right now to do so.” [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo of the Pillot House, Sam Houston Park, downtown Houston: i_am_jim [license]

01/17/19 10:45am

TAKEOUT BEER SALES AT BREWERIES COULD BECOME LEGAL UNDER NEWLY PROPOSED STATE LAW A pair of bills filed recently in Austin aim to let craft breweries across Teas sell beer at their facilities for “off-premises consumption,” reports Houston Public Media’s Katie Watkins. It’s not so unprecedented: According to the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, “Texas is currently the only state where customers can’t purchase a growler or six-pack to-go” at local breweries. (And on top of that, take-out sales of wine and spirits are already legal in Texas at wineries and distilleries.) If passed, the bills, S.B. 312 and H.B. 672 would apply only to breweries making less than 225,000 barrels a year and would set a limit on the amount of take-out product permitted for sale over that time span. Representative Eddie Rodriguez, the House democrat who filed the bill, put it this way to Watkins: “It’s 2019 and people are used to being able to get the things they want.” [Houston Public Media] Photo of Saint Arnold brewery: Marc Longoria

01/16/19 10:15am

SEARS PROBABLY WON’T BE COMPLETELY LIQUIDATED THANKS TO THE BANKRUPTCY BIDDER WHO JUST AGREED TO BUY IT OUT Early this morning, the days-long bankruptcy auction for Sears being held at the Manhattan offices of its law firm Weil, Gotshal & Mangles reached a conclusion when the retailer accepted a $5.2 billion takeover bid from one of its executives, Reuters reports. Eddie Lampert, former chairman of the retailer’s parent company Sears Holdings Corp, upped an earlier $5 billion offer and agreed to take on more liabilities as part of the winning deal. “The billionaire’s proposal, made through his hedge fund ESL Investments Inc,” according to Reuters’ Mike Spector and Jessica DiNapoli, “will save up to 45,000 jobs and keep 425 stores open across the United States.” (That’s including Kmart locations, too.) It comes over the objections of a handful of Sears’ creditors who, the Reuters journalists report, had been calling instead for the company’s liquidation. “There remains a chance the deal could fall apart,” according to the reporters, as a bankruptcy judge still must sign off on the agreement. A court hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet, but is expected to go down later this week. [Reuters; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Memorial City Sears, closed since last year: Toru O.