09/17/18 2:45pm

In a lawsuit it filed Friday against the City of Houston, the government contractor tasked with housing thousands of child immigrants across Texas, Arizona, and California says it’s got until October 28 to open the building it leased at 419 Emancipation Ave. — now preemptively dubbed Casa Sunzal — otherwise the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement will pull its funding for the planned facility.

The nonprofit’s biggest beef with the city (and in particular the Mayor, who grinned in June at the idea of a permitting “slow-walk” for the center) is that the compound shouldn’t be classified as a detention facility but rather a residential one. Yes, the company says in its filing, “children are verbally discouraged from leaving,” the campus, but they “are not physically restrained if they try to.” 240 kids ages “0 to 17,” were originally slated to shack up in the compound, according to the Chronicle’s Lomi Kriel. The majority of them — Southwest Key says now — would be minors that crossed the border by themselves, as opposed to those separated from their parents upon arrival in the U.S.

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Casa Sunzal
08/10/18 4:00pm

 

More than $100,000 worth of liens have now been placed on the stalled Victoria Condos at 829 Yale St. by contractors that worked on the 40-unit midrise. It’s one of the remaining Fisher Homes properties that the Harris County court system hasn’t yet liquidated as part of its ongoing efforts to pay back the developer’s creditors — including some who’ve sued it for failing to pay their invoices on developments such as the Yale condos.

A rendering put out around the time sales began at the beginning of June 2016 shows what they would look like if they had people in them now:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Somebody To Lien On
07/17/18 3:00pm

HINES SIGNS UP FOR 48-STORY HIGHRISE ON FORMER HOUSTON CHRONICLE DIGS DOWNTOWN Building permits filed last week for a concrete foundation in place of the HoustonChronicle-building-turned-parking-lot at 801 Texas Ave. reveal the vertical extent of what Hines has planned for the site: 48 stories. They’ll soon rise up above the fought-over tunnel system where a judge buried the hatchet 5 months ago, awarding Hines’ neighbor Theater Square $200,000, reported Nancy Sarnoff. Theater Square owns the property across Prairie St. from 801 Texas and claimed it had the right to access tunnels beneath the former newspaper building that it needed to connect its own subterranean sprawl to Houston’s broader downtown tunnel system. That hookup is now complete — writes Sarnoff — though the neighboring developer has yet to break ground on its own planned tower. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Brie Kelman

06/27/18 12:00pm

Buc-ee’s scored a sweeping victory in Texas federal court last month when a judge found rival rest stop chain Choke Canyon guilty of 4 wrongs: trademark infringement, dilution, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment. But the battle might not be over: “Choke Canyon is expected to appeal,” reports Law360, “and Texas intellectual property experts say the store has a strong case that it was wrongly barred at trial from presenting key defense evidence.

Among the facts unheard during the 4-day trial: findings from an expert Choke Canyon commissioned to ask 300 people what they thought of the logos’ similarity. 99 percent of them “said there was no likelihood of confusion,” between the two.

Then there are the images that went unseen during the jury’s deliberation. Within that 6-hour period, jurors’ first question to Judge Keith P. Ellison was whether they should compare the set of logos pictured above — which includes the brands’ names — or picture-only versions, like the ones shown below:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Anatomy of the Case
05/18/18 12:15pm

BUC-EE’S VS. CHOKE CANYON: BATTLE OF THE ROADSIDE MASCOTS The jury trial began yesterday in a federal lawsuit Buc-ee’s filed 3 years ago against Choke Canyon, a rival, San Antonio rest-stop chain with a cartoon alligator mascot Buc-ee’s claims is too similar to its own trademark grinning beaver. Buc-ee’s’s lawyer Tracy Richardson (who’s also on the legal team for the chain’s other ongoing infringement suit against Nebraska-based Bucky’s), reports the Chronicle’s Gabrielle Banks, kicked things off with a digital slideshow that chronicled the evolution of Choke Canyon’s gator species over time: “‘They put a human hat on the alligator,’ he said, ‘they opened his mouth. Then they made him stand, which — I’ve never seen an alligator stand.'” Couple that with the animals’ big eyes, red tongue, yellow background, and associated aquatic environs — said Richardson — and the likeness is confusing. (“You’re driving down the road at 80 miles per hour and you see a sign,” he said. “Did you really see what the logo was?”) Also at issue: Choke Canyon’s use of Buc-ee’s-like design elements in its stores, including a vaguely Alamo-like parapet front, stone siding, khaki-colored paint, and oversized bathrooms. (“We have large, clean bathrooms,” said Choke Canyon’s lawyer. “The last time I looked that’s not illegal.”) The jurors will be asked to decide “whether Choke Canyon set out to or actually did confuse customers with the overlap.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Logos: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas

04/06/18 1:00pm

A LAWSUIT OVER RIVERSTONE’S VANISHED LEVEE More than 400 residents of Fort Bend County’s Riverstone development — between Hwy. 6 and the Brazos River — are suing the engineering firm that designed their stormwater systems, alleging that the design left one portion of the community flooded by the runoff from the other during Harvey. The roughly 3,700-acre area is divided into 2 Levee Improvement Districts — LID 19 (shaded blue on the map) and 15. “It became very clear when we passed into LID 15 that something was not right,” one LID 19 homeowner said in a press conference. “We were inundated with water in our neighborhood, and just on the other side of the street everything seemed to be perfectly fine.” Both LIDs were designed by Costello, Inc. the company founded by Houston’s flood czar Steve Costello. (He’s said he divested from it in 2015.) That firm’s failure to consider what would happen when a levee that ran between the 2 districts — along Hagerson Rd. — was removed is what downstreamers say is to blame for much of their soggy state. In total, reports the Chronicle’s Rebecca Elliott, about a third of the 1,760 homes in LID 19 flooded. [Houston Chronicle] Map of Riverstone LIDs 15 and 19: Riverstone LIDs

03/29/18 2:30pm

GARDEN OAKS MAINTENANCE ORGANIZATION LIKELY TO FILE FOR BANKRUPTCY ON ACCOUNT OF ALL THAT MONEY IT HAS IN THE BANK The Garden Oaks Maintenance Organization has hired a law firm to handle an anticipated bankruptcy filing — which could come as soon as Monday, reports The Leader’s Jonathan McElvy. Two years ago, a lawsuit that the organization had filed to enforce its deed restrictions against a pair of homeowners backfired when the court ruled that GOMO itself had not been formed legally. (An appeals court has since ruled that it does still have power to enforce the neighborhood’s bylaws.) As a result, in the wake of the initial ruling, “every dollar GOMO spends now could be challenged in court,” writes McElvy. With close to $600,000 in its bank account, GOMO now appears to face 2 options, he notes: “Either the board disbands and lets a judge tell them how to disburse that money, or they try a legal maneuver that seeks a judge’s permission to reorganize, so they can continue operations as the gatekeeper of Garden Oaks.” If this story sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it is. GOMO’s predecessor entity was disbanded before the current organization began in 2001 because it was, McElvy says, “formed illegally, as well.” [The Leader; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox

03/08/18 11:00am

Make no mistake about the signage now up along Hwy. 6 across Schiller Dr. from the Aldi near Westpark: the travel stop it’s announcing is Nebraska-born Bucky’s — not the Texan Buc-ee’s. Construction vehicles are now pushing dirt around west of the Highway 6 RV Resort where the new complex plans to go.

Last year, Buc-ee’s filed a lawsuit against Bucky’s to stop the transplant from moving ahead with plans to build at least 6 new Houston-area locations. One Bucky’s is now open on NASA Pkwy. in Nassau Bay, but besides that, all other operational Bucky’ses are currently out of state: in Omaha, St. Louis, and the Chicago area.

Across the street, Twistee Treat Westpark is flanked by Golden Corral and a Take 5 Oil Change, and backed up by a Palace Inn:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

The Buc Stops Here
02/05/18 10:00am

I-45 STRIP CLUB SAYS HPD’S 3-FT. DEAL WITH COMPETITORS IS DRIVING IT OUT OF BUSINESS A new lawsuit filed by Fantasy Plaza — just south of North Bank Rd. at 8503 N. Fwy. — accuses the city and other strip clubs of working together on what Fantasy claims “amounts to a commercial bribery scheme.” Five years ago, 16 of Fantasy Plaza’s competitors — some of which had been accused of facilitating human trafficking — settled a series of lawsuits with the city. As part of the settlement, the clubs agreed to get rid of their “VIP rooms” and also “to donate annually to a fund that maintains a Houston Police Department unit dedicated to investigating human trafficking,” writes the Chronicle’s Francisca Ortega. The clubs now pool together at least $1 million each year for the fund. In return, HPD agreed not to enforce a law that prohibited topless dancers from coming within 3 ft. of customers — but only for the 16 clubs making payments. Fantasy Plaza wasn’t one of them. Now, according to the club’s suit: “Because Fantasy Plaza must abide by city law, Fantasy Plaza cannot compete for customers in the same manner as the Clubs. This has caused-and will continue to cause, Fantasy Plaza to lose business and ultimately fail.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Fantasy Plaza

11/03/17 2:00pm

MONTROSE DISTRICT APPEALING JUDGE’S ORDER TO RETURN $6.6 MILLION IT COLLECTED FROM LOCAL BUSINESSES The new judge now in charge of the 5-year-old lawsuit against the 6-year-old Montrose Management District earlier this week affirmed the decision announced by his predecessor late last year — that the taxes the group imposed on the West Montrose Management District were not validly assessed, and that all $6.6 million should be returned to its payers — and parceled off a dispute about attorneys’ fees into a separate case. The final judgment clears the way for the district to appeal the ruling in state court, which it did yesterday. “The district stands by its position that it is operating within its legal charter granted by the State of Texas,” a statement put out by the organization reads. “No refunds for assessments collected in the West Montrose Management District (the only portion of the district under dispute in this legal action) will be made, pending the outcome of the current appeal.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Montrose Management District

11/02/17 12:45pm

2100 MEMORIAL’S EVICTION ORDER, COMPLETELY TRANSFORMED A statement from the Houston Housing Authority yesterday says it “is making every effort to comply” with a judge’s temporary restraining order issued last week ordering the public agency to fix the fire-safety systems at the 14-story 2100 Memorial senior living apartment complex, test the building’s electrical transformers, and replace them if necessary. Judge Daryl Moore also prohibited the authority from terminating the leases of any of its tenants without demonstrating better cause than it has. An estimated 80 percent of the former Holiday Inn’s residents have already moved out. [Houston Chronicle; more; previously on SwamplotPhoto: Realtor.com  

10/20/17 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW LAST NIGHT’S A$AP MOB SHOW ON THE WHITE OAK MUSIC HALL LAWN MIGHT’VE BROUGHT DOWN THE HOUSE “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. WOMH should cut a deal fast to make major sound mitigation improvements before the court and the City shuts them down. People on both sides of I-45 are hopping mad about the concert last night. It is a huge roll of the dice to expect a bunch of jurors to say: ‘Yeah, a big concert venue in the middle of a residential neighborhood is no big deal.’” [Old School, commenting on FEMA Aid Deadline Extended; Pre-Trial Outdoor Shows Can Go On at White Oak Music Hall; Hakeem Olajuwon in the Red Mango Biz] Video clip of last night’s outdoor concert (NSFW): FIRST CLASS BEATS

10/03/17 5:00pm

2100 MEMORIAL RESIDENTS PROTEST BY PAYING THEIR RENT, STAYING HOME Singing “We shall not be moved,” a group of residents remaining at the 2100 Memorial senior-living apartments just west of Downtown marched into the 14-story building’s leasing office one by one today to deliver their rent checks, Florian Martin reports. A notice delivered 15 days ago to residents of the tax-credit facility owned by the Houston Housing Authority gave them 5 days to move out of the building, but a spokesperson later told Swamplot that the authority would not enforce that deadline. In the meantime, a lawsuit filed just before the move-out date seeking to force the authority both to make repairs to the electrical system and to allow residents to remain in their homes has been revised and expanded to 17 named resident plaintiffs. Flooding compromised the former Holiday Inn building’s fire-safety and electrical systems; the Housing Authority says it is working with residents to find them new places to live. [Houston Public Media; previously on Swamplot] Photo: 2100 Memorial

09/25/17 12:15pm

2100 MEMORIAL LAWSUIT: LET THESE PEOPLE STAY Three tenants of the Sixth Ward senior housing facility known as 2100 Memorial filed suit against the Houston Housing Authority on Friday, a day before Saturday’s unenforced deadline for all residents to leave the building. Acting for the tenants, Lone Star Legal Aid claims the agency violated the rights of the building’s residents by failing to hold a hearing in which tenants could contest the decision. The agency has not given residents “any evidence to support any of the allegations of unreasonable danger which rendered the apartments uninhabitable,” the lawsuit claims. Although the building’s first floor flooded, the tenants’ apartments suffered “little, or no, damage” from the storms, the lawsuit states. Lone Star Legal Aid claims the lawsuit means the HHA will now have to “produce the facts that support its decision.” [Lone Star Legal Aid; KHOU; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Realtor.com  

08/28/17 12:30pm

WHY YOU MIGHT WANT TO FILE YOUR HARVEY INSURANCE CLAIMS BEFORE FRIDAY Suffered property damage from Hurricane Harvey and have access to a smartphone, computer, pen and paper, or your insurance agent? Forget about waiting for waters to recede before filing any insurance claim. You’ll want to do it now — or at least before Friday. What’s the rush? The new Texas law formerly known as House Bill 1774, passed by the Texas Legislature this session and signed by Governor Abbott in May, goes into effect on September 1. The “hailstorm lawsuit reform” measure reduces property owners’ leverage with insurance companies in weather-related claims — by making it more difficult for homeowners to sue agents successfully, increasing the obstacles to filing and carrying through with lawsuits over insurance coverage, and limiting the penalties insurance companies could face if they lose a lawsuit against you. To prevent your coverage from falling under these stipulations, notify your insurance provider of your claims before the law goes into effect, and document your correspondence. [Community Impact; Texas Tribune; Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog] Photo: Randy Poole