COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: HOW TO ADDRESS THE TOWNHOME GAP “I’ve always wondered how it will be possible to maintain (or one day have to replace) the fiber cement siding in between all those 3-story homes separated by what looks like mere shoulder width. Super thin scaffolding?” [Progg, commenting on Comment of the Day: The Real Difference Between a Townhome and a Patio Home] Photo of 3108 Baer St., Fifth Ward: HAR
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: IT’S NOT WHAT YOU HAVE, IT’S HOW IT’S ATTACHED “As an engineer who regularly performs inspections of homes/businesses, I don’t think there’s an issue with stucco itself. If properly installed and maintained, it works fine. Maintenance is just as important as installation, however most home owners do a poor job of regular maintenance on their house and just blame the builder for any issues that appear 5 years down the road. A good practice is to inspect and re-caulk any seals on the exterior of your house every year, preferably before the spring rainy season.
However, I wouldn’t go with the impermeable barrier system in Houston, which assumes that no moisture will get behind the wall (so there are no weep holes at the bottom). I’d rather have a ‘breathable’ building envelope, because keeping moisture out is very difficult with the soil conditions and climate we have in the area.” [Chase, commenting on Comment of the Day: Why Is Houston Still Stuck on Stucco?] Illustration: Lulu
Update (2/9): The entire beacon fixture has been replaced. See this story for details.
The rotating spotlight on top of the 64-story Williams Tower in the Galleria area has been back on for a few weeks, following an autumnal hiatus.
According to a representative of the tower’s property management office, the beam stayed dark during difficulties finding the correct kind of bulb for the fixture. A reader sent a report this week from a bedroom window overlooking the Galleria area:
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Twinkle, Twinkle, Giant Bulb
As of rush hour yesterday, a reader tells Swamplot, the Downtown Aquarium’s Ferris wheel at 410 Bagby St. was missing something — namely, the whole wheel bit. Workers were observed dismantling the spokes earlier in the day at the freeway-side restaurant-tainment complex. According to the restaurant’s website, the wheel is out for winter maintenance and won’t be spinning again until March 1st.
From Memorial Dr. headed west under I-45, here’s an evening snapshot of the newly unemployed support posts:
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Bagby at Buffalo Bayou
WHEN SYSTEMS BREAK DOWN A reader writes: “The non-profit I work for is currently looking for a new office. We found a great location in East Downtown, near the new rail line, recently renovated, and a great price. It is essentially our dream office.
During the lease negotiations the realtor said that after 90 days into the 3 year lease, if any plumbing, electrical, or HVAC issues arise, we would be responsible for paying it. Including any replacement and labor.
When countered with a ‘no,’ the realtor stated that this was a normal practice in Houston and ‘good luck trying to find a place that will let you get away with that.’
Being new to this process, we are curious if this is true. The current office we are in does not require that and I personally have not heard of it other places.” Photo: Russell Hancock
THE NEXT BIG EVENT PLANNED FOR THE ASTRODOME WILL BE A WASH When was the last time anyone bothered to clean the exterior of the Astrodome? Long enough ago to merit media coverage for word that the Dome’s caretakers have now decided to do something about the building’s growing exterior grunge. The Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, having presided for 15 years over the former sports stadium’s steady decay, is about to embark on its first notable Dome maintenance operation since firefighters used fans to blow smoke out of the building in the aftermath of a 2011 transformer fire in the vacant facility. With approval from the Texas Historical Commission, reports Fox 26’s Mark Berman, the agency will award local building restoration and pressure-washing practitioners Green Team Services $63,800 to clean the outside of the structure. [My Fox Houston; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Green Team Services
A LIFEBOAT FOR THE ROYALTON’S CORRODING CROWN? Judging from court filings, there appears to have been some sort of resolution to the lawsuit filed more than 2 years ago by the condominium association of the 253-unit Royalton at River Oaks highrise over the design of the steel grid at the top of the building at 3333 Allen Pkwy. The lawsuit claimed the structure was corroding and was designed in such away that made maintaining it or recoating it impossible — and sought damages from the building’s contractor, architect, and other parties. The condo association dropped its claims against many of those parties late last month. And a reader wonders if the attachment seen hanging below the structure in the recent photo at left, which “almost looks like a hot tub,” is part of some newly devised cleaning solution. [Prime Property] Photo: Swamplot inbox
HOW A DEVELOPER MAKES FRIENDS IN GERMANTOWN Fisher 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
One of the largest rhetorical weapons in the arsenal regularly wielded by proponents of repurposing or demolishing the Astrodome over the last several years has been a brutal financial factoid regularly drawn into arguments over the Houston landmark’s future. How much money in maintenance and debt-service costs have county taxpayers had to spend just to keep the retired sports stadium around and rotting? Why $2.4 million or so each year, claimed news report after news report after editorial after news report. Like the once-record-breaking 642-ft. clear span inside, it was just one of those things people who were paying attention knew.
But that figure isn’t accurate, Harris County’s budget chief now says. And at a meeting called by Judge Ed Emmett this week, Bill Jackson tried to set the record straight: First, he said, the Astrodome is “essentially debt free“; all but 5 percent of outstanding debt payments connected to the facility stem from work done in 2002 and 2003 — after the Dome had been retired from professional sports — to prepare the larger park for the Texans to use it. (The total amount of that remaining debt, according to a Houston Chronicle recalculation earlier this year, is $6 million.) Using the accounting principle of “first in, first out,” this means that all debts attributable to the Dome itself have now been paid for, Jackson said.
How about maintenance and insurance costs, then?
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Now Down to $171K a Year, Give or Take?
THE CATCH IN KINDER FOUNDATION’S BAYOU GREENWAYS CASH GIVEAWAY It’s one thing to get the money to build a bunch of nice parks, and it’s another to keep them nice: Houston Chronicle reports that the Kinder Foundation isn’t convinced that the city will be able to pay for the maintenance of all those miles and miles of hike and bike trails and linear parks it’s setting up through the Bayou Greenways Project. That’s why — before the foundation agrees to donate the $50 million it’s dangling out there to the project — it wants the nonprofit Houston Parks Board to be put in charge of future upkeep: “Under the proposed arrangement, the city agrees to pay the park board up to $10 million a year for maintenance. Although the nonprofit likely will hire private companies and Harris County Flood Control to do some work, the city parks department would be the preferred contractor for the bulk of it, essentially bringing much of the funding back to city coffers. Additionally, the agreement includes an annual 20 percent contingency fund the board can use for capital improvement projects, such as installing new lights or replacing aging trails, or for disaster recovery after flooding or hurricanes.” [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo of hike and bike trail construction on Brays Bayou: Allyn West
COMMENT OF THE DAY: POWER WASH THE DOME! “It has been about three years since I was V.P. of the company trying to convince Harris County to let us use the Astrodome as a movie production studio. at that time, my research into costs of sprucing up the building’s exterior revealed that plain old pressure washing could make a huge difference in the outside appearance. The company I consulted, specialists at cleaning large scale commercial buildings – like international airports – said it could be done for $500,000 or under. While that is a lot of money to most of us, it is not much compared to the negative P.R. ‘black eye’ that our dirty and forlorn-looking icon gives Houston. If only the Harris County Commissioners, the true stewards of the Dome, would clean up the exterior and do some landscape refreshing perhaps the grand old building would not appear so neglected to the rest of the world. While the interior still has grand promise, if only temporarily as a storage facility, the county should invest in putting the Astrodome’s best ‘face’ forward until its future use is determined. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t read about the Dome in the national media and blogs and it usually includes a negative nod to its appearance. This is something that CAN be done without a referendum!” [Cynthia Neely, commenting on The Astrodome’s New Gig: AstroTurf Storage Warehouse]
HOUSTON JANITORS CLEAN UP AFTER STRIKE Six of the 7 janitorial services companies affected by a month-long walkout agreed to a tentative settlement late Wednesday that should end the work stoppage by more than 3,000 Houston janitors. Beginning next January, janitors will earn an additional 25 cents an hour each year, bringing their pay to $9.35 an hour by 2016. The Service Employees International Union Local 1 had sought an increase to $10 an hour over 3 years, beginning a strike early last month after the companies offered only a 50-cent increase over 5 years. The janitors were reportedly unsuccessful in efforts to lengthen their work hours. [Texas Observer]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE SHELF LIFE OF APARTMENT COMPLEXES “. . . please drive by the Belmont Apartments on Bissonnet between Buffalo Speedway and Kirby. They were built in 1991 and pretty much kicked off the modern era of apartment development in Houston (post 80′s bust). They are in FINE condition at the ripe old age of 21 years.
There are plenty more early 90′s vintage complexes around that are also going strong and aging well. Vanderbilt Square (1995). Inverness (1991). Pin Oak Green etc. (1991). City Scape. City Walk. And MANY more. There is nothing wrong with these 20 year old complexes.
Finally, take a look at Westchase or Avalon Square and you’ll see 50 year old apartment complexes that are still fine places to live.
Yes. Buildings age. And deteriorate over time. But well located assets in high demand sub-markets where the rental rates are high enough to finance proper maintenance can stand the test of time.” [Bernard, commenting on Apartments Replacing Park Memorial Condos in Rice Military: More than Triple the Density]
Teevee reporter Courtney Zubowski follows up on questions raised by some recent photos published on Swamplot: Just how badly trashed is the Astrodome? The county claims to be spending $2 to $3 million a year to maintain the vacant structure, but apparently that amount isn’t enough to keep the place presentable. A burst 8th-floor pipe has drenched the Astroturf, seats are caked with dust, pipe insulation is frayed, and hung ceilings have collapsed on office space:
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