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Demolition Day 2013

Myra Griffin
The Houston Sun

The city of Houston continues their demolition initiative as the city held their 4th Annual Demolition Day where they took down 39 blighted structures around the city in over 14 different zip codes.

Mayor Annise Parker joined Council member Jerry Davis (District B) in Kashmere Gardens to bulldoze a dilapidated house that has stood as an eye sore on Lavender Street for the past seven years.

“I’m happy to be joining Council member Jerry Davis on this Demolition Day. We started Demolition Day last year as well and I appreciate his effort to improve District B,” said Mayor Parker. “We have done this now for four years and Demolition Day gets better and better and the first thing I want to say is these efforts against blighted properties like this just don’t happen in one day. I created demolition day so we can draw attention to the problem come together as a community to focus on it one day a year and with volunteers to accomplish a lot of things in one day.”

The Department of Neighborhoods and seven divisions of Inspections and Public Service take the lead role in Demolition Day each year. They work closely with the Mayor’s office, Solid Waste Management, Public Works and Special Events. Through their efforts along with the city’s legal department and outside contractors the city is able to focus on houses and apartment complexes that are decaying across Houston.

“The property behind me took six years to get to today,” said Mayor Parker. “Its not because the city doesn’t want to tear down properties, it’s not because we don’t recognize how detrimental it is to a neighborhood these kind of properties are.”

State law in Texas is very specific and very precise and it is on the side of property owners. Even if the property is driving down the property value of the houses around them the city has to follow proper guidelines and procedures before tearing down the house.

“When we focused on Demolition Day we had 250 properties. We started on this last year and we said ok on Demolition Day this year our goal was to take down 100 properties,” said Mayor Parker. “This is good news because finally we have demonstrated over these last four years that we are serious about taking down these properties and owners have received the message so in some cases after years of pleading, begging and asking nicely and finally having the law knock on their door and taking them through the legal process they finally say ok I’m going to give up and do the right thing.”

The city has 136 properties to take down this year. The Houston Contractors Association has donated their equipment and labor for the past four years. Mayor Parker noted that their contributions over the years have probably totaled at around half a million dollars. Companies such as Pelitier Brothers Construction, AAA Asphalt Construction, Conrad Construction, BRH Construction, Garver Construction, Angel Bros. Construction, Reytec Construction, and Cherry Construction donated their labor and service to Kashmere Gardens and communities all around Houston.

“We’re overjoyed to be able to help the city and to be able to help the beautification of the city,” said Jeffrey Nielsen, Executive Director of the Houston Contractors Association. “It helps with crime when we are moving a blight that’s in the neighborhood and it’s not just a blight it’s a safety hazard as well. We earn our living by building the roads, the bridges, water line, sewer lines for the city of Houston and this is one of the few ways we have to give back and kind of paying forward an we are very happy to do it.”

The community of Kashmere Gardens is neighborhood friendly. The elderly sit on their front porches and the children walk to the school that is down the street from the house that was torn down. The house at 4522 Lavender Street was a pressing issue that needed to be addressed. Neighbors like Kenneth Ellis and his mother, Mrs. Ellis sat on their porch across the street, watching as city officials and the construction crews blocked off the area to bulldoze a house that they have reported numerous of times over the past seven years. They were leery about the after effects of the tearing down of a house that was vacant for so long and how the city would handle the debris that surrounded the home.

“We already have a problem with possums,” said Mrs. Ellis. “They’re just going to knock down the house but what about the over grown trees. It’s still an eye sore and we’ve been calling on this property for years and years.”

Mayor Parker is aware of how long the house has been sitting as she told those who gathered to see the demolition that after six years of legal process, the house being trashed out by vagrants, even a fire started in it at one point, the demolition is set and ready to go.

The process to demolition a house is not as simple as a call. Mayor Parker spoke about how the city has to jump through legal hoops, make sure all the utilities are cut off and no underground gas leaks, asbestos or any thing hazardous is still active within the house.

“It is a very rigorous process. One of the things we do is sweep the neighborhood and have inspectors look around and see what’s going on,” said Landon Taylor of the Department of Neighborhoods. “We talk to the neighbors that report them and also look at the tax status that is on the property. Then it goes through the process of being dually noticed, an administrative hearing and then sometimes the owner wants to appeal but then it’s our job to show all the facts and go ahead and take them down.”

Mayor Parker compared these blighted homes to cancer stating that you have to cut out cancer so that is what the city was doing, cutting out the cancer in that neighborhood. Council member Jerry Davis has made it a commitment to get rid of the blighted structures in District B as he has already taken down 200 properties in the two years he has been in office.

Jeremy Ratcliff, president of the Super Neighborhoods- Kashmere Gardens showed his excitement for the development of his community and the efforts made by the city to help restore African American communities.

“There’s a misconception when you come through Kashmere Gardens that none of these people care and we are trying to change that,” said Ratcliff. “There are people here that care and we appreciate the help and hopefully this is a start of a relationship between the neighborhoods and the city to get more of these structures down.”

Demolition Day has helped paved the way for new opportunity and growth. Mayor Parker has issued a message to property owners that if they don’t want to keep up their property and the city has to step in and do it they will because this is a city about neighborhoods and they care.

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Downtown Sign Consolidation

Myra Griffin
The Houston Sun

The confusion that is known better as parking in downtown Houston may be solved once the signs are changed to a different design, reduced and organized in a uniform manner to relieve the stress, towing and ticketing that is associated with parking in downtown.

Mayor Parker has a vision to grow the downtown sector and wants more and more people to come and visit. She mentioned Discovery Green, Market Square Park, the free public activities and festivals downtown as why people should come downtown and if the parking is less complicated it may increase the flow of people.

“We want people to come downtown and have a great time and go back and find there car is still in the same place where they left it,” said Mayor Parker. “My goal is to write fewer parking tickets in downtown Houston and encourage everyone to come out and have a good time. It’s going to take us a while to get through the thicket of signs but when we do its going to be a much more pleasant experience.”

Parker believes there ought to be consistency across downtown with fewer signs. As of now there are 120 different sign in downtown directing you where you can and can’t park and at what time you can, if it’s metered parking or for commercial parking and on and on. With the abundance of signs Parker said it is easy to miss the one that applies to the stretch of pavement you want to park in. Once the project is over it should go from a 120 different signs to 25 by next year.

“It’s important to me that any place that your not suppose to park that we get those curbs painted and we keep them painted,” said Mayor Parker. “I don’t want any “gotchas” out there.”

It will take about a year to get all 5,800 signs that populate downtown removed and replaced with what the city calls a double blank. It will have instructions on one side of the panel and on the other side of the panel and at the maximum one sign underneath. This will replace the totem pole sign that has multiple signs on one pole that offer various instructions that can become very confusing to interpret.

“There will be a uniform design and time requirements that applies to the block face, different types of meter bags, there will be more parking inventory created because the public work transportation crew went out and looked at all the mobility lanes and went out and assessed if all of the lanes that are designated as mobility lanes are really relevant and needed right now due to traffic patterns,” said Christopher Newport, Parking Management. “They were able to free up some additional inventory there. So it makes parking easier downtown and I think we will get an attractive product out of it at the end.”

The problem with surface lots and fake car parkers on the weekends was also addressed by Mayor Parker. The surface lots that aren’t available on the weekends are suppose to be chained off to show unavailability, yet there have been accounts of men ripping off Houstonians and those who come and visit downtown in the private surface lots. Mayor Parker has promised to continue to monitor that and make sure people don’t get deceived when coming downtown and thinking they are safe because they are in a private surface lot and then come back and find their car towed.

“We’re hoping to give out fewer parking tickets in downtown and I absolutely believe we will give out fewer parking tickets when we get through with all this sign replacement,” said Mayor Parker. “Now we will write tickets whenever you are illegally parked and we can do traffic enforcement 24/7. That’s why we don’t want to sneak up on anybody and we don’t want to make it confusing. We want you to know if you’re illegally parked were going to get you but we want to make it easier not to illegally park.”

With a cleaner looking block face it should be easier for people who don’t come to downtown on a regular basis to feel comfortable when they do and park on the streets. It should also make it easier for them to find an off street parking options.

The signs that will come down will become art and will be handled by The Downtown Management District. The project will be released upon their discretion.