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Design guide versus transit corridors ordinance

Not sure what to make of this just yet.

Fallout from the long-dormant Ashby high-rise development emerged Wednesday as a potential obstacle to the city’s effort to promote walkable, urban-style development along Metro’s planned light-rail lines.

Neighborhood opposition to the Ashby project, a planned 23-story mixed-use tower whose developers continue to await a permit almost two years after they first applied, inspired changes to an obscure city document known as the Infrastructure Design Manual. The changes include a review process intended to prevent high-density developments from worsening traffic congestion on surrounding streets.

City Council members and speakers at a public hearing Wednesday said certain provisions in the design manual conflict with the goals of the proposed urban transit corridors ordinance. Councilwomen Toni Lawrence and Pam Holm threatened to withhold support from the ordinance, seen by many as a vital first step in creating walkable urbanism in Houston, unless the conflict was resolved.

“Urban corridors and transit streets are getting caught in the trap they set for Ashby,” said Kendall Miller, president of Houstonians for Responsible Growth, a group seeking to limit new regulations on Houston’s real estate industry.

[…]

Chapter 15 was added to the design manual in the aftermath of the Ashby controversy, but it simply put into writing procedures that the city already followed, said Andy Icken, deputy director of the Department of Public Works and Engineering.

Icken said he will work with Marlene Gafrick, Houston’s planning and development director, to add language to the transit corridors ordinance clarifying that reduced automobile traffic is likely along corridors where people will be riding trains. That should reduce the need for any traffic mitigation, Icken said.

But Miller, of Houstonians for Responsible Growth, said he remains concerned that Chapter 15 of the design manual gives Public Works personnel too much discretion to require developers to take costly steps to offset traffic impacts. Those costs and lack of predictability could discourage investment in transit corridors and elsewhere, Miller said.

Holm agreed.

“Many of these standards have been put in place to deal with a specific project,” she said, referring to the Ashby high-rise, “and it gives too much decision-making to one person as opposed to setting standards. It is in conflict with the goal of what we’re trying to do with this ordinance as a city.”

I’m not going to take Kendall Miller’s word for it – I think he’s more likely to be concern-trolling than anything else. I’d like to know what folks like Christof Spieler, Andrew Burleson, or David Crossley have to say about this. Having said that, the point that a bunch of us have made all along regarding the Ashby highrise is that the problem with it wasn’t traffic but scale – it just didn’t fit into the surrounding area. Until that is truly acknowledged and dealt with, there’s a real possibility of unintended consequences like this.

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2 Comments

  1. Patrick says:

    Methinks this is what happens when neighborhood NIMBYism gets codified instead of looking at issue facing the entire city as a whole.

  2. Baby Snooks says:

    “Methinks this is what happens when neighborhood NIMBYism gets codified instead of looking at issue facing the entire city as a whole.”

    Methinks you’re probably right but then that’s what happens when NIMBYism has a powerful law firm behind it. Same thing is happening at City Hall in Beverly Hills. Developers versus public interest versus who has the most powerful lawyers. Thems that’s got the gold to buy the attorneys to buy the city gets to build. And to retaliate against those who don’t like it.

    “Having said that, the point that a bunch of us have made all along regarding the Ashby highrise is that the problem with it wasn’t traffic but scale – it just didn’t fit into the surrounding area.”

    What a slipperly slope that is. Didn’t fit into the surrounding area. That is a problem all around the country with older homes being torn down and people with too much money and not enough taste replacing them with whatever they can manage to squeeze on the lot with the only aesthetics involved being how loudly the house screams “I am RICHER than you are.” Too big, too garish, too tall, too wide. The list goes on and on. And in cities that have zoning and “single-family only” neighborhoods.

    Our lack of zoning worked to some degree. Parcels of land were designated as residential or commercial. And buyer beware with regard to the latter. Suddenly, some decided that wasn’t good enough. They still didn’t like it. So now we have “zoning by ordinance” which of course only applies to those who have the means to force the city to enforce the ordinances involved. Everyone else is stuck with the muffler shops and dry cleaners and mini-warehouse centers and even the hirises. And, of course, the traffic.

    “Icken said he will work with Marlene Gafrick, Houston’s planning and development director, to add language to the transit corridors ordinance clarifying that reduced automobile traffic is likely along corridors where people will be riding trains. That should reduce the need for any traffic mitigation, Icken said.”

    As in the traffic will simply move over to another street or thoroughfare so it doesn’t have any real impact. As in the developer wants to build a 1,000 unit apartment complex on the rail line and that is the end of that since the apartment complex owner also owns part of City Hall. As in zoning applies only when some want it to apply. And not when everyone else wants it to apply.

    Suffice it to say you will never see Houston on a list of well-planned and aesthetically balanced cities. Not because of a lack of zoning. Because of the greed of a few who believe they should have the right to do, and build, what they want. And to hell with everyone else.

    These “townhouse communities” alone have ruined quite a few of our neighborhoods already. Including one neighborhood where they don’t want a hirise. Which in itself is, well, curious.

    ““Urban corridors and transit streets are getting caught in the trap they set for Ashby,” said Kendall Miller, president of Houstonians for Responsible Growth, a group seeking to limit new regulations on Houston’s real estate industry.”

    And maybe that’s the problem. They are not concerned with anything but trying to cover up the trap they set for themselves if they are faced with a court action over the trap. Looks more and more like they indeed got caught in the trap. And are more and more concerned about a court action. Which quite a few support. Time for someone to put City Hall back in its place. And to put those who have bought City Hall in theirs.