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Parker statement on Ashby highrise

Fresh from the inbox:

Statement by Annise Parker on Ashby High Rise

August 22, 2009
Contact: Sue Davis, 713-392-6011, sue@suedavis.net

I am disappointed with the city’s decision yesterday to grant a site development permit for the high-rise building planned for the corner of Bissonnet and Ashby in the single-family residential neighborhood of Southampton. From the first meeting at Poe School, I stood with the neighborhood in seeking solutions to stop this project.

I have a continuing concern that increased traffic resulting from the project will pose an unacceptable public safety risk to the surrounding neighborhood, bring a decreased quality of life for the residents, a loss of privacy and a negative impact on their property values.

Clearly, we simply cannot manage our city’s growth by lurching from one Ashby high-rise crisis to the next. Individuals cannot make safe investments in their homes and neighborhoods and businesses cannot make safe investments in their developments without predictability and consistency.

We need to get everyone back to the table to get a clear, workable and consistently applied ordinance that would require at least a traffic impact analysis and an adequate mitigation plan to proceed. Traffic impact is a public safety issue because it limits the ability of first responders in an emergency. It is an environmental issue because it creates air pollution. Traffic impacts absolutely need to be considered, and appropriate mitigation required, when we evaluate development projects.

I also believe it is possible to craft an ordinance that would create incentives and/or limits to move high- and mid-rise construction to the boundaries of neighborhoods and on major thoroughfares.

While I do not believe zoning is workable for Houston, I do believe it is possible to better protect neighborhoods and better preserve the property values and quality of life in neighborhoods, while still allowing growth and development.

I have worked for years to bring consistency and predictability to these issues – including spearheading the original density limitations contained in Chapter 42, our subdivision ordinance, and subsequent amendments when I served on City Council. As our city has grown, the need for clear rules has even greater urgency. It will receive my highest priority as Mayor.

I still think the traffic issue was secondary to the scale issue. I do agree that we can – and should – come up with an ordinance that addresses that in a reasonable way. As always, I’ll be interested in hearing the details of such a proposal. If I receive a statement on this from any of the other Mayoral candidates, I’ll print it as well.

UPDATE: I had wondered if the Stop Ashby Highrise folks were going to emerge from their dormant state. The answer is Yes.

Our opposition to this project remains undiminished, and we will continue our efforts to prevent it from being financed and constructed. We believe that we have a number of powerful tools available to us, and we intend to use all of them. There are many steps between obtaining a site work and foundation permit and actually constructing a project, and we will have opportunities to continue our fight in many forums.

We strongly encourage you to continue to display your Stop Ashby High Rise yard signs and bumper stickers to demonstrate your opposition to this unwelcome project. We also would be especially pleased to accept any donations to the Stop Ashby High Rise effort, because we anticipate the need for legal fees as we move forward.

More, including how to donate to their cause if you feel so inclined, is at their site. I’m sure I’ll start seeing a resurgence in the yard signs on Monday.

UPDATE: Here’s Peter Brown’s statement.

Statement By Candidate For Mayor Peter Brown On Ashby Highrise Developments:
August 24, 2009

Like many others, I’m deeply concerned over the City’s apparent ‘green-light’ for the Ashby Highrise development. I’ve opposed this project from the beginning and I’ve worked alongside advocates in the neighborhood to try and prevent it from damaging our community. This news only makes that commitment more urgent.

The project that is taking shape raises serious concerns. The infrastructure in the area is simply not sufficient for a structure of that size, and it will lead to traffic congestion and gridlock during peak hours. Turning narrow residential streets into major thoroughfares is a safety issue, restricting access for emergency vehicles during periods of traffic congestion and endangering pedestrians. It will also harm the general quality of life residents in these areas have come to enjoy. And it’s emblematic of the sort of out-of-scale projects that overtax drainage systems and contribute to our flooding issues around the City.

This isn’t the first time that a project unfit for the neighborhood it’s being built in has moved forward, and without action it won’t be the last. We need to do more to protect our neighborhoods from the adverse impacts of harmful development. What’s been made clear by our experience here is that our current, ad-hoc system of regulations is failing to protect communities. Our current approach shifts an unacceptable burden onto taxpayers who are forced to mitigate the adverse effects of that development on our infrastructure. Houston doesn’t need zoning, but we do need better tools to protect the character, diversity and function of our great neighborhoods.

First, we need to fix the city’s Chapter 42 development ordinance to better protect the integrity of our neighborhoods make our regulations more predictable and efficient. We need to make our ordinances more outcomes-driven, targeted to get the results we want.

Second, we should provide incentives designed to keep developments and projects like this outside of neighborhoods and along major thoroughfares, transit lines and other suitable areas equipped with the infrastructure to support them.

While I value the efforts of those working to create a vibrant urban environment in Houston, it should not come at the expense of the strong neighborhoods that make our City great.

I believe that this project is wrong for the neighborhood, its residents and our City. As Mayor I’ll continue to be an advocate on behalf of neighborhoods and their residents. I’ll continue the work I’ve done on City Council and much of my professional career, because our great neighborhoods are the heart of Houston.

UPDATE: And finally, courtesy of Hair Balls, here is Gene Locke’s statement:

The misfortune of Ashby High Rise is that it has created a situation where there are no winners. If there is one thing that we have learned over the past two years, it is how important it is that we create consistent, predictable and transparent rules governing development. People need to be able to protect the historic character of their neighborhoods so that we maintain an excellent quality of life for all Houstonians. At the same time, our city needs to grow and diversify to meet the economic challenges of tomorrow. As I have said many times in my campaign, I will bring together the stakeholders involved in neighborhoods and development so we can explore fresh ideas that will ensure that we continue to be one of the fastest growing cities in the nation and maintain livable and vibrant neighborhoods.

As our city becomes denser, we will need to balance the responsible growth that drives our city with the recognition that development can have impacts beyond the borders of the land being developed. The development approval process must not only be predictable, but also open and transparent so dialog can occur early in the process among all stakeholders. As mayor, I am committed to exploring various avenues to achieve and maintain the balance necessary to continue making Houston a unique and vibrant city in which to live including incentives that will drive high-rise development to major thoroughfares.

Take it away, Baby Snooks!

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22 Comments

  1. […] Annise Parker statement on Ashby highrise (via Off the Kuff) […]

  2. Baby Snooks says:

    Well this should pretty much finish her off given the number of other developments around the city that other neighborhoods have complained about and about which she had nothing to say. Of course like the mayor she believes currying the favor of partners at a powerful law firm will pay off. Like the mayor she will probably find it will not.

  3. Baby Snooks says:

    And she is asking people to donate to the “pot” for the lawsuit against the city. Pretty appalling for someone who wants to be mayor of the city to endorse suing the city when you think about it.

  4. Greenguy says:

    This is puzzling: “It is an environmental issue because it creates air pollution.” Do Parker and others think that residents of the new high-rise would previously have floated to work on magic carpets?

    Presumably the residents will work in the urban core– some might walk or bike to places in the Montrose, Med Center/Museum District, or Rice areas. But even if all new residents drive every day, their alternative housing locations are further out from their employment destination: denser housing in that area decreases net travel time and therefore net pollution throughout the metro. While Bissonnet may now experience worse traffic during rush hour, those cars won’t be stinking up 59 anymore. Again, the local traffic impact is worth exploring and mitigating, but everything else– sunlight, pollution, noise, etc.– is a smokescreen.

  5. Baby Snooks says:

    What’s actually fascinating in this is that everyone at City Hall, and a couple in Austin, who is “anti-developer” with regard to 1717 Bissonnet is usually “pro-developer” which raises the question of where their interests in this lie. Most already know. It’s obvious in their list of supporters and their campaign finance reports.

    As for Chapter 42, which Annise Parket never fails to take credit for, in reality it is a joke. Every day in this city the developers with the “in” at City Hall get variances on anything and everything they want. The only reason why Weingarten caved in over an issue of a variance at River Oaks Shopping Center is because they need to appear to be good neighbors. Which most people who live near the Village will assure you they are not. And despite their assurances, be assured that the River Oaks Theater will go the way of the Village Theater.

    As for this ongoing assertion that Bissonnet is some quiet little two-lane street winding its way through a quiet residential neighborhood filled with single-family homes, it sounds good but in the past two years more and more people have driven around so to speak and know that is not the case. And Bissonnet is a major thoroughfare. It simply has never been widened between Montrose and Kirby. But eventually will be. It will have to be.

    I suspect quite a few of our politicians who have pandered to a law firm believe everyone in this city is stupid. They are not.

    Most of the developers whether they are “in” or “out” with the assortment of characters involved in this fiasco are in the end going to side with Matthew Morgan and Kevin Kirton simply out of fear that if they don’t they will find their projects delayed for two years simply because a couple of attorneys with a law firm can get a mayor and members of city council to huff and puff and threaten to blow their project down as well. Or at least delay it. Which will cost them. And they are not willing to risk that. Would you?

    As for litigation at this point unless that law firm has managed somehow to buy a judge it is doubtful any lawsuit filed against the developers will survive an initial hearing. The city has approved it. They have the right to build. So any litigation has to be with the city over the approval. And that is where a lot of people are finally wondering about Annise Parker. Someone who wants to be mayor doesn’t invited lawsuits against the city which will cost the taxpayers a lot of money which this will. But then she really has never cared about the taxpayers to begin with. From the Memorial City TIRZ to the Fourth Ward TIRZ she supported the use of public funding to improve private property and enrich the developers. Which makes this, again, quite fascinating. Suddenly, she is for the little guy. Although of course in this case, he isn’t really the little guy at all. But a law firm tied to some of the biggest scandals in this city’s history including Enron and which apparently loves to throw its weight around. Unfortunately they are not very good at buying voters.

    As for zoning even if the voters approved it and unrestricted land could suddenly be restricted, it wouldn’t stop 1717 Bissonnet.

    It is doubtful the voters would approve it. And everyone knows it so they have developed this “zoning by ordinance” approach which most suspect the courts will not support simply because it involves restricting use of unrestricted land. And the city charter does not allow that. And won’t until the voters change it.

    Regardless of anything, off to court everyone will go. With the taxpayers once again paying for the folly of a fool named Bill White.

  6. Baby Snooks says:

    And what’s also fascinating is how Bill White “cut and run” and let everyone else stand there holding the proverbial bag. All of whom have been very silent. Wisely. Except for Annise Parker.

    As for the pollution issue, Greenguy has raised just one of so many counterpoints in this that of course Annise Parker and everyone else merely ignores. They have adopted the attitude of the homeowners and their law firm. They are above it all. Until we all hit the polls in November.

  7. David Harris says:

    Sadly, the Southampton Civic Association, rather than focusing resources on the Ashby high-rise, is prepared to spend approx. $50,000 — roughly 25% of their entire war chest, on persecuting one of our neighbors who had the temerity to build a fence on HIS OWN PROPERTY that slightly encroaches on the alley easement. Hugh Rice Kelly, SHCC’s legal representative, has said that he plans to follow this suit with others against other Southampton residents whom he believes to have encroached on their easements.
    With the Ashby high-rise moving closer to reality, to be spending our donations going after our neighbors seems a tragic waste and diversion from far more important issues.

  8. Baby Snooks says:

    I misread the two “press releases” and Annise Parker is not asking people to donate to the “pot” at least not openly but she does leave the impression that if elected mayor, she of course will show old Billy Boy how you huff and puff and blow that old hirise down and a growing number of people are really tired of this approach to the situation which belies any semblance of democracy at work but is merely mob tactics and as such if she endorses it the way Billy Boy did she has no more place in public office than he does.

  9. Baby Snooks says:

    Sadly, the Southampton Civic Association, rather than focusing resources on the Ashby high-rise, is prepared to spend approx. $50,000 — roughly 25% of their entire war chest, on persecuting one of our neighbors who had the temerity to build a fence on HIS OWN PROPERTY that slightly encroaches on the alley easement. Hugh Rice Kelly, SHCC’s legal representative, has said that he plans to follow this suit with others against other Southampton residents whom he believes to have encroached on their easements.
    _____________________________________

    No doubt they all didn’t sign the petition and didn’t stick the tacky yellow signs in their front yards.

  10. Baby Snooks says:

    Since they solicited funds from the general public for a legal fund to fight the developers of 1717 Bissonnet in court if need be and instead are using the funds to sue homeowners for deed restriction issues, isn’t that fraud?

  11. Ohplease! says:

    If your fence encroaches on the city easement, it violates city building codes. No one is supposed to build on the city easement. The city can force you to tear that fence down. So why would Southampton waste their time suing the neighbor. That makes no sense.

  12. Baby Snooks says:

    If your fence encroaches on the city easement, it violates city building codes. No one is supposed to build on the city easement. The city can force you to tear that fence down. So why would Southampton waste their time suing the neighbor. That makes no sense.
    _________________________________________________

    If I recall correctly those alleyways are not city easements and if so then encroachment becomes a “deed restriction” issue but the question of why they would sue is interesting because apparently there is a lot of “variance” allowed in Southampton. One assumes it is dependant upon your “importance.” The real question, raised by the comment by David Harris, is whose money they’re using to sue with.

  13. Baby Snooks says:

    Apparently Peter Brown doesn’t get the message any more than Annise Parker does. Zoning by ordinance is still zoning. Since the attorneys involved in this appear adamant that they will sue, most likely they will have to sue the city which is really caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place since it has approved the project, hopefully a court will reiterate what the city charter states. No restriction of unrestricted land is allowed. And if a court doesn’t, the attorneys who have thrown their weight around in this may find themselves being challenged by attorneys also capable of throwing their weight around and who may challenge the court’s decision.

    All of this because what appears to be simply two attorneys with one law firm were able to throw their weight around.

    Subdivisions all around the city have begun to address these problems by amending their deed restrictions. That might not have averted this. But it might avert something else.

    That entire section has always been multi-family and commercial. Southampton or Boulevard Oaks should have moved a long time ago to incorporate the section and amend the deed restrictions accordingly. Instead of just assuming nothing would change or assuming a developer would build only what they agreed to. When you have an apartment complex sitting on a thoroughfare in this city, and Bissonnet is a thoroughfare, it is a welcome sign to developers because of the size of the parcel. That same problem existed with regard to Medical Clinic of Houston. Which will add far more traffic to the area than 1717 Bissonnet which of course belies the argument of “traffic impact.”

    The voters as well as the developers at some point are going to have quite a bit to say about this “zoning by ordinance” and particularly with regard to the peculiar way that so many at City Hall championed this protest but not other protests around the city particularly in the Galleria/Tanglewood/Memorial areas. The homeowners in those areas are basically finding themselves trapped during rush hour by the ongoing development which amazes everyone with regard to the ease by which the developers continue to obtain permits without anyone at City Hall saying a word. As opposed to so many at City Hall saying much too much about 1717 Bissonnet.

    Should prove interesting to see what Gene Locke has to say. He may win in a landslide if he decides not to pander to a few as both Annise Parker and now Peter Brown have.

  14. Baby Snooks says:

    And by the way I signed the petition for the previous hirise that was planned for University Boulevard in the Village but did so because part of it would have been built on land on Shakespeare which was contained within a deed-restricted subdivision which in the end is what resulted in the developer “moving on” and that subdivision and others in the area have begun to amend their deed restrictions to prevent it from happening again. But if someone decides to put up a hirise in the Village itself, well, the will of the voters comes back into play. The main concern in the Village is traffic impact. Something the city ignored with regard to Sonoma despite it being raised by some of these same homeowners. Then suddenly they decided not to ignore it with regard to 1717 Bissonnet. Not everyone is stupid.

    We do need to address the traffic impact issue. But it was not an issue in this. It was an issue for two condominium towers that the city recently approved for Woodway at San Felipe. But should have been. The fact that it wasn’t is what has angered quite a few with regard to 1717 Bissonnet. And will obviously be what does the city in if the developers sue. Which most likely at some point they will because both Annise Parker and Peter Brown seem to be indicating they will support the city again rescinding permits for 1717 Bissonnet.

  15. Baby Snooks says:

    Well Gene Locke has my vote which to be honest he probably had anyway.

    Notice he talks about the city. Not just Southampton and Boulevard Oaks. That’s the big difference between his response and the response of Annise Parker and Peter Brown. No more mayor playing Big Bad Wolf huffing and puffing and trying to blow that nasty old hirise down.

    And he also echoes what a lot of people, not just me, have said all along. What applies to one applies to all. But that is not what happened here. What was supposed to apply to all only applied to one.

  16. […] Read statements by Mayoral candidates Parker, Brown and Locke, August 22, 2009 (via Off the Kuff) […]

  17. […] by a flurry of blog posts, newsstories and a reportedly renewed community protest effort, the City of Houston has finally […]

  18. Baby Snooks says:

    This type of “urban planning” at best would keep things from getting worse although for many neighborhoods that is the greatest fear. That it will get worse. The real problem with traffic impact is you don’t solve it by limiting development. You solve it by planning that allows for development. Something no one has done yet in Houston. San Felipe is probably at the point where if it has to be widened further there will be less homes and businesses on San Felipe. Although I suppose the city could put in green space. A park now. Further widening later. At some point, however, our subdivisions are going to be bordered by “expressways” rather than thoroughfares. And that is not just a concern here in Houston. It is becoming a concern in Los Angeles, for example, with many opposing further widening of Sunset Boulevard which winds its way through the most expensive real estate in Southern California. But Wilshire really can’t be widened any further where it needs to be widened most. And it is becoming a nightmare. The answer there probably will be “zero development” or highly restricted development in areas where such restriction never existed.

    As for 1717 Bissonnet my objection has been the actual design. Perhaps if it were sleeker and in a gray stone that would blend more into the sky it might be less intrusive. It will be less intrusive as that section is further developed. Which it will be. But then I’m not the owner or the architect and well, again, who are any of us to tell them what they can and cannot build? That opens up a can of worms that I don’t think anyone really wants to open up but by the same token no one has yet to offer a viable solution to what is a growing problem.

    The only thing I suspect anyone will agree with is that we have reached “critical mass” and we have to have a more viable plan for development and one which is not subject to “variance” simply because a developer can pull a string or a neighborhood can pull a string.

  19. Ohplease! says:

    If I recall correctly those alleyways are not city easements and if so then encroachment becomes a “deed restriction” issue
    ==============
    After your comment I did some research on who owns the alleys. The alleys are utility easements and do not belong to the homeowner. If the utility companies want to do any work in the utility easement, they can come tear down your fence if it is in their easement. They do not have to fix it back because it is their property not yours.
    In other areas of the city the city owns the alley but the home owners have to maintain the alleys. But the city still owns the alley.

  20. Baby Snooks says:

    Apparently the alleyways belong to the subdivision and are maintained by the subdivision. The utility easement is three feet from the alleyway. If indeed they are suing one homeowner and threatening to sue other homeowners it might by over “obstruction” with regard to the private trash service trucks navigating the alleyways. Even then it would seem a little harsh to be suing anyone. If it’s a matter of just encroaching on the utility easement, I would assume it’s really a matter between the utility companies and the homeowner.

    I suppose they have the right to sue whoever they want for violations of deed restrictions but you can walk around Southampton and see all sorts of violations including one house that is definitely three stories, not two story with dormers. So, again, apparently violations of deed restrictions appear to be on the basis of who you are not what you have violated.

    As for the comment by David Harris it does raise a question as to whose money they are using for this if indeed they are suing a homeowner. If they are using funds collected from the general public for the legal fight against the hirise that would seem to be a matter of fraud. But that involves the law and of course they don’t seem to feel the law applies to them. Certainly not the city charter in any case. And they don’t seem too interested in responding to his comments. Or anyone else’s for that matter. Except to continue to pull these rabbits out of their hat and as someone commented in the Chronicle, at this point the rabbits are becoming skunks.

  21. Greg says:

    The whole argument against Ashby should be moot. High density urbanity prevents urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is the real reason traffic in Houston is so atrocious. If this stupid community would have spent their lobby money trying to improve Houston’s infra and public transit, we might be able to live into an age where, because of these buildings, traffic is actually lessened. Due to this project’s proximity to the medical center, it is actually feasible to assume that, given an adequate and timely bus route, this project will house a substantial number of what are now commuters. This should seem obvious to anybody who actually uses public transit and sees how many people commute to the med center via public transit, my guess is that the majority of residents in this area opposing the project have never actually stepped foot on public transit.

  22. UGH says:

    I seriously doubt this project will ever take the suburbanites (who are responsible for clogging the arteries of this city with traffic) out of their McMansions in Katy/Pearland/Sugarland. The reason they are out there in the first place is because they want a lower $$/sq.ft. ratio, which they will not get anywhere inside the loop. Sorry to burst the bubbles of some commentators, but there is NO WAY an inner city development like this is going to IMPROVE traffic in the area. Remember, the new development is aimed at the existing market of the area. Before the Ashby building was proposed, I didn’t hear anyone complaining- except about the MCH rebuild, that is.