Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Ashby’s developer defends his project

Let me start by saying that I agree with Kevin Kirton, the CEO of Buckhead Investment Partners, also known as the developers of the infamous Ashby highrise, when he says that the “trip number” justification that the city used to block that project for as long as they did was bunk, and that the highrise as originally envisioned, is a better use of the space than the compromise version. The city’s regulatory system simply doesn’t allow for a way to deny this project, and the debate that ensued in which we pretended there was a way to do it ultimately served no one’s interests. We do need a better and more consistent set of rules for development, and we haven’t really begun to engage that particular discussion.

None of this changes the fact that the Ashby highrise is a bad idea. It’s incompatible with the surrounding area, and the reason there was such fierce resistance to it is that everyone outside of Buckhead Investment Partners realized that. I want to address two of the points that Kirton raises in his piece, one broad and one nitpicky, to try to illustrate this. First, the small point:

Consider that this project:

• •  Is located minutes from Downtown, Greenway Plaza and the Galleria and within walking distance of Houston’s major museums, the Texas Medical Center, Rice University and Hermann Park’s many amenities;

• •  Is on one of the top five most utilized METRO bus routes in the city and a quick half-mile walk to both the Main Street and Richmond rail lines;

• •  Will connect its residents to the community with its shared restaurant, specialty shop, wellness spa, and a small suite of executive offices.

Actually, the Ashby is about three-quarters of a mile from what should eventually be a rail stop at Richmond and Dunlavy, and nine-tenths of a mile from the Museum District stations on Fannin and San Jacinto at Binz. Fudging numbers doesn’t make me inclined to believe the rest of what you say. And the problem with claiming that this location is walking distance to the Medical Center and Hermann Park is that Rice is in between it and them, and given that it is private property, it may not appreciate a bunch of people using it as a cut-through. I can’t speak to the point about the bus route, but I am curious how many people that currently live in the area use that bus; more to the point, how many future residents of the highrise do you think would use it, and how many current or potential bus riders would disembark there in order to take advantage of its restaurant, specialty shop, wellness spa, or executive suites. Being accessible to transit is only a virtue if it gets used.

And that brings me to my larger point. The problem with Ashby is simply that it’s misplaced. You can claim, as Kirton does, that it somehow fits in with other pedestrian-friendly development by virtue of it being sort of walking distance from them, but the fact remains that there will be no network effect from putting a mixed-use highrise at 1717 Bissonnet. By that I mean that there won’t be anything else in its immediate vicinity that will also be of interest to someone who is on foot in the area. Ashby is and almost surely forever will be surrounded by nothing but residences. It’s a destination unto itself. Nobody who goes there will then walk to a neighboring shop or eatery or what have you because there aren’t any, and won’t be any. Contrast that with my hypothetical alternate location on Richmond, where a bunch of commercial development already exists and more will likely follow as the stretch of Richmond from Shepherd to Montrose attracts transit-oriented development as Main Street has. The equivalent stretch of Bissonnet is almost exclusively residential. Someone who gets off the Universities line at Richmond and Dunlavy will have a bunch of places to walk to. Someone who gets off the bus at Bissonnet and Ashby is probably going home.

An Ashby highrise that’s actually located in the vicinity of other dense, pedestrian-friendly properties is a valuable addition to that area, one that likely would generate a lot of excitement. An Ashby highrise located in the middle of a bunch of houses is at best a curiosity, and at worst a blight on the existing neighborhood. That’s been the problem from the beginning. To me, the best outcome once we realized that there was nothing to be done to stop Buckhead under the current rules is to come up with a revised set of rules for future Ashbys that will encourage the former and discourage, if not actually forbid, the latter. Unfortunately, we’re no closer to that now than we were when the project was first announced. And I don’t see how we’re going to get there from here.

Related Posts:

13 Comments

  1. RWB says:

    Not that this invalidates your argument, but I am willing to bet that most of the bus riders in the area are servants. In which case, whether or not the Ashby highrise is in a dense, pedestrian-friendly area is somewhat irrelevant, because it and the neighborhood around it are workplaces for the bus riders.

    Obviously this makes a bit of a hash of their argument, but their argument has always been in bad-faith (at least somewhat).

    (Of course, that 9/10s mile distance and 1/2 mile distance are nothing if you are on your bike–biut Metro would have to change the rules about allowing bikes on the trains at peak commuting times.)

  2. Baby Snooks says:

    It is no more incompatible than Inwood Manor which literally sits in the backyards of several homes on Maconda and Timber Lane.

    For every argument against, there’s a counter. There’s also the city charter. Which apparently no longer matters. There’s also the misapplication of a driveway ordinance that has only been applied to one development and not others. Sounds like the developers have a very good lawsuit against the city. And possibly the homeowners themselves.

    And given some of the antics of some, including threatening letters which involve threats to children, a lot of people really no longer care what the homeowners think. If anyone can defend threatening children, do so with your name attached so the district attorney’s office knows who you are.

  3. Baby Snooks says:

    Not that this invalidates your argument, but I am willing to bet that most of the bus riders in the area are servants. In which case, whether or not the Ashby highrise is in a dense, pedestrian-friendly area is somewhat irrelevant, because it and the neighborhood around it are workplaces for the bus riders.

    __________________

    I suppose now we will hear about how all the traffic will endanger everyone’s servants.

  4. Baby Snooks says:

    The Huntingdon literally sits in the front yards of several homes on Avalon. For every argument, there’s a counter.

    A spoiled brat apparently just doesn’t want the hirise so close by him so and an apparently equally spoiled brat used the power of their law firm to have the mayor pull strings. They think everyone is stupid. Not everyone is stupid. They think people don’t know things and don’t put two and two together. People do know things. And do put two and two together. Maybe the spoiled brat is afraid the building might fall down on him. Or maybe he’s afraid that someone might push it down on him.

    One thing is for certain. Don’t tell the spoiled brat no. He will have a temper tantrum.

  5. jon boyd says:

    I’m not sure the high-rise represents the best land use. But, neither is its current one. My intuition is that Bissonnet could become more dense and add more retail. Part of that would leverage the already decent bus service.

    I do have a question about this statement:
    “Ashby is and almost surely forever will be surrounded by nothing but residences. It’s a destination unto itself. Nobody who goes there will then walk to a neighboring shop or eatery or what have you because there aren’t any, and won’t be any. ”

    Dense residential areas should create a demand for walkable retail, like a neighborhood-scaled grocery, restaurants, and dry cleaners. If this were not the case, the logic for mixed-use fails. Yet it also depends on neighborhood infrastructure. It also depends on neighborhood consumer preferences. Do you believe there is not enough residential density near Ashby, or do you believe the neighborhood prefers to be car-dependent?
    I think Christof has already refuted the notion that Bissonnet can’t handle additional traffic.

  6. “Do you believe there is not enough residential density near Ashby, or do you believe the neighborhood prefers to be car-dependent?”

    A little of both, probably more the latter. My recollection from when I lived near there and passed through frequently was that I never saw anyone walking around there. The only destination that was easily reached on foot was Rice, so there wasn’t much reason to walk anywhere. I don’t think plopping one mixed-use development changes that equation.

  7. Baby Snooks says:

    I walk around there all the time. Usually with my pepper spray. Other than that it’s a pleasant walk. Particularly if you’re going to Rice.

    They should have petitioned to “annex” that unrestricted portion a long time ago and restrict it. They didn’t. End of subject. Until we go to court. And it appears we will go to court. And I say we because we will pay for it. The taxpayers.

  8. Mike says:

    Well put Kuff. I agree completely. Scale is and always has been the issue here.

  9. Baby Snooks says:

    Well put Kuff. I agree completely. Scale is and always has been the issue here.

    ________________

    Unfortunately “scale” is not something any ordinance addresses. Texas is a buyer beware state. That applies to homebuyers. If you don’t want to end up living next to a hirise, check the deed restrictions and plats of the area. Mob rule really doesn’t become any neighborhood by the way. And threatening children doesn’t either.

  10. JJMB says:

    So, Baby Snooks, what if I buy a really crappy looking used car, cover it with logos for your most hated politician and political stances, and then I park it on the curb right in front of your house? There is no law against that. It is a city street. You do nothing? Don’t try to get the City to impose “resident only” parking on the street? Don’t try to get a new ordinance passed?

    (I condemn threatening children, by the way. Horrible. But that isn’t an argument against 99.99% of the anti-highrise people. Just like you can’t condemn all Democrats or Barack Obama and say that John McCain should have won the last Presidential race just because a handful of nuts sent hateful “I will kill your daughter” letters to him.)

  11. Baby Snooks says:

    So, Baby Snooks, what if I buy a really crappy looking used car, cover it with logos for your most hated politician and political stances, and then I park it on the curb right in front of your house? There is no law against that. It is a city street. You do nothing? Don’t try to get the City to impose “resident only” parking on the street? Don’t try to get a new ordinance passed?

    _____________________

    It’s a city street. Wouldn’t bother me at all. In fact, it never has.

    Sending threatening letters is a reflection on everyone. Not just some. All. The matter no doubt will be brought out in court.

    Most disreputable people. All of them. Not just some. All. If I were given a house in either Southampton or Boulevard Oaks, I would list it for $1 which would be the value I would place on it.

    And I would cross out “material defects” on the Seller Disclosure and write in “mental defects” and mark “known” and then put “neighbors” under the “description.”

  12. joypog says:

    just wanted to say thanks for your sane post on the ashby high rise (i.e. its legal, but most likely not beneficial)! I just found your blog (from following the elections) and I’m digging it….

  13. Baby Snooks says:

    (i.e. its legal, but most likely not beneficial)!
    ________________________________

    Anything over 5,000 square feet and two stories usually isn’t very beneficial in terms of “adding to the allure of our neighborhoods” in Houston. We really should finally enact zoning except what’s left to zone? Almost every tract in the city has at least one structure that would block zoning the rest of it. And even if we did we have these “variances” that no doubt would still be part of zoning. Which of course would defeat the purpose.