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Mayor tells Ashby foes it’s over

Mayor Annise Parker told the attendees at that neighborhood meeting to discuss the proposed settlement of the Ashby highrise lawsuit that it’s a done deal.

Going up whether you like it or not

“We have exhausted all legal means to stop this project,” said Parker, reiterating her opposition against the project.

Next week, Buckhead and its architects will begin meeting to make changes to the plans based on the settlement, said Buckhead’s Kevin Kirton.

Residents who have spent years fighting the project expressed further disappointment at Monday night’s meeting at Congregation Emanu El.

“I feel wholly deflated,” said Jim Reeder, co-chair of the Stop Ashby High Rise Task Force.

The Stop Ashby folks expressed their opinion of the proposal before the meeting. I can’t tell from the Chron story how, or if, their concerns were addressed, but Your Houston News tells us a bit about what was brought up.

Going back to 2005, documentation existed – both with the Southampton Civic Club and the City of Houston- indicating knowledge of this development taking shape, but know one publicly acknowledged or acted upon it.

http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/river_oaks/news/a-lesson-in-civics/article_aa6b7d0e-3765-52bc-8792-ba9db194b853.html

http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/west_university/news/drainage-documents-pointed-to-high-rise-in/article_7b3fe94f-3b06-5e3f-a6fb-f2ef7ce3c049.html

I can only imagine where our neighborhood would be today if the folks referred to in these articles – key figures at both the Civic Club and community as well as elected officials at the city –had acted to stop the project back then, instead of waiting until 2007 to begin publicly admonishing the project. It may be coincidence, but the same folks came together to support a similar high-density project in the Rice Village area during that time. Early opposition to the Ashby high-rise at that time could have jeopardized the project in the Village area – the one in which the city faced opposition from area residents and which involved the selling of a block of Bolsover Street to developers by the city.

Many folks listed in those articles – Kathy Easterly, Erik Eriksson, and others – were in attendance at this meeting, but chose not to speak. In fact, other elected officials, including At-Large Position 1 Council member Stephen Costello, former At-Large Council member Sue Lovell and others, were in attendance but also chose not to speak. The former District C council member, Southampton resident, and former president of the Southampton Civic Club, Anne Clutterbuck, was not in attendance.

Many more folks lined up at the microphones to comment and ask questions that, according to the mayor, were put into the public record. Comments ranged from a passionate plea by one resident questioning safety measures that would protect her child from harm by speeding traffic being forced onto Wroxton Road by the new construction to demands that the city forcibly take the property by eminent domain. Another resident, once again, floated the idea that the city could create a nonprofit entity by which residents could begin the process of raising money to buy the property from the developers – an idea that a representative of the developers attending the meeting said they would consider.

I don’t know what Mayor Parker or City Attorney David Feldman said to these concerns, but this is what I would have said: 1) Wroxton is still going to be a little side road with a lot of stop signs on it. More stop signs, and maybe some speed bumps, can be added if needed. No one is going to drive on Wroxton if they want to get somewhere in a hurry. 2) Under what pretext, exactly, would the city invoke eminent domain that wouldn’t subsequently be laughed out of court in the ensuing lawsuit? 3) Buckhead asked for $40 million in damages in the lawsuit the city is now settling. While I’m sure they’d have accepted a lower price for a buyout, I’m also sure there are better uses for the money.

The bottom line is that in a city with no zoning and relatively few constraints on development (at least, at the time this project was first proposed), what exactly was there for the city to do about this? I understand the residents’ concerns, and I have a lot of sympathy for them. I agree this is a poorly conceived and poorly located project. It’s entirely possible the city could have gotten a better settlement, though given the empty hand they were playing it’s hard to see how. We all knew how this was going to turn out, barring a loss of nerve or some kind of implosion on Buckhead’s part. What else was there to do?

Anyway. Here’s a photo gallery from the meeting. Did anybody here attend this? If so, what was your impression? Prime Property and Swamplot have more. Be sure to read this comment for an interesting prediction about what may come next.

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12 Comments

  1. Brad M. says:

    The key to this whole problem as you noted is “no zoning”. I lived in this area for 11 years and it is a shame that this project appears to be going through. I wonder how many folks that will be affected by this project have also disapproved zoning law attempts in the past.

  2. robert K. says:

    Brad, I agree with you.

    I am always amazed at the number of people that seem proud that Houston has no zoning… I just don’t get it

  3. Ron in Houston says:

    I think you nailed it with your analysis. The City had no real power. I also agree with Brad about people not wanting to pass zoning laws. If the energy that went into opposing this project had been spent on reforming those laws then it might not have stopped this project but it would stop the next mega-development.

  4. Mike says:

    Note to Ashby high-rise foes: look at the previous comments. If you want this to “not be over” then it is time to admit that this battle may be over but move on to win the war, and lead the fight for zoning in Houston and get something on the ballot. I think you will find pretty broad support for more protection than currently exists and some general forms-based zoning code in Houston.

    The original zoning laws in NYC were developed after a project that was opposed, like Ashby, was developed.

  5. Mike says:

    Also – if you do not lead the fight for zoning in Houston, then do not be surprised 5-10 years from now when someone wants to build a 25 story condo tower somewhere on the North side of Bissonnet after buying out existing landowners. Your neighborhood is not ruined completely… yet.

  6. Ross says:

    We don’t want zoning because we don’t want the graft and corruption that follow. It’s bad enough we have to kowtow to and kiss the asses of the permitting people. Or the historical “preservation” people who think that hey, and only they, know what’s best for a given piece of property. Zoning, historical preservation rules, and overzealous permitting, all are detriments to economic good times, and they don’t do much to help property owners either.

  7. Elaine says:

    I was there, but I don’t think this is over. With regard to the City’s involvement, what I heard was that the developers had the better end of the permitting argument, but that they should think long and hard about whether they can effectively build a project like that from two lane residential street access when the City says they won’t allow street closures and will insist on strict compliance with city regs. With regard to the neighborhoods’ involvement, there are a lot of resources and relationships over there that will be brought to bear on anyone interested in making a buck off the project. The developers say they have financing, but there are a lot of skeptics and the business pressure, coupled with the fear of a very adversarial relationship with the City, may still make a difference. Houston has always been a real estate free fire zone, mostly to developers’ benefit, but if you live by the sword you may die by the sword.

  8. Mike says:

    >>We don’t want zoning because we don’t want the graft and corruption that follow.

    You don’t want zoning perhaps, but it’s been about 20 years since the people of Houston have had their say on the matter. Perhaps it is time to revisit the issue.

  9. Karen says:

    Can you help us spread the word please.

    https://www.facebook.com/UniteWomenTexas

  10. JJ says:

    That article you linked to was incoherently stupid, and it linked to even more incoherent stupidness. Your stuff, however, I liked.

  11. greedtrumps10commandments says:

    Yo…
    I read the book.
    The second commandment is Love thy neighbor.
    This trumps all zoning or development laws.

  12. […] want to place a bet on that happening as claimed? I don’t put a whole lot of stock in the saber-rattling of the neighborhood, but I do think the city is going to check very closely to ensure all I’s are dotted and […]