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Ashbys all over

Here’s that Chron story that I mentioned yesterday, which talks about increasing neighborhood resistance to multi-story residential projects in areas that mostly have single-family houses.

Tension mounted as 20 or so Morrison Street residents, armed with city documents and Internet research, squared off with a developer building a midrise apartment complex in their midst.

In a small music room at the Zion Lutheran Church, the residents and developer Terry Fisher debated whether the Woodland Heights neighborhood, known for its century-old bungalows and quirky charm, would be diminished by the apartments.

“It’s a wonderful neighborhood,” Fisher agreed at the meeting last month. “We saw a lady walking down the street with a St. Bernard, twirling a leash with the sun setting behind. It was a revelation that I should build in that location.”

For an hour, neighbors pressed Fisher about traffic, potential sewage problems and property values. One neighbor stormed out; another allowed that she had no plans to be “professional or courteous.”

Fisher kept stressing that he broke no city rules and had every right to develop the property into a five-story, 36-unit apartment complex. Construction is underway and expected to be completed in eight to nine months.

“I moved to Spring for the specific reason I don’t want to live next to a high-rise,” Fisher told the room at one point. “At the end of the day, there is no zoning in Houston.”

“I’m not rolling over anyone,” he continued. “I’m building what is legal for my lot.”

That blunt answer is being invoked more often, as pent-up demand gives way to building projects across the city and into the suburbs – and as neighbors fight back, worried about the impact of the new, often high-density projects.

As I said yesterday, the key issue here is one of location, just as it has always been with the infamous Ashby Highrise. Morrison is a little side street. It’s surrounded by houses. A five story apartment complex will stand out like a zit on a forehead. The developer, who from what I understand is as charming as he comes across in this story, doesn’t care that people bought into this neighborhood for the same reason he moved to Spring. It’s not his problem, and other than putting up websites and Facebook pages, there’s not much anyone can do about it.

I suppose there is one thing that could eventually do something about development like this, and it inevitably comes up in the comments to this post on the Blight In The Heights Facebook page. I’m talking about zoning, of course, that magic yet forbidden word in Houston that means what you want it to mean. We couldn’t have another charter referendum until May of 2015 at the earliest, so even if such a movement were to take place it would happen far too late to affect a project like this. I don’t expect such a thing to happen, and I’m not sure I’d support it if it did, but I bring it up to note that the last time there was an effort to enact zoning in Houston was 20 years ago, and as Campos notes, the vote for it didn’t lose by much. I have no idea what such a vote would look like now, in a very different Houston.

That makes for interesting speculation, but not much more. In the meantime, this is the reality. I think the best you can hope for as a resident near this thing is that it will fail as a business venture, which might have the effect of making other developers a little more leery about building in places where they’re really not wanted. I still don’t know why anyone would want to live in a place like the Ashby Highrise when they must know how much all their neighbors hate it. Maybe after it and the Morrison complex are built, we’ll find out if that is a factor in the where-to-live decision making process.

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6 Comments

  1. Paul kubosh says:

    I don’t like zoning because of all the corruption that will follow. I also don’t like the high rise apartment buildings destroying neighborhoods. Would deed restrictions be the answer. How about letting neighborhoods create their own “management district” or something like that and let them decide for themselves what the structure of their neighborhood should be. Make it local control.

  2. Paul, what makes you think zoning would be equal to or *more* corrupt than what we have now?

    Deed restrictions, in their current form, are clearly not the answer because that’s the system we have now. If the restrictions were compulsory then maybe they’d be enough but, as of now, deed restrictions are optional. You can pass them for your entire street but each owner has the right to file an objection stating they do not recognize the restriction. Another issue is that not all deed restrictions are equal. Some simply restrict land use to residential while others restrict specifically to single-family homes. Often minimum lot size is part of those restrictions but, again, those aren’t iron proof either since apartments and condominiums are often times one building.

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around what the proper course of action is to better this intolerable situation. As I began really thinking about how this system works and how it impacts neighborhoods I realized how ridiculous it really is: people who sell their unrestricted lots, the folks who no longer wish to be part of a community, have far more control over its future than the people they leave behind.

  3. Anne Galbraith says:

    If anyone is concerned about corruption, they should be absolutely opposed to what’s currently at hand in Houston. Donate to the Mayor or council members, go to lunch with Andy Icken and you’ll get the permissive oversight required to negatively impact any neighborhood–plus a tax reimbursement. As it stands, PW&E does not impose practical mitigations on developers because they say they are “developer friendly”. To achieve taht, they are home-owner unfriendly. Let’s be clear: every highly sought after, well planned city has zoning. It’s the height of ego to think that Houston’s current, unsustainable mess is a good model.

  4. Paul kubosh says:

    Just because every other city does it doesn’t mean its a good idea. If we agree about the corruption what is your idea about achieving the same goal without zoning.

  5. C says:

    How about the neighborhood get together and buy certain property and have control that way? That’s how you can keep your neighborhood the same and neighbors most likely getting more than their money back by letting their kind of development happen. If you can afford to live there, you should be able to afford this.

  6. Paul Kubosh says:

    Mark,

    “Paul, what makes you think zoning would be equal to or *more* corrupt than what we have now?”

    I don’t think it would be “more” corrupt. I just don’t think more bureaucracy is the answer.

    “Deed restrictions, in their current form, are clearly not the answer because that’s the system we have now. If the restrictions were compulsory then maybe they’d be enough but, as of now, deed restrictions are optional. You can pass them for your entire street but each owner has the right to file an objection stating they do not recognize the restriction. Another issue is that not all deed restrictions are equal. Some simply restrict land use to residential while others restrict specifically to single-family homes. Often minimum lot size is part of those restrictions but, again, those aren’t iron proof either since apartments and condominiums are often times one building.”

    I am not a real estate lawyer, nor do I pretend to know anything more than my one class or property law that I took in law school. However, I still am under the impression that deed restrictions might be an option. I could be wrong and maybe your are right. Someone smarter than me would know.

    I do know that anyone who buys a piece of property in my neighborhood couldn’t build a high rise. All properties have that restriction in the deed. It is a real problem. I would hate and I mean hate to have a high rise building casting a shadow into my backyard.

    I just believe there is an answer for home owners and developers that doesn’t involve zoning.

    “I’m still trying to wrap my head around what the proper course of action is to better this intolerable situation.”

    I agree with you. It is an intolerable situation and will eventually have to be addressed.

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