One of the developers hoping to build a high-rise near Rice University made a personal appeal as the defense portion of a lengthy civil trial got underway Wednesday in state District Court.
“I grew up in this neighborhood. I have a great fondness for it,” Kevin Kirton, CEO of Houston-based Buckhead Investment Partners, told jurors who will be asked to rule on the project’s fate.
He recalled his youth in the area, riding his bike and playing basketball there, and he vigorously defended the 21-story residential project at 1717 Bissonnet, widely referred to as the Ashby high-rise and the object of a very public conflict for the past six years.
“I think this project is good for the neighborhood,” Kirton said. “I think this project is good for Houston. … We have a lot of people coming to town that need a place to live.”
Kirton pointed on a map to several non-residential projects, existing and planned, in the area around the Ashby site.
They include a synagogue, a catering business, a law office, a beauty parlor and a six-story medical clinic. He noted a planned six-story multifamily development and other new residential projects nearby.
He also noted that the 1.5 acres planned for the site had previously contained a grocery store, a retail strip center and most recently an apartment complex.
“It provides a living option that doesn’t currently exist there,” Kirton said. “We have taken care to design the project to blend with the neighborhood.”
How the proposed highrise fits or doesn’t fit into the neighborhood is of course the dispute. I don’t think it does, but I also don’t think the plaintiffs have any hope of winning. They did survive a motion to dismiss, though, so what do I know?
The head of an engineering company involved with the so-called Ashby high-rise on Thursday defended the project as structurally sound, countering earlier court testimony that the proposed tower could damage surrounding homes.
Woody Vogt, president of Paradigm Consultants, an engineering consulting firm that had prepared a report about the structure’s impact as part of the city’s permitting process, said he used different calculations to predict the effect of the building on the soil and surrounding foundations.
He said his analysis showed minimal effects on the ground and no adverse effect on the surrounding homes.
A week earlier, another consultant testified for residents fighting the project that 10 existing homes near the site of the high-rise could suffer moderate to severe damage, including cracked slabs, buckled walls and busted pipes. Rick Ellman of New York-based Muesler Rutledge Consulting Engineers predicted the ground would “settle” four inches, as opposed to the one inch predicted by Paradigm.
“The way he went about it was correct, but the numbers he plugged into his equation were not correct,” Vogt said of Ellman’s work.
I’ve been following this case for a long time, and this is the first I can recall there being a claim of potential structural damage to neighboring homes. Damage to property values, sure, plus increased traffic and stuff like that, but unless I’ve just missed this before, it’s new. I can see how that might be a valid claim, but we’ll see. I expect this will wrap up next week. Prime Property has more.