The Ashby Highrise lawsuit may be over, but its legacy lives on.
A lawsuit seeking to stop a 17-story office tower under development in a River Oaks-area neighborhood blasts the project as “abnormal and out of place” in a grass-roots effort that observers suggest was emboldened by the recent success of the high-profile fight against the Ashby high-rise.
Cranes are already at work at 2229 San Felipe, despite the abundance of “Stop the San Felipe Skyscraper” yard signs in the neighborhood between Shepherd and Kirby. Opposition to the project, under development by Houston-based Hines, has included an online petition with more than 1,000 signatures, a website to fight the development and personal pleas to City Council.
The residents’ lawsuit filed last week in a Harris County civil court argues, among several factors, that the height of the building would interfere with privacy and that it would cause unreasonable traffic delays, devalue surrounding properties and erode the character of the neighborhood.
Hines spokesman George Lancaster on Friday called the 2229 San Felipe project “an important and appropriate development for an area mixed with residential, commercial and multifamily properties.”
He said it is fully permitted by the city, meets all building codes and legal requirements, and will add landscaping and sidewalks.
He also said it will meet demand for new office space in that part of town.
Matthew Festa, a South Texas College of Law professor who specializes in land-use regulations, said the new lawsuit suggests last year’s Ashby verdict set a precedent.
“It shows that in a city that is famous for having less restrictive land use, one of the dangers is that particular projects can be opposed on a case-by-case basis by neighborhood groups,” Festa said. “The other thing it shows is that when one group can be successful in fighting a development project, other people are going to follow that model.”
Festa testified for the developers in the trial over the Ashby high-rise, presenting a history of land-use regulations in Houston.
I’ve noted this fight before; as that was before the surprising-to-me victory by the Ashby plaintiffs, I was rather skeptical of their efforts. Given that verdict, however, it would seem the game has changed in more or less the manner described by Prof. Festa. Given how our famous lack of zoning is seen as making Houston a libertarian paradise for developers and a key component to our economic growth, the irony is pretty thick. The two sides are currently in mediation and there have not been any hearings on this yet, so things may change. I don’t have much to add to this other than to say I’ll be keeping an eye on it. The anti-highrise group’s webpage is here and their change.org petition is here; that and their news page has links to a lot of previous coverage of this, if you want to catch up on it. Prime Property, which has a copy of the lawsuit, has more.