Developers can move forward with the proposed Ashby high-rise after a much-anticipated ruling Thursday by a judge who agreed the tower is a nuisance for its immediate neighbors but concluded there was no way he could stop the project or determine a more appropriate alternative.
“If an injunction is granted, there is no question but that it will have a chilling effect on other developments in Houston,” wrote state District Judge Randy Wilson, a stance that drew mostly positive comments from the development community for eliminating uncertainty for groups considering future projects.
But Wilson also awarded $1.2 million in damages to 20 of those residents who had filed suit against the developer, Buckhead Investment Partners of Houston. While that is $438,000 less than a jury recommended in December, it still reflects a belief that those who live closest to the project, on a 1.6-acre site at 1717 Bissonnet, will see their property values suffer.
In firmly denying the residents’ primary request, however, Wilson said a permanent injunction would be difficult to enforce and would invite an “endless series of lawsuits” testing various tweaks and revisions to the project’s scope.
“A 21-story residential development is believed by the neighbors (and the jury) to be too big,” Wilson said in the ruling. “However, this court has zero evidence with which to find what size is just right.”
Buckhead welcomed the ruling but said it would appeal the monetary damages. It also said construction will resume as soon as possible.
“With hundreds of new Houstonians moving to our city each day, this type of urban housing option is becoming increasingly more necessary and desirable,” the company said in a statement. “We remain concerned about the dangerous precedent that any fully entitled and lawfully permitted real estate project may be penalized by the awarding of damages.”
Jean Frizzell, attorney for the disappointed residents, said they are considering their legal options.
“This case has never been about money and has always been about their community and homes,” he said in an email.
Via Swamplot, you can see a copy of the judge’s order here. Judge Wilson mentioned the z-word (“zoning”, for you non-Houstonians) in his decision, which undoubtedly had a lot of people crossing themselves and fashioning garlic necklaces. I said before that I had no idea what he should do, but this seems as sensible to me as anything. Not that it matters in some sense, since it’s going to get appealed – the developers have already said they’ll appeal the damages award, and the residents may appeal the go-ahead for construction, which will happen straightaway barring any further rulings or injunctions. It will still be a few years before the last chapter of this story is written. Prime Property and Hair Balls have more.