A Second Neighborly Lawsuit Against Hines’s San Felipe Office Tower Demonstrates Effect of Ashby Highrise Ruling

Rendering of 2229 San Felipe TowerA new lawsuit filed last week against the developers of the 2229 San Felipe office tower currently under construction between Shepherd and Kirby is a bit different from the one that a group of neighbors initiated against the same party back in February, a reader notes. The plaintiffs in the new lawsuit are the owners of a River Oaks home directly across the street from the construction site, and they appear to have studied the ruling issued in the Ashby Highrise lawsuit carefully. (Back in May, Judge Randy Wilson ordered the developers of that building to pay neighbors $1.2 million to compensate them for “lost market damages,” but denied their request to halt the building’s construction)

Unlike their neighbors who sued before them, the residents of 2237 Stanmore Dr. are not seeking to prevent or delay the construction of Hines’s neighborhood office tower. Instead, it appears they are only seeking compensation for both public and private “nuisances” created by the 17-story building, including pollution, noise, and ground vibration during its construction and the resulting loss of sunlight and rain on their property. The building’s vaunted peepage opportunities don’t please them either:

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“The building’s website states that ‘Balconies at the top of the building will offer tenants views of the lush neighborhood below and stunning views of the city beyond,’” reads the petition, filed in state district court. “Plaintiffs no longer will feel free to use their yard as they currently do, and their privacy will be severely impacted by the high rise. The lack of privacy already has caused Plaintiffs’ home to diminish in value.

Rendering of 2229 San Felipe: Hines

Pay Up

49 Comment

  • Such towers are a “taking” from the community around them; residents of the tower get the view of houses, their gardens, trees, quite a nice view, whereas those in the neighborhood get a sunlight blocking eyesoar. The tower extracts value from the neighborhood and profits directly through higher rents/sale prices. The tower is an attractive place to live because of the surrounding neighborhood. And while development often does enhance a neighborhood, towers like this are simply wanting to profit, taking value from the residents and pocketing it. Let’s face it, a whole neighborhood of these towers would be a depressing place to live.

  • Glad to know I am not the only one who likes walking around the backyard naked. Not that a tower next door would stop me. Serves them right stinking peepers.

  • Is it reasonable to infer that the plaintiffs are backyard nudists?

  • We really need Tort reform. This is just a shakedown by these disgruntled litigious homeowners. You live in an unzoned city, Hines is allowed to build this tower, you know this was a possibility when you bought your house. Seriously, I have zero sympathy for these people. If you had a problem with Houston’s lack of zoning you could have bought a house on West U, Bellaire, or the Memorial Villiages. I mean they’re in the shadow of the 500 foot Huntingdon, that should have been a clue. I hope Hines counter sues for frivolous litigation, I mean you’re across the street from a construction site, you’re going to get dust, noise et.al. This person is probably one of Houston’s 10 billion underemployed lawyers and needed the work.

  • So, if one of us hoi polloi in a one-story home were to suffer a 4-storey townhome going up next door, couldn’t we sue for loss of privacy? Or is that right reserved for River Oaks hoity-toits? I’m sure this has all been thrashed out here before, so I’ll just dive into the archives………

  • Uh, Greg, this is an “office” building, soooo, nobody “lives” there. Again, for the 80th time—Houston has no “zoning” thus it’s “legal” to build a tower next to a residence, next to a tire shop, next to an antiques store, next to a cemetery, next to a high rise tower, next to a Taco Bell. So either work to get zoning on the ballot, move to West U or STFU.

  • @Shannon

    1) They can seek attorneys’ fees and costs if it’s frivolous – I’m betting the mortgage that they won’t because this isn’t a frivolous case. There’s already precedent for this type of action and recovery and the facts seem substantially similar to Ashby.

    2) Tort reform is a nice campaign slogan until something bad actually happens to you or someone close to you. For example, limiting pain & suffering damages to $250k seems like a good idea until a doctor take out your healthy kidney instead of the unhealthy one. Same principle here with home values. Let a jury decide whether their claim is valid.

  • I agree with Shannon in full. Case closed. If you want this to not happen you need to live in dense residential. Three streets in front of you three streets behind you three streets to the right three streets to the left. Backing up or siding any major road in Houston not just with today’s development frenzy but at any point in Houston’s history is a gamble as to what is to come. In this case, River Oaks deed restrictions are null and void on this site. The people who buy these homes are clearly not in the real estate investment business but should open their eye just a little bit more while buying their homes in Houston. You are not being victimized by what a developer is legally capable and allowed to do. HINES paid $+/-200 bucks a foot for this land and is placing another $+/-50MM on top on behalf of their own interests in the business that I believe they wake up everyday and are in, they are not reps of the City of Houston. Stop buying homes people, buy unrestricted commercial real estate in Houston, stop complaining and make some $$$.

  • No, Shannon, we don’t need more tort reform. That already happened. What you need to do in this case is change the law under which the homeowner is suing. There is nothing frivolous about a suing to enforce the law.

    A cause of action for nuisance has been around for a very, very long time. When a condition substantially interferes with another’s use and enjoyment of their land by causing unreasonable annoyance and discomfort to persons of ordinary sensibilities, that property owner is entitled to damages. This law goes back centuries.

    The reason we have civil trials is so that 12 disinterested citizens of Harris County — not Hines or the homeowner — will decide whether the interference is “substantial”, or the annoyance is “unreasonable”, or the sensibilities of the owners are “ordinary.” There is nothing frivolous about this. Apparently you think the only person who should decide whether the developer is violating the law is the developer himself. Spoken like a true tort-reformer.

  • Just as as the anti-zoning sentiment was been used against home owners to justify unrepetent greed (see Shannon’s comment above for a terrific example), it is now being used against commercial builders down at the courthouse. Guess what, if Hines doesn’t want to answer in damages for the dimunition in value to surrounding property owners, it shouldn’t build a commercial highrise across the street from a long existing residential use. Hines must have decided that the loss of these peoples’ privacy was worth the profits it stood to gain. Bully for Hines, it will have plenty money to pay the judgment. If only we had zoning to protect for-profit corporate interests from the uncertain quagmire known as Houston real estate. Poor guys.

  • okay, I’m with the noise, construction and other temporary things that happen.
    .
    Losing sunlight, quite so much. if the building is directly south, or directly south west of them, that’s actually a boon, you’re getting shade during the hottest times of day, and still receive lots of indirect sunlight. At the end of the day, the sun won’t be blocked long enough to have a negative impact on plants getting sunlight, but the lack of direct sunlight might save the owner from getting skin cancer, and reduce their overall electricity bill by a few bucks a month. Seems like the homeowner comes out on top there.
    .
    losing rainwater though? Not hardly. Not even close. There is no way no how that a building across the street (I don’t care how tall) makes rainwater not fall.

  • I think what the Ashby ruling misses is that if you buy a home, or any other property for that matter, that is adjacent to an undeveloped or, perhaps, underdeveloped property, it’s not reasonable to believe that someone won’t build something that annoys you. Dog kennell, firehouse, high-rise condo or office building. I don’t understand how someone can buy a residential property and then be compensated for construction of what may or may not be a nuisance, but that could and should have been considered or imagined as a possibility when the purchase was made.

  • Arguably the loss of value has already been calculated in the original price of the homes purchased at the fringes of River Oaks. On the interior you can go into several million per home, on the fringes you can pickup a humlbe River Oaks abode for 1.5mln … because it is understood that this sort of thing can happen at some point… therefore the current home owner already was compensated (by paying a lower purchase price). Can’t double dip.

  • Please–We are the most litigious society on Earth. We have more lawyers per capita than we will ever and could possibly ever use. This is a construction site, of course you’re going to have dust etc…to sue over dust et.al? Please, don’t lecture me on the law or my future need of a lawyer, both my parents were/are lawyers, I’m very familiar with this argument. I can sue over anything, I can sue anyone at any time, but does the make it right? You didn’t see Tanglwood during when Marathon was and it was 42 stories right across San Felipe or these same people didn’t sue when the Huntingdon was built but now, it’s dust in my eyes etc. I have no doubt Hines legal team at Baker Botts has this well in hand…moving on.

  • I’ll say what I said a few months ago. Give the lawsuits a rest. Instead, use the money to buy up properties around your neighborhood. Put Deed Restrictions on the properties to prohibit high rises and other unwanted things, and then put the properties back on the market.
    .
    It’s called Buy Protect Sell.

  • Did someone build a highrise in your neighborhood?!? Call Jim Adler! Call right now! Get the money you deserve from unscrupulous highrise developers infringing on your property rights! Call now! Also call if you have been injured in a trucking or oilfield accident! Call now! Hammer those developers and collect the money that is rightfully yours!

  • Shannon’s parents are lawyers, ya’ll! No need to lecture Shannon about the common law, precedent or black letter law. Shannon’s parents and the lawyers at Baker Botts have got it all covered. According to Shannon, this lawsuit is about dust and you can’t sue for dust. Case closed. I bet Baker Botts will get its “no dust” motion to dismiss filed under 91a, pronto.

  • Oh and this building isn’t really located in River Oaks, it’s River Oaks Adjacent. If it’s not in the Hoggs original layout done by Hare and Hare and George Kessler, it isn’t River Oaks. Too bad River Oaks didn’t incorporate like Highland Park, tho Highrises would still have built up on its edges. Also, if River Oaks had incorporated its streets, pocket parks, and Greenbelts would have been much better cared for and its boundaries would have been exactly defined and you would not have all these adjacent communities claiming (falsely) that they live in River Oaks.

  • This is what happens when there is no zoning law you can put a adult book video store and liqueur store right across the street from a church and a block an 1/2 from a neighborhood. Good zoning laws like other cities have would keep the bad stuff away from neighborhoods

  • The problem with Shannon’s argument is that it is simply wrong. You can’t sue anyone, at anytime, over anything. A lawsuit must allege the violation of a particular law or a legally recognized duty (and where does it say anyone is suing for dust?). The law of this State is, and has been since the litigious days of our founding, that if what you build is a public or private nuisance, you may have to pay for the inconvenience you cause others by ruining their ability to use and enjoy their property as they did before you moved in. Is that so bad? Look, I’m all for letting someone build a nightclub, or a turkey farm, or a 24 hour floodlight testing facility next to your house, Shannon. I’m a free market, no-zoning kind of guy. And if a jury agrees those nuisances unreasonably interfere with your ability to enjoy your home, then I think it’s only fair that the person creating the nuisance pay for your troubles and diminished property value (but it’s moot, because you’d never, ever file a lawsuit in the first place). That’s the law of this State. If you don’t like it, ask your Legislator to change the law, but don’t accuse someone of a frivolous lawsuit when they are simply trying to enforce a law that’s designed to protect them in exactly this kind of scenario.

  • I think the fact that there are no zoning laws makes this law suite essential and just part of the risks taken on by both sides. If a homeowner is supposed to take a risk that the land next to the residential house he is buying, may at some point 20 or 30 years down the road become a high rise, then a developer of a high rise should have to take the risk that his purchase may force him to pay some damages to said residential owner.

    It’s all part of the game when you have no requirements. Both sides should have to take risks, not just the homeowner.

  • Shannon, by your own definition on this very site a while back, that office building is indeed in River Oaks. In a post, you stated that the eastern boundary of RO is Shepherd and the southern boundary as Westheimer, which puts this building squarely in RO proper, with very wealthy neighbors all around.

    Yes, we live in a no-zoning city, but what River Oaks resident would have ever expected Hines would cram a 17-story, zero lot line office building into an affluent residential neighborhood on a two-lane street that used to be an alley? River Oaks just got a taste of what the rest of the city has been dealing with…and didn’t like it. I can just imagine the talk at some of the RO cocktail parties that Hines attends.

  • Let’s not get hysterical here. They’re certainly in their right to sue Hines, it just seems to me a bit silly as they’re in a city with no zoning in the shadow of the 500 foot Power Tower (the Huntingdon).. And please, you can’t tell me there are not lawyers that won’t sue over anything, the idea that it needs to have merit is laughable. Uh and it might be time to go decaf, Mel.

  • @Barnacle, I live in a deed restricted neighborhood protected by one of the strongest neighborhood associations in the state, thus you may wish me to have a nightclub next door, but alas it won’t happen. When I lived at the Creole on Yorktown I had the St James staring down on me, but I thought it was cool, it all felt very urban. I’m not sure id be thrilled to have this building being built in my backyard, but I certainly wouldn’t sue unless they dropped a crane in my pool. We live in Houston, thus this sort of skyscraper in your backyard is the norm. Again, if you don’t like it move to West U.

  • Why would River Oaks not expected this? You have The River Oaks Condos in River Oaks, The Huntingdon, The Bayou Bend, The Lamar all on the edge. Looks at all the tall buildings in and around River Oaks, then look at your shock that this building would be built. As a native Houstonian I’m certainly not shocked in any way shape or form. This building is so Houston. As for Gerald Hines, he’s in his 90′s, has houses all over the world and couldn’t care less what the RO set has to say about this (he’s hard of hearing as well)

  • The judge, the lawyers, the home-owners, the city, and Hines all know that in Houston this building is perfectly legal…or Hines would have never built it and has followed the law to a T. Their lawsuit is DOA. Lol, the building will cause traffic?! What nonsense…this is a major city, all cities have traffic. Noise pollution?!…all sound can be considered noise. Loss of sunlight?!…the sun shines on us all (and the rain falls on us all), and clouds sometimes block the sun…are these twats going to sue the clouds and the sun, too? The birds, flying insects, people in helicopters/planes, and tenants in the other nearby (taller) towers have views of these same lush neighborhoods and city views beyond…are these ‘gold-diggers’ going to sue all of them, too? “Nuisances?!” These frivolous lawsuits filed by these nuts are the nuisances.

    These ‘money-grubbing’ farts are not going to get one red cent. As I write this in my kitchen, my kids are playing and running/jumping all around me and causing ground vibration. Excuse me while I draw up some dumbass papers to sue my kids.

  • The lawsuit is styled Nils Hugo Sand and Mary Elizabeth Sand v. 2229 San Felipe LLC; Hines Interests Limited Partnership, under Cause2014-40441, pending in front of Judge Ray.

  • How ironic that someone named Sand would be bitching about Dust.

  • greg: Haven’t viewed all comments, so I’m sorry if this has been said, but areas with lots of tall buildings normally rank among the most expensive and desirable places in the world to live.

  • “Brian D : This is what happens when there is no zoning law you can put a adult book video store and liqueur store right across the street from a church and a block an 1/2 from a neighborhood. Good zoning laws like other cities have would keep the bad stuff away from neighborhoods”

    I trust economics to make better decisions on what goes where than politicians that have their own interests at heart. The market can respond much faster (and better) to changes in demand than bureaucrats.

  • It’s a coincidence that the Sands turned out to be the plaintiffs in your “dust suit”. I’ll find out if it’s ironic tomorrow when I can finally read the petition and see whether the Sands are complaining about loss of use and enjoyment and diminution in value… or dust.

  • let’s just file this under “dumb stuff rich white people do”

  • You can’t sue about dust Shannon? What about all those asbestosis and silicosis cases? Doesn’t the cause of action in those cases arise from dust?

    And no, I am not saying that Hines is going to use asbestos in the construction of this building, just making a point about blanket statements. And with that said, it is my belief that exposure to dust is detrimental to one’s health.

  • Only people who can afford to live in West U, Bellaire, or the Villages can escape from zero lot line highrises
    crammed onto two lane streets. Only those people who are able to pay 1 million and up for a residential property can enjoy zoning protection for their investment. Where does that leave everybody else? At the mercy of a disinterested Mayor and a Houston Public Works Department that openly declares itself “developer friendly” and consequently “resident hostile.”
    Most ordinary people have already voted with their feet and fled to Pearland and the Woodlands and to “resident friendly” master planned communities that ring Houston. Houston is already a donut shaped city rotting from the core outward.
    An attempt at a zoning law failed 20 years ago. A zoning law might pass in Houston if each separate Council District were given the option to vote for or against zoning.
    If not, residential homeowners should receive a property tax reduction for adverse influences, such as proximity to high rises. Gerry Hines should pay a nuisance tax for his decision to build commercial building in a residential neighborhood.
    Land use ordinances that favor residents and quality of life issues are needed. There is a lot that Council and Mayor could do to rein in these greedy developers. Instead, they are treating the developers as royalty and the middle class home owners as the problem.

  • Hines is a world class developer with a stellar reputation. Hines has built millions of square feet of office space around the globe, it strains credibility that all of the sudden they have morphed into the Soviets building Chernobyl in River Oaks. I have not seen this lawsuit and have no idea if it has any merit, but it certainly would be uncharacteristic of Hines to care so little about standards and treat its neighbors in RO no less, with such contempt. These people chose to buy a house in an unzoned city and in the shadow of a 500 foot skyscraper, surely they thought there could be a possibility of this happening as did anyone else buying a house this close to The Huntingdon. No doubt there is noise, rumbles and the like from a construction site and I’m sure it’s not been anyone’s dream in that area to have to deal with this, but Hines is within its legal right to construct this building.

  • You can sue if someone creates a perfectly legal nuisance that reduces the value of your property.

    Mitch hit on the real issue. When there are few rules, these things turn into lawsuits. When there are clear rules, there is a lot less room for interpretation and fewer lawsuits.

    If you embrace Houston’s no-zoning approach, you should embrace lawsuits as part of the process.

  • I didn’t realize that Hines had let George Lancaster go, and replaced him with Shannon as his spokesperson.
    .
    The thing that is different about the development of this office highrise ( and also the Ashby tower) is that heretofore, projects of this size have been placed fronting onto 4 lane or greater streets. San Felipe in this area is only 2 lanes. So yes, we’ve seen the Lamar Tower, The River Oaks, The Huntington, The Four Leaf Towers, etc. built near residential single family neighborhoods, but they did front onto major thoroughfares. I think what has some people all up in arms about this is that developers are now inserting towers into the middle of residential areas. The market has already discounted the value of properties along the edges to reflect the possibility of future construction, but values in the middle of neighborhoods simply do not reflect the fact that sometime in the future you could have a 30 story building next to you.

  • Really? The RO set sure are a bunch of THIN SKINNED wussies !!!! Wah wah wah.. Oh, the trials & tribulations of SPOILED, OVER INDULGED rich white people. NO ONE cares about their false issues.. They need to extract their heads from their asses and grow a pair. NO one is going to be spying on them in their backyards. They’re probably NOT that attractive anyway. We now KNOW they’re probably NOT that attractive on the inside. It’s like some “straight ” men who think gay men want them. NOT.. And FYI Mr & Mrs. Sand: NO ONE wants to look at you or into your fricking backyard anyway. They’ll be taking in the overall panoramic jetliner views the upper floor balconies will provide. @ Gisgo-Good idea. Maybe Hines, Ltd WILL counter sue these a-holes !!! Sue ALL who sue Hines,Ltd. And Hines, Ltd has VERY deep pockets. These disgruntled home owners need to get the frick over themselves. They’re NOT important,only in their own minds. Besides, the shade will cool them and their neighbors yards / houses and SAVE them $$$$. But they’re too short sighted ,small minded and vindictive to consider or see that. Besides Houston has NO zoning. Don’t like it: deal with it or change it. A bunch of sore LOSERS ..

  • Ok, so will sidewalks be installed on San Felipe?

  • Hello, I’ve owned my property about 200 ft away from the Hines project on Mimosa since ’87. The Hines’ project and the area south including Mimosa ARE NOT in River Oaks. It is a tiny little area referred to a “Vermont Terrace”. We have no deed restrictions or neighborhood association for Vermont Terrace. When I first moved into Mimosa in ’87 it was a crime-ridden neighborhood with our units being regularly broken into. Our cars were frequently vandalized for their radios. Thieves would steal cars from car lots on Kirby and use air guns to strip them in the field where the “Women’s Center” parking lot now is. HPD response time was roughly 45 minutes as I recall when they hit my car one night. South of Vermont Terrace is Glendower Court which does have deed restrictions. The lot where Davis is building I was understanding was vacant for many years.

  • Hear, hear, Houston Native! This is worth repeating (and printing on tshirts):

    “A zoning law might pass in Houston if each separate Council District were given the option to vote for or against zoning. If not, residential homeowners should receive a property tax reduction for adverse influences, such as proximity to high rises. Gerry Hines should pay a nuisance tax for his decision to build commercial building in a residential neighborhood. and use ordinances that favor residents and quality of life issues are needed. There is a lot that Council and Mayor could do to rein in these greedy developers. Instead, they are treating the developers as royalty and the middle class home owners as the problem.”

  • This Houston not Chicago, I really don’t see zoning passing any time soon, I just don’t see any of the political titans in town having the stomach to deal with all the fall out. It’s disappointing all the vitriol directed as Gerald Hines personally, the man has done so much for Houston, we have our gorgeous skyline of Class A office space to Hines and the Galleria, a juggernaut of a development that has fueled the entire Galleria Area. I can understand not wanting to live next door to a construction site or directly in the shadow of a 17 story building, however Hines is within its rights to build this building and does anyone think it won’t be a success. I see Gerald Hines as one of the greatest developers in American history and we in Houston have been lucky to have has such a visionary choosing to headquarter in our city. Hines continues to add to the skyline with elegant Pickard-Chilton designs like BG Group Place and 609 Main. You may have opinions on zoning and that’s fine, but leave Gerald Hines that man out of it. He has earned and deserved respect from anyone who calls Houston home.

  • I’ve grown to love this little rectangle of land since I moved into an apartment on Mimosa a month ago. It’s characteristically Houston, with its decaying low-rise apartments, bloated new townhomes, and controversial office tower construction, surrounded by premium neighborhoods and littered with potholes. My neighborhood has gazillion-dollar mansions with perfect lawns, beautiful examples of mid-mod architecture, and a nice smattering of scary-looking teardowns. At night, I look up at the moonlit Huntingdon, and smile at the thought of the 1%ers paying millions to watch me take out my garbage. I’ll miss living here when it’s time to leave.

  • Here come NIMBYs whining as usual

  • It may be notable to those, like Shannon, who are so invested in the defense of the construction of this tower, that the original permits filed by Hines were laughably and intentionally inaccurate and misleading. It is indisputable that Hines feared obstructionist litigation from neighboring residents from day one. I hope that the lawsuit brought by the resident on Stanmore results in a reasonable settlement. The office tower design is beautiful, but inappropriately located. Hines would have done well to site this structure across Westheimer from St. Anne’s church and replace it with a structure at 2229 San Felipe intended to integrate less brutally and more sensibly with its immediate environment. I think Hines wanted the attention that the controversy over the building has engendered…good ole cheap publicity. Gerald Hines, the founder, is obviously no longer a decision-maker at the company, and Hines, the company, no longer seems to possess the unique vision that earned it a special global respect. Its golden period of collaboration with such notable architects as Philip Johnson, I.M. Pei, Kevin Roche, etc. has been succeeded by one during which pursuit of the dollar has apparently superseded concern for design integrity.

  • Have you seen Pickard Chilton’s BG Group Place and 609 Main? They’re both cutting edge, as Green as you can get, and state of the Art. Your assessment of Hines seems curdled by your toxic view of this building. You really are off the mark on relation to Hines reputation; it’s as stellar as ever.

  • Yes, Hines is about the bottom dollar. It’s not exactly a state secret. The previous land owner was about the bottom dollar. That’s why they sold to Hines. The next-highest bidder on the land was going to be about the bottom dollar. The neighborhood activists are really only about bottom dollar, too, the only key difference being that they’re being that they are in the unenviable position of being the greedy bastards that don’t have any better strategy than to be sanctimonious and politically manipulative.

  • Shannon: calm down, dude – why are you so amped up? Are you on Hines’ payroll? Do you promote penny stocks, too? I’m simply making the obvious point – and I am making it dispassionately – that the scale of the building is disruptive to the rhythms of this nice, quirky little pedestrian neighborhood. It’s a nice building, poorly situated. It’s like a McMansion; but, instead of a pseudo-Mediterranean crammed into a 50′x50′ lot, it’s a nice glass box with a twee haircut dropped into a quiet 2-story semi-residential setting.

  • Trevor–everyone knows that Shannon is Hines’ sycophant. It’s the only topic about which he has anything nice to say.