Ashby Highrise Loses Appeal

ASHBY HIGHRISE LOSES APPEAL The city’s General Appeals Board today rejected a request by the developers of the Ashby Highrise to gain permit approvals for the 23-story project’s original version — which includes a larger number of residences and more commercial space than the plans that finally received permits from the city. “Matthew Morgan, one of the two principals with Buckhead Investment Partners, said the next step would likely be to appeal to the Houston City Council. . . . Ironically, the prolonged battle that has been played out not only in the city bureaucracy but with yard signs, bumper stickers and vocal, packed protests did not draw any other media or public attention Thursday at this key city hearing.” [West University Examiner; previously on Swamplot]

38 Comment

  • I fail to see the irony cited in the West University Examiner. Seems like a better word would’ve been, “curiously.”

  • Hi, ho, hi, ho it’s off to court we go…

    Now on to more important things like WHERE the wild thing house filled with the wild things is?

  • So, we would probably rather they didn’t build it, but if they do, wouldn’t we rather it be mixed use? amirite?

  • @tacotruck: You right, tacotruck, you right.

  • And the next chapter unfolds!

    If Gene Locke or Anise Parker win the mayoral race, the building will get built.

    Peter “I want to control everything you do” Brown would do whatever he can to stop this project.

  • I don’t know, KJB. Annise has been fairly vocal in her opposition to Ashby, and it seems like she has made it a campaign issue.

  • Thanks Ian,

    I have to admit this has been the most boring mayoral race I’ve ever witness. So boring that I can’t even follow it.

    I think Houston Press’ article on the race is spot on. Your choices are:
    Black Man
    Rich White Man
    Hispanic Republican

    Outside of that, there isn’t really anything else to this race. Locke is politically connected and is responsible for a lot of things at the County Sports Authority. Peter Brown wants to have a totalitarian planning group. Anise Parker has been fairly quiet unless you followed her through her career.

    Personally, I think she has the potentially to do the least damage to the city. Brown the most. Locke falls in the category of most likely to be corrupt.

  • Annise changes her mind on a whim. I hear she’s regretting the comments she made about the fire department.

  • “Totalitarian?!?!”

  • Matt, that’s probably the best reason I have towards leaning to vote for her. Houston has a strong mayor setup. So vote for the week wishy-washy candidate. Then nothing dramatic will get done to damage this city.

    Peter Brown from every talk he’s given and everything he supports in terms of planning shows me a guy that’s ready to be in complete control. He’s a big believer in central planning which is not what Houston is about. He’s hell bent on making Houston pretty at the expense of prosperity. If I had a choice between a beautiful city and a prosperous one, I would chose a prosperous one. That concept has made Houston the wonderful city that it is today. Not silly rules that govern how things look. Not stringent development regulations that dictate what can or cannot get built. That only hurts a city and directs development to the fringes and expands the suburbs. It’s the unintended consequence from “smart growth” concepts he supports.

  • If Gene Locke or Anise Parker win the mayoral race, the building will get built.

    One of two Bobbsie Twins aka the Stop Ashby “task force commmittee” is firmly in her pocket so to speak. Thick as thieves as they say. If Annise Parker wins you can expect her to waste a couple of million in taxpayer dollars by ordering the city legal department to stop the project.

    She is not wishy-washy. You all just haven’t seen the Lucrezia Borgia side.

    The other one is probably in Peter Brown’s pocket. This is a very bizarre race. But for them to prevail they have to have either Brown or Parker to pull the strings that Bill White tried to but somehow couldn’t.

    Gene Locke could care less. He’s probably not really pleased with the pretentiousness. He remembers his roots so to speak.

  • My handy voter’s guide (issued by the Leauge of Women Voters Houston) states that there are 7 mayoral candidates: Brown, Ulman, Ullrich, Cupp, Morales, Parker, and Locke.

    Why only 4 of the candidates get the majority of the press is beyond me, but I find none of them to be appealing. I’ll make up my mind at the voting booth, but right now, either either Ullrich or Cupp will get my vote.

  • Ok,

    So I’m down to Locke (who I don’t like) and Morales (who doesn’t have a chance).

    Conventional wisdom would say Morales does have a chance because the other three will split votes, but he really has done anything to motivate voters. Actually, none of them have.

  • Oh I realize you are a complete ideologue in terms of the free market and laissez faire unregulated capitalism. I just thought your use of the term “totalitarian” to describe building codes, rather mild transit-oriented development and light regulation as pretty over-the-top and ridicules (especially when compared to actual totalitarian governments throughout history). But, you’re an ideologue, so I guess such irrational rants are to be expected.

    Anyway, as a side note, all the things you cited are the reasons I am voting for Mr. Brown. It is time for a little sanity brought back into this city. For far too long Houston has sacrificed the quality of life of average, everyday citizens for the interests of developers and (frankly) the oil industry. I know this may sound shocking to the ideologue but there are more important things than money and sometimes it is better to sacrifice a little as an individual to have a better overall community. Ideologues perhaps may not even believe in the concept of community; Thatcher famously said “There is no such thing as society.” But, thankfully for most of our history, the majority has believed differently and applied rational, flexible regulation where needed to regulate the often chaotic and brutal free market to protect society and the quality of life in our communities. It’s about time things started to change a little here in Houston.

  • It’s about time things started to change a little here in Houston.

    If you feel that way I suggest you start a petition to put zoning back on the ballot and see what the voters say. Until then, the city charter most likely will be held up as the law by even the most corrupt judge simply because it is the law. And the city charter does not allow this “zoning by ordinance” simply because it does not allow zoning.

  • ARP,

    “rather MILD transit-oriented development and light regulation”

    All regulation starts off as mild. They say it’s for “quality of life” (which has no really definition, different for everybody). The problem with the regulation that Brown supports is that time an again in cities across the US and around the world they morph into more and more onerous and restrict housing supply (higher cost) and discriminate against the poor population.

    Why do you need City of Hall to force your “quality of life”? Quality is what you make of it. Why force others through a governing force to live your “quality of life”? And why the idiotic belief that if someone like me is against this, then they are all the way pro oil, big business, pro developer, no holds bar run roughshod over the environment?

    The funny thing is, as horrible as you say it is in Houston with big developers and big oil, it’s still a great city to live in. And no matter what rules get put in place, these same “big players” will still do what they want with the new rules. It just means their end products will cost the user more. Brown’s proposed development rules will force stagnation between Loop 610 and the Beltway. Focus only on the inner loop and will scare many developers to go further out of the city. On top of that, if houses are pushed further out (which it will and Brown can’t stop it), then businesses will follow.

    His anti-sprawl concept will create it. And it will create it where he can’t control it. He’ll give massive incentives for the surrounding cities to capitalize and steal business from Houston. Sugar Land has already done this with Fluor. Pearland wants to do the same thing! They have a massive business park at the southwest corner of SH288 and the Beltway that is poise take away jobs from the City of Houston. The location is still convenient to commuters. HCTRA will ensure the Beltway will be adequate for traffic. We’ll essentially have another Westchase and Greenspoint office centers at the south side. Companies that are currently scouting out Houston and looked seriously at Downtown, Uptown, and Westchase are looking at this Pearland district if the mayoral winner is a big supporter of heavy development regulation. Pearland and Sugar Land will give them what they want. Houston may give them the middle finger.

    Welcome to the real world.

    Houston can’t live in a bubble from the rest of the region. Portland tried this and then Vancouver, WA saw a massive influx of new development where it was more affordable. If the rest of the region is pro-growth and supporting business and Houston changes, where do you think the jobs will go?

  • What is zoning? How is it defined in the charter?

    If we are talking Euclidean Zoning, I don’t want that and my understanding neither does Mr. Brown. More rational, form-based codes and incentive zoning ordinances that incorporate neighborhoods better with the surrounding community and encourage a wider range of transportation options are what is needed. This would help Houston become a better integrated community (a big problem here) and improve infrastructure in the city (which is at best fair to poor).

  • ARP,

    There is a line of lawyers all ready to go if Brown pushes for this. The all the proposals so far he backs the city legal department said can’t happen unless a charter change is made. The most the city can do it what is pushed forward in the urban corridors initiative. Which still doesn’t enforce types of development. Form based codes will breach the city charter. That has been settled and was thrown out in the urban corridors ordinance. White wanted the form based concept to go through, he couldn’t legally do it.

    Good thing the city had the sense to stop this in the charter many years ago. Great foresight!

  • Also,

    The infrastructure suffering has nothing to do with our development regulations. It has to do with the city wasting millions on non-critical projects. Disco-Very Green in downtown in one of them. The stadiums it spent millions on to help fund. The money pit Hilton Americas. Now they want a second city funded hotel. All the money to wasted internal programs that don’t benefit citizens. The millions wasted on “greening city hall” which won’t save money in the long run. That wasted money alone could have went a long way to deal with what citizens consider the #1 issues: drainage. The city’s CIP in reference to streets and drainage could be much further along than it is.

  • I like Ralph(Ullrich), the Master Plumber. He ran a few years back on the platform of “Flush City Hall”.

    So, if there are more candidates than the 4 getting all the press what gives? Is it that much a function of who has mo $s?

  • markd:

    I admit that I don’t know much about Ullrich, but from what I’ve read, he seems to be at least moderately capable for the position.

    Which is more than I can say about any of the “big 4” candidates.

  • Also…neglected to add:

    I contacted KHOU (by email) several times and asked why their mayoral debate only invited the “big 4” candidates. I never received a response.

    Maybe I should ask Greg Hurst directly when I see him at church sometime.

  • markd and Random Poster,

    I think you two may have convince me to throw my vote to Ullrich. I might as well. I don’t see anything good in the top 4.

    The sad part is that I feel Brown will win. The city will be doomed for that. Lee Brown and White would be considered fun times!

  • kjk434 writes:

    1) “The problem with the regulation that Brown supports is that time an again in cities across the US and around the world they . . . discriminate against the poor population.”

    You say that like that is a bad thing…

    2) “The funny thing is, as horrible as you say it is in Houston with big developers and big oil, it’s still a great city to live in.”

    Keep deluding yourself there. This has been addressed before, but people live in Houston primarily for one reason and only one reason: Jobs.

    Once their job disappears (whether voluntarily or otherwise), they will too. Perhaps they’d be more willing to stick around if Houston wasn’t such an ugly blight on Earth’s surface, the weather wasn’t reminiscent of a primodial swamp, the roads weren’t competiting for the “Best Pioneer Wagon Trail Renactment” award, and rampant, uncontrolled development wasn’t a constant threat to the value of their home.

    Although I doubt that any mayor can solve the weather problem, a decent one could at least take a whack at the other issues. Which, in my view, would go a long way towards making Houston a much more liveable, and well-rounded, city.

    I’d like to live in such a place. Wouldn’t you?

  • I already do live in that city.

    Outside of being retired, what other reason do have to live where you live. It’s because you work there. If the city doesn’t have the jobs, then people won’t live there. You can have the pretties city in the world, but if you don’t have a the jobs, no one will live there.

    So you would live somewhere pretty even if you didn’t have a job. You would move somewhere other than Houston just because of quality of life? Not your job? It must be nice to live where ever you want and it doesn’t matter if you have a job there.

  • Ralph Ullrich is more than qualified for the gig of Mayor. An alumnus from Auburn, he’s been pulling plumbing permits downtown for a long time. And he used to run a little bar on Waugh called the Pic ‘n Pac – the space now is the parking lot for Rudyard’s.

    Being a Master Plumber is likely a good qualification for a position like Mayor of Houston – a Master Plumber knows 1st hand the nature of how “shit” really works.

    I’d like to see him get more press. Find him a lot of days after 6, enjoying a cold one at the W. Alabama Icehouse.

  • People have long-distance job commutes all the time. Plus, with tele-commuting, living in a (nice) city that is not where your “office” is located is not all that uncommon either.

  • But only a very select few can fully Tele-Commute.

    We tried it for two weeks when our office building was being repaired after Hurricane Ike. Whether you work for private developers or public engineering groups, you have to have a base of operations and be able drive to meetings with them.

    I’m jealous of people that can purely tele-commute. I would like to!

  • ARP,
    The biggest downside to extensive land-use or form-based controls has nothing to do with market distortions or vague concepts of liberty or the alternative use of resources (not that those aren’t all arguments worthy of consideration).
    The biggest downside is that it creates a vehicle for corruption and cronyism. I’ll have to plead the 5th as to how I came to understand this, but let it be known that city councils and P&Z boards can be bought over quite easily. All it takes is for a developer to contract the consulting services of a well-connected ex-councilmember at some ludicrious price and send him to town with a five-figure entertainment budget (which sounds like a lot, but isn’t in the scope of a $50 mil. project); meanwhile, the developer ensures that their first renderings contain a few blatantly offensive architectural features that the targeted politicians can criticize. The developer makes the changes requested (which they would’ve made anyway) so as that the targeted politicians can save face with their constituents. And the really dangerous part of all this is that once a politician is clearly in your pocket, it’s hard for them to say no to just about anything else in the future so long as the developer provides them with a mechanism to save face.
    …of course, the scenario I’ve outlined above is only something that I personally witnessed, and there was adequate legal oversight to avoid tripping up on any issues.
    If you want a more public account of just how bad it can get when bribor and bribee get carries away, you need look no further than Dallas, TX. Just last week, the fmr. Mayor Pro Tem was convicted of bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, and extortion in a case involving payments from developers seeking to build apartment complexes.
    Dallas, TX and its suburban municipalities also serve as evidence of the ineffectual nature of zoning laws because most of the municipalities zone according to theoretical highest and best use and then tend to grant variances left and right (albeit not without consideration, as evidenced above).

  • I vaguely recall, and may be wrong for those who love to tell me I’m wrong, that there are ways for subdivisions with deed restrictions to “annex” adjoining areas if the landowners in those adjoining areas agree to it.

    If so, and please note I am saying if so, then that should have been something Southampton should have done a long time ago on both its eastern and western boundaries with “unrestricted” areas.

    Too late for them. Maybe not too late for others.

  • Matt,

    It is possible.

    The parcels they will want annexed in along with all the existing neighborhood parcels will have to agree at 70% approval. Not impossible, but not easy.

    There is also some legal work to add in the area. Existing neighborhoods with expired deed restriction and re-enact them with the 70% approval.

  • Keep deluding yourself there. This has been addressed before, but people live in Houston primarily for one reason and only one reason: Jobs.


    Not true. We just completed a home we intend to retire to. Having lived across the globe, we appreciate the low cost of living, hub airport (CO), no income tax, mild climate, central USA location, on and on.

    Every city has it’s issues with city goverment. Houston is no different in that respect.

  • Spirited debate. My understanding is that we are now in what is being called the “Great Recession” The Ashby site is a great property, but I would think that they would be downsizing the project, unless they believe that the commercial component is critical to their success. They must be made of money to get that project financed in this economic climate. God bless em. Has anyone told them about a little project, down the street called the Mosaic? I know the location and market is not exactly the same.

    I remain amazed at the guys that think they are smarter than the free market, that is collectively made of developers, lending institutions, investors, general contractors, etc. that want to “plan a city” What is it specifically on their resume that qualifies them for this job? The former have their own money at risk, are these “planners willing to bet their reputation and put up their money at risk?

    How do you think the office where you work was created, you think it was planned by the Government?

    I do believe that the collective private sector could greatly benefit to hire some very bright and experienced planners to offer suggestions on a master plan for the innerloop. However on a large scale in a disconnected way that is what the free market is doing. I would like to see the downtown form an association that can communicate with both residential, office, and retail property owners to masterplan a revival of this area, something like, asking the retail operators what type of residential base do you need to open downtown, then showing residential prospects what services would be available if they moved downtown, just create a picture of what downtown could look like if it came together, then have the necessary tax incentives to jump start the deal.

    Yea, I know not very well thought out, just an idea that needs a lot of work.

    Hey, my official two cents.

  • I think in reality this is just the first of the hirises in the area. As the economy improves, most believe by next summer, there may be more in the future along Bissonnet and along streets like Greenbriar and Kirby. Reality is reality.

    There may be another one in that section east of Ashby between Rice and Bissonnet. They should have addressed the problem a long time ago and didn’t. Some developers will change their mind, as the developers of one proposed hirise on Shakespeare did, but it’s doubtful they will do so because of pressure from homeowners. And this may serve as a lesson in the future for homeowners.

    Most people who have watched this the past week assume the developers are planning to sue. This went beyond a protest. The civic clubs and several individuals are not immune from lawsuit. You have elements of harassment on their part in addition to the matter of tortuious interference. It’s one thing to call into question the ethics of a development company. It’s quite another to call into question the ethics of developers. This got personal. Not surprising to those who know the Bobbsie Twins and their law firm. It bordered on a vendetta. There are laws regarding this type of behavior and you do have people involved in this who believe the law does not apply to some. They certainly believe it does not apply to them. That includes a city councilmember and two mayoral candidates who for political advantage joined in the vendetta. And of course a mayor who probably will not become a senator. Or anything else.

    Sad thing is some will vote for them. Just in case they want someone to “pull strings” for them. The rest of us are tired of people who pull strings and their belief that the law is only for some.

  • Matt Mystery, the economy stands no chance at improving by next summer to the extent that new real estate projects begin to proliferate the Houston area once more. Commercial foreclosures will instead ramp up as balloon payments come due and replacement financing cannot be lined up.

  • Matt Mystery, the economy stands no chance at improving by next summer to the extent that new real estate projects begin to proliferate the Houston area once more.

    We have two economies in Houston just like we have two economies everywhere else.

    The rich are doing just fine again. Those are the ones who buy upscale hirise apartments in upscale areas.

    Why do you all assume the developers have no financing?

    One interesting element of this with regards to the lawsuit is the possibility they had financing which was lost as a result of all of this. That is a major lawsuit. And one which is hard to defend.

    Maybe the city will end up “financing” it.

  • Matt Mystery, rich people are not an economy. They generate wealth by participating in the economy.
    As for how I know that financing for new construction is unavailable…I can carve up the issue like a turkey and serve it to you in slices, but don’t have the patience for the detail work. The gist of it is that even if the labor market turned around in the next couple of years, helping the fundamentals (which presently continue to decay and are consequently returning vast amounts of vacant real estate on the market which will take years of sustained growth just to re-absorb), the rate of commercial foreclosures triggered as old financing arrangements turn over and cannot be replaced will suppress asset prices throughout the marketplace for many years to come.

  • On 10/23, kjb wrote:

    “… stringent development regulations that dictate what can or cannot get built…hurts a city and directs development to the fringes and expands the suburbs. It’s the unintended consequence from “smart growth” concepts [Brown] supports.”

    I’ve been travelling for a bit and too busy to pay much attention to the mayoral race until this week, but kjb…we already live in a city where development is mostly in the exurbs and the suburbs are huge. I’m not sure what Peter Brown might do to make that worse, but I’m hopeful that someone can make our city more user-friendly to those of us who actually live in the center.