Ashby Highrise: Shifting Driveways and the Insanity Offense

The Chronicle’s Mike Snyder comments on the the Ashby Highrise’s latest failing grade:

Since March of last year, [Matthew] Morgan and [Kevin] Kirton have submitted various versions of their permit application eight times, and the city has rejected it eight times.

Since one definitition of insanity is taking the same action repeatedly and expecting a different result, some observers have speculated that the developers were building a record for a lawsuit. The language in their timeline shows they’re prepared to take this step, whether or not it’s been part of their strategy all along.

The developers are portraying this case as an example of heavy-handed and inequitable city regulation that all developers should worry about. How much support they’ll get from their industry colleagues if they choose to go to court remains to be seen.

But Jennifer Dawson, writing in the Houston Business Journal, notes that Buckhead Investment Partners has been fiddling with those plans they keep submitting:


An alternate plan calling for a 226-apartment tower is on the drawing board and will be put into place if not enough condos are sold.

In order to address traffic concerns, Buckhead recently made some changes to the project design and commissioned an expanded traffic study.

Under the new plan, the Ashby driveway would only be used as an emergency exit. Buckhead also relocated the main driveway on Bissonnet to the center of the project, instead of having it on the east end of the site.

“It optimizes the traffic movements in and out of the driveway from both directions,” Morgan says.

Meanwhile, the development website still shows the older plan:

And a blogger at the Stop Ashby High Rise site points out that the project’s latest rejection by a city engineer cites “inconsistencies between various plan sets they have submitted.”

Images: Buckhead Investment Partners

26 Comment

  • Blah, Blah, Blah, why is this still a story? A national developer with a proven track record and significant equity can’t get a 4 plex financed in this environment. Every bank in Houston is holding MF construction loans that are underwater w/ the significant increase in cap rates, unless the developers come up with additional equity the projects will become REO.

  • Cross, seriously dude. Nobody in the community wants this here. This is apparent to everyone yet the people that stand to make money off of this don’t care about that. So greedy, jeez.

  • Brian, seriously dude. Where do you come up with “nobody” wants it here?? I, for one, want it, and the developers wouldn’t be submitting and resubmitting different versions of the building it if “nobody” wanted it. Let’s be honest, what you meant to say was “I” don’t want it here.

  • I don’t think this thing could be financed in this environment if Gerald Hines was behind it and the whole city loved it, so the boys are bound to be posturing, I’d guess for litigation. Damages are likely to be a tough sell, though, since getting stopped from starting has probably saved them a bundle.

  • Count me among those who WANT this thing to be built. I think it a hell of project and will be great for the neighborhood. The Mayor should be ashamed of himself for trying so hard to stop this project. Using the traffic argument if freakin’ joke. By that rational, we’d never build anything anywhere.

    They are going to have a very hard time getting it financed, but that’s a separate issue.

  • Rise High Ashby!

  • I guess the “our intelligence” reference in the “Stop Ashby” website update indicates they are not content to use their political muscle to harass the developers but now have hired a private investigator to spy on them.

    “They” of course refers to the “co-chairs” of the movement who are both partners at Vinson & Elkins which of course brought us Enron which of course allowed many Enron executives, quite a few actually, to buy in Southampton, no doubt some of them among the “unindicted co-conspirators,” so in some ways all of this is merely “taken care of their own.”

    The bottom line is they don’t want anyone “looking down on them” although at this point quite a few do. And holding their nose at the stench. And not just the stench from Southampton but the stench emanating form City Hall as well.

    The developers put in a sewer system upgrade on the basis of their permits having been approved before the mayor decided they would be unapproved and apparently had and still have funding. So they probably have quite a lawsuit.

    Some wish they would just put in a strip center compelete with a strip club. It actually might add some class to the neighborhood.

  • “Count me among those who WANT this thing to be built. I think it a hell of project and will be great for the neighborhood.” -Bernard

    Bernard, you’re a tool. No one IN our neighborhood wants this. So if you think it would be “great” for the neighborhood, you aren’t a resident.

    Add me to the group that thinks they are posturing for a lawsuit. However, these types of lawsuits are almost impossible to win.

    They could also be waiting out Mayor White. But they odds are the next mayor (prolly Parker) will not allow it either.

    I think they are just SOL.

  • Up with the Ashby Highrise! We need to have stickers and signs made in support of the highrise.

    It’s too bad the “old fogies” and good ol’ boys of Houston are so opposed to progress.

    Go to any other progressive, metropolitan area (Dallas and Atlanta included) and you’ll find beautiful highrises right there, overlooking great tree-canopied neighborhoods. ie: Turtle Creek (which is a much prettier (clean and landscaped) drive than any in Houston. And what about The Huntington? Hello?? It’s smack dab in River Oaks!

    Bottom line is that Houstonians, and particularly those who are in positions to change things (which unfortunately they’re all old same-old-same-old thinking in Houston), need to GET OUT and see what other cities are doing in regards to development, lighting the downtown downtown skyscrapers at night and beautifying the city!!

  • If this was a serious debate about the scale of buildings to put into existing neigborhoods then it would be an interesting discussion. However it has become a NIMBY battle over who has the most expensive attorneys, the expensive attorney residents of Southhampton or the expensive attorneys hired by the developer. This discussion would have been over long ago if it was centered in a neighborhood with a lower average income.

  • Since when is progress equated with destroying a perfectly good stock of affordable (mostly student, near a university) housing and replacing it with an out-of-scale project that will probably only cater to upscale folks?

  • Tasha –

    Take a closer look at those other progressive metropolitan areas – they don’t destroy in the name of progress, there is a balance to growth, let’s find it!!

  • Progress, Baby.

    That’s Rice’s problem, not the neighborhood, nor City.

    Look at the teardown of perfectly-good, outdated homes to build gigantic mansions that “cater to upscale folks.”

    That’s one thing to take into consideration when attending Rice University. There are of affordable places to live in this city. Rice U. is located in an affluent area. Expect affluent prices.

  • It’s interesting that most of the people that desparately want this building built a/don’t live in the neighborhood and b/don’t intend to live in it. In other words, they have no material interest other than being a SEBY (someone else’s back yard).

  • Tasha that was one of the BEST comments I’ve heard! I’m sick and tired of the good ole boys trying to impede progress…I guess its a good thing now that Houston actually has more forward thinking people than it used to…to all the people who don’t want Houston to be a world Class City I think I speak for most Houstonians when I say ” Go to the freakin country if you don’t want to live in the big city you bunch of Tools”

  • What everyone overlooks, including our mayor and city council, is the City Charter which very clearly says the city cannot regulate land use, nor can the city allow regulation of land use, of unrestricted land and the property at 1717 Bissonnet is unrestricted land.

    But then we have homeowners involved who through their connection to Enron, both directly and indirectly, have made it perfectly clear that they believe that the law does not apply to them.

    Hopefully a judge at some point will inform them that in fact it does.

  • Interesting that you believe that no one who supports this project is willing to live in it. I would love to see Ashby Highrise built. Not only do I live in the neighborhood, my husband and I have already discussed selling our current house and buying something in Ashby Highrise. This would allow us to continue to live in a neighborhood we love as well as downsize from our current house which is too big for us.

  • Actually I prefer to be called an AIMBYs. As in already in my backyard. What confuses me is why we haven’t had this mobilization of expensive legal minds when similar developments have been proposed and built in other parts of the city. If they were to move this development tomorrow and put it up in a less affluent but equally residential neighborhood there would be a bunch of people in Southampton trying to decide whether it would make a good investment or not rather than complaining about it.

  • Matt had a valid point up until he envoked the ad hominem attack by linking this unrelated effort to Enron. The root source is Houston’s wide-open development laws. One cannot buy a home with the expectation that their single-family neighborhood will remain so. That’s as unfair to existing landowners as stopping development is to a new landowner.

    The neighborhood association should be aruging for a change to the laws rather than doing this backdoor. Unfortuantly, laws cannot be changed retroactivly so they are using the only tool available in the toolbox.

    I can’t buy the argument that this is stopping “progress”. This building could have been sited in many, many other places without a fight from a surrounding neighborhood or any regulatory headaches. The developer made a poor site selection and is facing the consequences. Aren’t developers supposed to be skilled in making decisions like this? If they never considered (risked) kickback from the neighborhood they are extremely short-sighted.

  • The people that are behind the Ashby Hi-Rise have every right to build that project on the property they purchased legally. If I lived right next to where something that large was going up, I most likely wouldn’t be too keen on it, but I’d understand that it is one of the issues that one faces living next to unrestricted land. This is unfortunately another example of misinformed people hell bent on trying to get a governmental entity to enact (currently non-existent)land use restrictions to prevent someone else from excercising their own legal land use rights…. and it’s not right, or legal.

  • “Matt had a valid point up until he envoked the ad hominem attack by linking this unrelated effort to Enron.”

    I don’t think it’s unrelated at all – there is the same attitude of “the law doesn’t apply to us” in this as there was in Enron and quite a few of the Enron executives were responsible for the “rennaisance” of Southampton including, no doubt, some of the “unindicted co-conspirators” and add the two “co-chairs” of the Stop Ashby movement who are also partners of the law firm that responded to the “concerns” of Sherron Watkins by advising Ken Lay how to deal with whistleblowers and, well, the thing sort of speak for itself.

    They believe the law, and the City Charter, doesn’t apply to them.

  • Thanks, sacoo!

    Our city needs to buck up and take notes!

    Clean up the trash, find a home for the homeless and hire world-renowned architects to build new projects.

    As much as I don’t want to say it, Dallas has done a phenomenal job in beautifying its city: landscaping in people-filled areas (Turtle Creek, Uptown), creating a large, beautiful area that’s walkable.

    They also have a sparkling downtown skyline, lit up at night in beautiful colors. It looks creative and gives the city a great energy.

    Houston could do more to take aesthetics into consideration when building new structures – more modern, world-class design. The new skyscrapers in downtown Houston will look fantastic – Hines and Hess Tower; however, has nobody noticed or commented on how BORING and drab Finger’s One Park Place turned out? Geez, it’s so dull and traditional. Even if they were going to go traditional, they could have added some unique features. It’s very plain.

    Major metro downtowns also provide great flat surfaces for murals, artwork and creative, artsy vinyl billboards (approved by the city) on the sides of buildings, something Houston takes pride in NOT allowing to preserve the “historic” look. Well, guess what – it results in a very dull look that makes visitors think Houston is boring. They can’t place it, but they think our downtown looks boring.

    It’s getting better, indeed, but needs more of the forward-thinking creative people to push it.

    Let’s get going!

  • However if developers site large projects based on minimizing the number of wealthy attorneys that live within a certain radius of the site then what you have essentially done is implement zoning based upon wealth. If we want to have zoning then we should apply the same rules to every neighborhood, not just tell developers that they should only build large buildings in neighborhoods where people can’t afford to organize resistance to them.

  • So will the fine dining establishment be on Ashby to avoid the 300-ft TABC rule with the Hillel Center on the corner? Although it would be funny to see the wealthy residents riding down to a BYOB restaurant clutching their brown paper bags. I got a good chuckle out of the Pedestrian Plaza rendering – guess the artist has never actually been on Bissonnet, given the amount of space between the bus and the passing car.

  • they should hire weingarten, they get away with everything.

  • Tasha, ” lighting the downtown skyscrapers at night and beautifying the city!!”?? Whoa, did our green thinking fall with the price of a gallon of gas? Give me twinkling stars overhead for real beauty, instead of wasteful lighted buildings and give a Middle East soldier the chance to see their family again.