Lawsuit To Stop Ashby Highrise Going To Trial This Fall

Last week, a judge refused to dismiss the lawsuit filed by folks in Boulevard Oaks back in May against Buckhead Investment Partners to stop the construction of 1717 Bissonnet (a.k.a. the Ashby Highrise), setting up a jury trial this November. In the suit, you’ll remember, neighbors cite concerns about traffic and privacy and also allege that the proposed 21-story residential tower would deprive their lawns and gardens of shade and rain. Right now, of course, the site — cleared once and for all of the Maryland Manor apartments — is itself a kind of garden, with grass and weeds sprouting at the feet of a painted-over fence.

In a statement sent to Swamplot, Buckhead explains its side of the story:

The claims contained in the Petition are without merit and are not supported by Texas law. This lawsuit is a serious threat to urban growth and economic prosperity throughout the State of Texas. If successful, the resulting lack of predictability and uncertainty in the law would invite a flood of similarly styled litigation aimed at stopping projects subjectively deemed as inappropriate or undesirable by any individual or like-minded group of would-be plaintiffs. There would be an immediate and economically debilitating statewide chilling effect on the development of new real estate projects due to the new precedent that any lawful, entitled and fully permitted project might be enjoined using these same sorts of baseless claims.

Image: Buckhead Investment Partners

57 Comment

  • That building would look so great facing into Hermann Park from its northern border. Would be like the buildings facing Grant Park from Michigan Ave. in Chicago. Too bad it’s just on Bissonnet.

  • When the building is built I would make sure the garbage compactor is upwind from the pesky neighbors and the garbage pickup is at a lovely 3:30 am.

  • Oh for Pete’s sake! Can we just build this stupid thing already?! I just want it built out of spite at this point, even if it doesn’t look identical to the “monster tower” bumper stickers. Although, if the developer is watching these pages I would hope the arms extending from the tower could reach low enough to scoop cars into its gaping, toothy maw. I’ll give this to Buckhead free.


  • Looks like a beautiful building to me. I wish I was as lucky to have this level of detail on the apartment going in by me… Too many residential complexes are built with cheap materials and bland design in order and made to “pass” as luxury. I believe this tower genuinely looks high quality – from plans of course. There is NO DOUBT that this is an upgrade from what it was before. Yes, it will change the vibe of the area a bit. But if I had a large lot with a million dollar + house on it – AND got to walk to restaurants / markets / etc… I would consider my home life quite fulfilling. That is one of the best parts of living in the city.

  • The developers should have known that when you build in an area surrounded by rich people who oppose your development in Houston, you are basically going to war. They may win the war, sure – but they are first going to have to fight it. And wonder if they still think this was such a wise investment.

  • For what it is worth, the judge in the case, Randy Wilson, is about as solidly Republican as anyone on the Harris County bench. And he is a very smart judge.

    But, I think his denial of the motion for summary judgment is more procedural than substantive. It is up to the jury to tell the Ashby opponents that they lose, not the court.

    I do not think the Ashby opponents will or should prevail in this lawsuit. However, I do find it very interesting that the developer is whining about predictability when so many developers have fought tooth and nail against the very thing (zoning) that would give them some predictability.

  • The outcome will be this: the individual homeowners will be compensated for the anticipated loss of property value and then the tower will be built. Ta-dah.

  • Denise, does that likewise mean the homeowners will owe Buckhead for the anticipated increase in property value?

  • What a stupid lawsuit.. I don’t understand why they are wasting more money fighting a area that does not want them there.. mean while Downtown is handing out tax breaks like crazy to get places like this built Downtown.. However I agree a place like this would fight perfect in the Herman park area.. I just don’t understand why the developers insist on pushing this.

  • But as the other articles suggest, the property values are actually going up! Perhaps they should refund that raise to Buckhead.

  • The lawsuit will not have statewide ramifications as the developer stated. The Ashby High Rise, if built or not, will only have a ripple effect in Houston, or the western portion of the “Inner Loop” (Galleria included).

    If built, little to nothing is going to prevent developers from building similar developments (ie. high rises amongst single family homes in traditional neighborhoods). Developers, like Buckhead, will be gobbling up land, and stack overpriced luxury condos in high rises.

    If the neighbors are successful in stopping the Ashby project, Houston’s defacto “zoning” remains effective.

    Note: the adjacent neighborhood has seen a rise in their home values. A byproduct of the Ashby project? Or just Houston’s strong real estate market?

  • I don’t recall if Swamplot covered it, but Sarnoff reported in a recent blog post that Boulevard Oaks prices went up 58 over last year. It could be argued of course, that without the highrise, the prices would have gone up even more.

  • I used to be for the developers on this, but actually, now I’m rooting for the homeowners to win.
    I’d hope that the developer would have the common sense to open a star of hope mission on the site after they lose. It’s all about giving back to the community.

  • I’ve always found it interesting that, in all likelihood, many of the people who currently live in that neighborhood spent a lot of time and money in the past assuring that Houston zoning regulations were all but extinguished, allowing for the kind of up is down, left is right construction that has been quite beneficial to Houston’s corporate elite. Funny how once those lack of zoning regulations allowed this project to go forth these same folks who fought to kill zoning regs are now suddenly in favor of some regulation and have become activists for it. How does that cake taste now?

  • People have a right to defend their neighborhood. Developers are chasing money. They don’t care about quality of life. In a community, many people have a stake. But in Houston, all too often, the only people who get to have their say (or way) are the ones with money. In this case, both sides have money. It’s good to see the developer on the defensive.

  • I completely agree with Old School’s comments.

    To them I will add that the purpose of a jury is to decide whose version of the facts is correct; the judge then applies the law to those fact findings. A summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no real question about what the facts are. Finding that there is some question about what the facts are and thus denying a motion for summary judgment will almost never get reversed (at least in Texas state court).

  • I agree with toasty. This would be a perfect location for the new Star of Hope mission. The homeless have very few cars so there would be little or no impact on traffic. And the leftovers from Picnic and Raven Grill can be sent over fresh.

  • Without any details on the claims asserted in the lawsuit, and nothing but a one-sided press release from the developer, it’s impossible to say what the merits (if any) of this lawsuit are.

  • The dire Buckhorn prediction sounds good to me. Bring it on. It is high time that the developers are cut down a notch or two.

  • I think that ultimately the developers will prevail, and that the lawsuit here is just the final tit for tat round of the extended war played out between the neighborhood and the developers.
    That said, I do find Buckhead’s statement to be over the top whining. Citing a chilling effect statewide is a bit of a stretch, since every other major city in this state has some form of zoning, which leads to the predictability that they so desire as developers. Buckhead’s prinicpals live in West U. and Southside Place respectively. I can only guess that the predictability of zoning laws in those two entities was one of the reasons they felt compelled to purchase property for their own residential use there. No worries about a tire shop, bagel shop, or 20 story apartment block going up next door to you in Southside Place. So long as the COH has no zoning laws in place, there will continue to be these kinds of battles, though the cost of entry into the fight is very high, and only a few neighborhoods have the resources to fight this kind of fight.

  • Density is good. This lawsuit is silly. Let’s hope the Buckhead folks recover a bundle in attorney’s fees once the trial is over.

  • Although it would cause a huge loss for the owners of this property, it would put a giant smile on my face if they said “okay, we are not going to build this high-rise after all. We are just going to build a small four-story building. It will house homeless people and Provide drug counseling for those addicted to illegal substances.
    If I were the developer and lost my battle to build the building I wanted to do, that’s what I would build just out of spite

  • I grew up and now live in this neighborhood and even I say…ENOUGH! Even I think this is absurd. The neighborhood is acting like a Bully, this developer owns the property has cleared all the legal hurdles and now this! I think the judge was completely in the wrong, this has been adjucated to death, the lawyers have made a fortune off of this mess. Is it any wonder lawyers are the most loathed occupation in the country, the only thing they really earn is this inglorious distinction.

  • I think the Onyx stripclub should relocate on that lot.

  • Wow. So many lovely comments.

    My very favorite are the anti-homeowner comments that want to use strippers and the homeless and indigent and addicts to punish those who “risked their own money” by filing a lawsuit to assert and protect their property rights. Wow. Don’t you people love that these homeowners not only “risked their own money” by investing in their homes and are now “risking their own money” by protecting their rights? Seems pretty invested to me. Oh, duh, now I get it. Ya’ll love property rights, so long as other people [who normally can’t afford to protect themselves]don’t get to have or assert rights too. Got it! Extra points to comment 23 for revealing a rather savvy business strategy.

    My second favorite are those that don’t understand that while property values may increase in a very strong market (like, I don’t know, Houston), those values could have been higher but for a giant nonconforming block buster going in down the street and those higher values do not mean that privacy has not been lost or traffic has not increased or that property rights have not been damaged. Number 11, I think these homeowners get their actuals (property value) or sentimentals (privacy), not both. So, problem solved!

    My third favorite group are those who are just so bored by this whole thing and are just so inconvenienced by having to click a link and voluntarily read an article that bores and inconveniences them so. They are so bored and inconvenienced that Ashby must hurry up and build that thing! It’s so boring not to! And inconvenient! Hey, I got an idea #4, quit reading articles about Ashby.

    Fourth, I just love those still railing on and on about density at any and all cost. Densely packing a community that does not have the necessary infrastructure to support it is bad. Density in Midtown, the galleria and downtown, why that makes sense! Density in the middle of single family residential neighborhoods, comprised of two lane roads? That only makes sense if you don’t actually live in the area (i.e., aren’t “invested in the area”), and are just looking to profit off it. I am looking at you, 22.

    Finally, there are those that want these homeowners to suffer because (a) they are [perceived to be] rich or (b) [it is assumed] they [somehow] benefitted from a lack of zoning [in this or a previous life]. Ugly ugly. Good job, 15.

  • Seriously, wise up!No zoning regulations and you end up with a degenerated landcape. everything has it’s place. Houston is already looking eradicated with build whatever you want wherever you want. Within the loop its become very stale. As money keeps moving into the city, so does the lack for taste.

  • Mel for the big time win. I especially love the “these are the folks that voted down zoning” so they should eat it. Where’s the evidence in that claim? As far as wealthy neighborhoods in Houston go, Southampton and Boulevard Oaks are about as liberal-progressive as you can get. If you want a revenge build, then place this tower in the heart of West U’s downtown or along Tanglewood Boulevard near Candlewood.

  • Mel – don’t worry about it. It’s obvious half the people who post on here are drunk.

  • That whiny-ass neighborhood could have bought those old apartments and avoided this whole mess.

    Rise High Ashby!

  • #26. My guess is you live in the vicinity of the Ashby Highrise.

    The point most of the commentators are likely saying is that this battle is already lost. If they wanted to control this piece of unrestricted land, they should have bought it.

    Now the attys are making money, and the result is that the building will still be built. They could’ve spent the millions of attys fees on buying additional property on Bissonett and made a park to reduce the density.

    That would’ve been a win for everyone.

    It’s not too late to stop this and put the money to better use. As a neighbor affected by the Ashby Highrise, that’s my humble opinion.

  • It seems one way to prevent a highrise in a residential neighborhood would be for the neighborhood to be zoned historic. Of course, this would require homeowners to give up their right to tear down their historic homes to replace them with McMansions… hmm.

  • I have to say, it’s amazing at the level of hate directed at the area homeowners who oppose the Ashby highrise. I think Mel hit on some of the (psychological) issues that motivate some of that.

    I am willing to give credit to both(or however many) points of view. At the same time, I find myself thinking that the “anti-homeowner” crowd (for lack of a better phrase) is group of people that might very well tear each other to shreds on other topics. I.e., I imagine that some self-identify as liberal and/or progressive and others as conservative/libertarian. Just a thought, but it would be interesting, if true.

  • Re: Zoning.
    Zoning does NOT enhance the predictability of development of commercial real estate in an already-developed urban area. It only imposes another highly-complicated poorly-understood layer of rules that are subject to variance requests. The variance process then opens the door to corrupt and unethical influences from both developers and from moneyed interests that might oppose them.

    Shadyheightster, I’m singling you out because you’ve completely missed the point. Buckhead alleges in its lawsuit that it has followed all the rules; if there were additional rules (i.e. zoning) to follow and it followed them, and then a neighborhood group chimed in with a lawsuit like this one that has no basis in the rules would be barely credible (just as it is presently); however, if successful, then Buckhead’s claim that a ruling such as that would impose a tremendous degree of uncertainty on the business environment would be absolutely credible. It would mean that you can play by the rules, whatever they are, and still get shut down arbitrarily.

  • I’m still trying to figure out why the people in Southampton think they ought to be able to stop a building that isn’t even in their neighborhood, just nearby.

  • #31- Nope. I don’t live anywhere near Ashby, I live in the Heights. But I don’t have to live near Ashby to know it’s wrong.

  • This is a great piece of property and a better use of the land. Buckhead will prevail and should be compensated by the plaintiffs.


  • You see I actually live in the area and think this witch hunt should end, fight for zoning in the future, but as of now, they’re allowed to build this structure. I’m not thrilled, but I don’t own the land and Southampton is in Houston last time I paid my Tax’s and Houston has no zoning so this is simply grand standing..let it go, save your resources to battle for zoning in Houston, this Ashby cause is over, you lost, don’t lose the high ground by being poor sports and sore losers…fight to change the law!

  • Tanglewood has two 40 story behemoth’s looming over it, as well as a 20 story tower on the other side and the 42 story Marathon Oil Tower on the South, I think they’re good

  • mel: My suggestion wouldn’t be a business strategy at all unless I suggested they say “if you don’t let us build our crazy eye’d tower, we’re going to build x”. Rather, what I said (in tongue and cheek fashion) is that if they were denied their building (with no legal reason behind it), then putting something ‘worse’ in out of spite would have enough irony to make me smile.
    I have no dog in the fight. I don’t want the tower, I don’t not want the tower. I don’t want a shelter, etc. I really don’t care what goes up there (so I’m in that camp). I do however think civic groups should be more proactive in trying to acquire properties that may be targets for the type of free-for-all development people don’t like. The previous apt complex — if the neighbors liked it so much — would have been a great investment for any number of property owners in the area.
    I have a house on lake conroe where the two lots next to me (on both sides) are empty as they were bought by the respective neighbors on both sides since they didn’t want to see a home built there. More people should do that. You get to control what happens near you and get a nice investment to go with it.

  • at this point with all the new builds that are happening EVERYWHERE, does it really matter if this thing gets built.

  • BTW, The Calais, did anyone ever notice it looks like it is missing two levels of retail and a lobby from the facade?

  • I don’t get all the “that’s what you get for not having zoning” arguments. This property was multi-family residential, so presumably the only thing zoning would have prevented is the ground floor retail part of the project.

  • #42, zoning as done in other communities usually involves a whole set of complicated restrictions. Height limits is one of them. A property can be zoned multi-family, but there may be a height limit of 60′ or so. There are often also restrictions as to the density of the multi-family that can be built. To do a highrise in an otherwise lowrise part of a zoned city, you would need to apply for a variance.

  • I’m proposing to use the empty lot for a 24 hour Mariachi Band training camp.

  • For all of you claiming this fight is over, did you even read the story?

  • I’d rather have these fights than the upzoning wars of the east/west coast.

  • Zoning would have kept the apartment complex out of the middle of the residential area in the first place.

  • Yes, these developers can build whatever the city will “permit” them to build on their property. But, in this case, whatever they want to build (a monstrosity) necessarily damages the surrounding property owners’ quiet and enjoyment, which is compensable in damages. And, even if these homeowners get an adverse verdict, that will not disuade other homeowners from filing suit, especially since these Plaintiffs survived special exceptions and a motion for summary judgment in a very conservative court.

  • 48 – The “certainty” the developers want is the “right” to do as they please, free from regulation, free from supervision and free from consequences. Why people keep going to the ballot box to ensure developers this “certainty” is beyond me.

  • This project should never happen in this location. Period. For me the most shocking thing of all is that there is a lender willing to provide financing.

  • This argument about building height is ridiculous. It is purely subjective and in no way should be the subject of development regulation. At least everyone accepts the fact that the traffic argument was spurious anyway. Shannon’s point about Tanglewood is on point – having high rises across the back fence did not destory the neighborhood.

    This same exact comment goes for the River Oaks and Heights whiners too. You are asking the City to implement bad planning policy.

  • * destroy

  • A high rise built on a crowded 2 lane road doean’t seem wise. The neighbors have vowed to make sure the units do not get sold. Buckhead is nuts if they go ahead with the project – risky if you ask me to make this many rich people mad.

  • Just another group of rich holier than thou people getting the knickers in a bunch for no reason. That’s how most of the people that live over there are. Rich entitled jerks! You should hear how they talk to people that work in retail store in that area.

  • This little jewell was in an article in the Chrionicle this week. If all it takes is a 57 second delay for an intersection to get an “F”, then just about every one in the whole city must be a “D” or “F”.

    Traffic engineer Jason Knesek told a jury the so-called Ashby high-rise project at 1717 Bissonnet would generate more than 100 additional trips during peak evening hours on that street alone. That would create enough congestion to earn several nearby intersections an F on a standardized rating commonly used by civil engineers, he said.

    An F rating means an intersection would cause delays of at least 57 seconds. Knesek said several intersections near the high-rise would cause between 2½- and five-minute delays.

  • Those would be significant and nasty delays. This is a two lane street and traffic already backs up from people making normal turns. Traffic jammed on Bissonnet all the way down to Kirby because of construction on one building would be unacceptable.