Mayor Parker: City Will Settle for an Ashby Highrise 2 Stories Shorter

In a letter sent to Southampton residents, Mayor Parker says she is recommending that the city settle the lawsuit filed against it by the developers of the proposed Ashby Highrise. “Unfortunately, the city has no legal basis for stopping” the building from being constructed, she writes: “Even success in the courtroom in the City’s litigation against the developers . . . would not halt the project, since the developers would still be able to proceed with their current permit application, which mirrors that which the city was compelled to approve in 2009.”

Instead, Parker writes that the settlement will allow the city to “ensure some control” over certain aspects of the multi-story residential tower: “It will also eliminate any possibility that the developers can build a project as large as that sought in 2007, or that the City may be subject to damages for its failure to approve that permit applications, either of which can happen if the City loses the current litigation.”


But the building allowed under the proposed settlement may not turn out to be substantially different from Buckhead Investment Partners’ original proposal. Under the terms described in the letter, the city will grant a permit for a highrise 21 stories high (excluding the roof) that meets certain traffic conditions. That’s 2 stories shorter than the permit already granted by the city, but the height cap may not reduce the number of residential units in the building. “One such qualifying plan consists of 228 residential high-rise units, 10,075 square feet of quality restaurant use, and four residential town homes,” Parker writes. “In addition, the project will incorporate a pedestrian plaza as envisioned in the foundation permit plan originally filed in 2007, which enhances the appearance of the project fronting Bissonnet.” (See drawing above.)

Other negotiated items in the proposed settlement: driveways for trucks and passenger vehicles facing both Ashby and Bissonnet, with some restrictions; an 8-ft. fence along the south and east property lines; plantings on the south and east walls of the building’s 5-story parking garage; and various lighting and noise protections for neighbors. Plus, tower residents will have free loaner bikes and a free weekday shuttle service to and from the Med Center.

Plan: Buckhead Investment Partners, via City of Houston

38 Comment

  • I suspect that the city is the least of the obstacles. Ask someone you know in the real estate business whether the Buckhead boys are likely to find financing.

  • Wow….so glad to hear of this new building being approved…local builders have no problem…look at Fingers Bldg on Montrose..cmon guys the outta town boys money is good also…..a class act of the Montrose area… needs all the help it can get…..

  • Hey, Rabo –

    With a $40 million down payment financing might not be an obstacle anymore. Thanks South Hampton for causing all of Houston’s taxes to go up in our future!

  • “free weekday shuttle service to and from the Med Center.”

    If I’m not mistaken doesn’t Metro’s #2 Bissonet line run right in front of this project, AND doesn’t it connect into the light rail serving the Med Center? Why would the apartments need to provide transit when Metro is already doing the same thing?

  • They have stated a number of times that the financing is in place. Probably the same funding source they’ve had for other projects. Otherwise they probably would have proceeded with the lawsuit and used the judgement to “provide the funding.” What the city did was nothing less than harassment and the city attorneys probably knew from day one the city would lose the lawsuit.

  • Is this going to be condos or an apartment building? I thought they had changed their plans to apartments, in which case funding should be pretty easy.

  • START Ashby Highrise!

    So happy this got approval (finally). We need hundreds more just like it.

  • If they don’t have funding already, they will have their pick of lenders begging to finance this. In case you missed it Houston is in a mini housing boom and apartments are at the center of it. Over 80,000 units are under construction, or being permitted, right now. Forget what you hear about the national economy, right now Houston is in a world of its own.
    It may be difficult for the small builder, or individual to get financing, but the large builder and developers have banks standing in line to loan them money that they are getting from us at 0.25% and charging 5-6% on.
    Pretty soon you will be seeing apartments going up on every piece of vacant land over 2 acres inside the beltway, on the west side at least.

  • Re: SCD.. hopefully that brings rent prices down to a more reasonable level.. they are up some 15-20% in the last year by my reckoning. Getting ridiculous.

  • Wow 80,000 units I knew there were alot but I didn’t know it was that many. . . I just wish there were more high-rises like this one going up.

  • I smell a rat. The whole point of the Ashby lawsuit was that the developers claimed to have been damaged by having to downsize their project in order to get permitted. Now, they are going to settle that lawsuit by agreeing to do an even smaller project than the one that they did get permitted? Could it be that architect’s intellectual property lawsuit had some merit and they had to dump the design for something different, making the lawsuit against the City moot (i.e. it turned out that they would not have been able to use the original plans because there were intellectual property issues)?

  • Getting that monument to stubborn bad judgment built would be a Pyrrhic victory, if that. And include me with the skeptics about the financing claim.

  • This tower, if built, will be located in Boulevard Oaks, not Southampton. Funny how the developers choose to live in West University Place and not the City of Houston. I wonder if it’s because they know their home’s property values would drop if they had a 21 story tower and 5 story parking garage hulking over their property line?

  • @ doofus: Why should it make any difference which municipality a developer lives in? Are you also of the belief that real estate projects shouldn’t be financed with money from New York or that City employees shouldn’t be allowed to live in Sugar Land?

  • Niche, do you believe this project will hurt property values? It seems this particular area would be very very resilient to an apartment high rise.

  • I hate to say it, but…

    As ugly as it’s going to be, as much of a traffic nightmare as it’s going to be, as much of a burden on the neighbors as it’s going to be…

    It was permitted fair and square in a city that had no obstacles to stop building it.


  • Hmmm….how difficult would it be for Boulevard Oaks to become a gated community? Since the traffic argument has been continually poo-poohed, it shouldn’t be any problem to enclose several blocks of North & South Boulevard at least, right? That should help preserve the property values.

  • Old School – the city was told by Bracewell-Guliani, as outside council on this lawsuit, that the city would lose. Period. That is why Parker settled. No way would she have settled otherwise. The traffic study showed only a 3 second traffic delay at Shepherd and Bissonet so they would lose on that issue and the project was too far along and they would have lost because of that too. It won’t hurt them to lose two floors. They will make it up with more density in the existing floors. Also, their financing is already there and so there is no question that it will go forward. The only reason they didn’t get started before is because they knew the city would either settle or lose the lawsuit. Either way, they knew they would win.

  • RHP: It was a constitutional claim in Federal court and not an appeal of a permit denial in state court. The City just had to show a rational basis for their actions. Municipalities almost never lose those arguments. They do not have to be objectively right. They just have to provide any rational basis for what they did. The deference to the municipality is almost impossible to overcome in court. Which was actually my point. If the developers had such a slam dunk case, why would they settle the case by conceding two floors of the development to the City and agreeing to a bunch of other junk (shuttle bus?)? They supposedly already have permits. Why would they agree to downsize them in order to resolve a lawsuit in which they were going to win millions? You would at least think that the settlement would be an agreement to permit a larger development more in line with their original intentions.

  • @ dom: Nope, I don’t think it’ll hurt values at all.

  • If anything, it will increase values, especially in the long run.

  • Ashby Highrise gives me a warm fuzzy. I wish it were going to be even taller & wider. Anyone that does not live within a block or two of this project and yet stil has a “Stop Ashby Highrise sign in their yard or sticker on their car is a complete douchebag.
    ALL development negatively impacts SOMEBODY directly or indirectly. Period. So, if you live in the city–if you live in a highly and densely developed urban area–and you object to someone else’s development–that doesn’t even impact you directly–then you are a disingenuous moron.
    Put your money where your mouth is: move to the countryside and live in a lean-to and eat only locally grown organic vegetables and bean curd.

  • This might remind old-timers in Houston of the controversy over the building of the condo tower at 150 North Gessner in the mid-1980’s called “Tall Timbers” I think. It’s about 15 floors tall and was built smack-dab in the middle of a neighborhood of 1960’s ranch homes. IIRC, the whole neighborhood was up in arms about it and it’s impact on property values. It got built anyway, though as it was finished, the big ’80’s real estate crash happened and I believe they had a difficult time selling all the units. Still an eyesore today. It was one of the reasons Houston re-visited the zoning issue in the early ’90’s.
    Sometimes while things are legal to do, and can make a landowner lots of money, the issue of business ethics would point to another conclusion.

  • I keep waiting for River Oaks houses to become affordable. Surely at some point everyone is going to realize that it sucks to live in the shadow of the Huntingdon. Houses in Tanglewood should be going down the tubes with TWO towers at Four Leaf nearby. All those houses across Main Street from the Med Center towers should probably be worthless by now. Hmmmm. I wonder what’s taking so long.

  • I can answer for the Huntingdon in three words – marketing, marketing, marketing. From the get-go, it was touted as the exclusive future enclave for the Bold Types and the Beautiful. Also, it was solely residential – no retail or offices to attract transient riff-raff. I was at the opening party and it was truly a soiree with Danny Ward playing and a blue-blood crowd. Went up on the roof and discussed how some gargoyles, a la “Ghostbusters” would be a nice touch. :)

    The Ashby project – retail, spa, office space and initial marketing that implied that the nearby residents would move in because they were getting too old to take care of their properties – not very clever. To paraphrase, “it’s not what it is, but what people think it is”. Go in with an arrogant attitude, propose to tear down housing that fits in well with the character of the surrounding homes to build something that will, from all appearances, ruin the symmetry of the area and bring all kinds of traffic through a neighborhood renowned for its beauty and quiet – who could possibly be so naive as to think anyone WOULDN’T voice opposition?

  • i love that N. Gessner tower. has great views and i’d imagine it’s units are in higher demand than the surrounding inflated housing stock. there needs to be a lot more of them here on the west side, but since they always get relegated to the worst places (ie. side of I-10) i don’t expect any to ever get built. lots of young engineers on west side looking for a more diverse environment (see success of city-centre). also, worth mentioning that the towers impact on traffic is non-existent as it’s all through-way traffic.

    what makes “tall timbers” such an eyesore? it looks great sticking up out of a see of trees and helping connect the geography with the cluttered freeways and office buildings lining them.

  • they should build the tower with a big scary face on it and arms just as a “fuck you” to all those people that put up stop ashby signs.

  • I don’t think people in the neighborhood are that much concerned with their property values as much as they are concerned with their neighborhood. Most of the residents of that area have plenty of performing assets other than their homes and do not look to their homes for the kind of appreciation they get from the rest of their portfolio.
    It is interesting to compare this project to the Huntington, Main St. in the Med Center and San Felipe in Tanglewood. This highrise is on a two lane street. There will be nine single family residences that will have this highrise in their back yards. The rest of the neighborhood is single family residences with a few businesses leasing out single family homes on Bissonnet. By contrast, San Felipe, Main and Kirby are all four plus lane streets. Anyone living near those roads would at least have fair warning that something big might pop up. No one would have ever dreamed that someone would put a high rise on three quarters of a residential block in a residential neighborhood on a little two lane street. That is why the neighborhood is pissed at this project. Houston is not an east coast city with land barriers and a shortage of vacant lots suitable for developing a high rise project. Tbere is tons of land in midtown, downtown, near east, Greenway, Upper Kirby and so on. The Ashby developers are just usurping the value created by the neighborhood for their own profit instead of taking a risk on an area that could really benefit from that kind of project.

  • Old School,

    Good post, you make some good points. However, I disagree with the fact that you state that no one expected a highrise to pop up around the neighborhood. If you live in the 4th largest city in the country, very close to downtown, how could you not?? Bissonnett is a major thoroughfare, it’s not like it’s a quiet little street. In the future, I think that Bissonnett will be lined with denser development, along with all of the other major corridors in the inner city.

  • *Bissonnet

  • Old School – yes it was a constitutional argument. The city couldn’t stop the project once it got to a certain point and it was already there. The premise for their argument came directly from the Texas Constitution. And the developers had a financial reason to settle – they make very little change and can move on. It definitely wasn’t because the developer was going to lose anything but time, which is money in the development world. Perhaps you can talk to either someone with Buckhead or with Bracewell. Maybe they can tell you what they told the city…which was that they would lose. Municipalities lose lawsuits all the time. Its absurd to say that because it was a municpal case, the courts would just roll over.

  • As someone who travels on Bissonnet eastbound daily, let me tell you that it is not a ‘major’ thoroughfare. It is a little two lane street with tons of traffic jammed onto it. Plus, it is a major bus route. If you get behind a bus during rush hour, you’re screwed. I used to travel from West U to the light rail at Hermann Park to avoid downtown parking fees. It takes me a total of 25 minutes at peak rush to drive along Bissonnet (what? maybe 4 miles?)

    I completely understand the concerns of those within the proposed Ashby area. Glad I live in West U where zoning will continue to increase my property values relalative to my nearby Houston neighbors who live next to tire shops, porn stores, and high rises.

  • @ Old School: Home values are a valid proxy for the overall desirability of a residence, inclusive of neighborhood quality of life issues. If the prices aren’t falling, then no one cares that much. It is also telling that nobody made good on any effort to buy the air rights away from Buckhead. If money is so ubiquitously available in that neighborhood and the neighbors aren’t concerned with a loss of wealth, then you’d have expected some of them to step up to the plate…rather than just pulling strings at City Hall.

    Also, if no one in a City without zoning and a neighborhood without deed restrictions dreamt that a highrise could be built in or near Boulevard Oaks or Southampton then they weren’t thinking hard enough. Due diligence FAIL.

  • Somehow, I don’t think the possibility of a high rise was much of a consideration in the late 1920’s when many of the homes were built. And I don’t remember the friend I attended Poe with in 1967 (whose mother still lives in the North Blvd. home he grew up in) speculating on it either. Guess that’s what one gets when one forgets to pay the clairvoyance bill.

  • Southampton enacted deed restrictions in 1923 banned retail establishments among other uses on all but designated lots and completely banned apartments on all lots, placed a two-story limit on building heights, and described minimum setback requirements.

    Wroxton Court (physically adjoining Maryland Manor) includes bans on commercial property, apartments with four or more units, and buildings taller than three stories. And these were crafted in 1980 after the original deed restrictions had expired.

    Clearly, there were concens regarding density and height. Those concerns have existed since the 20’s and exist today. It also seems that if people have the capacity to appreciate and demand deed restrictions within their subdivision, then they should have the capacity to appreciate the risk entailed by living next to an unrestricted property. The Ashby highrise is not a policy failure; it a due diligence failure. The City should not socialize these homeowners’ inept loss (if they’ve even suffered a loss). They should’ve understood the risks going in.

  • So why has Bissonnet St. not been expanded to a four lane street yet? I look forward to the eminent domain hearings :)

  • “Wroxton Court (physically adjoining Maryland Manor) includes bans on commercial property, apartments with four or more units, and buildings taller than three stories. And these were crafted in 1980 after the original deed restrictions had expired.”

    And apparently existing buildings were “grandfathered. So much for osmeone claiming “single family homes” would be “encroached” upon. Everything on Wroxton Court is duplexes, fourplexes and one complex with more than four units as I recall.

    “The Ashby highrise is not a policy failure; it a due diligence failure.”

    Absolutely. But pretentious spoiled brats sometimes aren’t the brightest light bulbs. Two apartment complexes along the east side of Ashby along with duplexes and fourplexes and a huge and overbearing, and recently built, townhouse development. Some should have taken the very obvious hint that the east side of Ashby was unrestricted. And remembered the term “buyer beware.” But, well, they’re “powerful attorneys” who will probably go ahead and sue the developers and probably bankrupt themselves and the other homeowners. To which I say it couldn’t happen to a more pretentious and obnoxious bunch of spoiled little brats. Notice I didn’t say nicer. And never will. The developers are the ones who should sue them and the other homeowners. Just a harassment suit alone would probably garner a couple of milion extra for them.

  • Matt Mystery, you are absolutely right about the developers suing those who harrased them. Not only did the “neighbors” harras them, they hassled their wives and worse yet, their children. The things they did were unconsionable and far beyond civil protest. It would serve them right to be sued but I think the best thing they can do is move on with their plans, which let’s face it, is the big finger to all of them.