Buckhead Investment Partners tells Swamplot that the work crew, excavator, and large drainage pipes spotted on location yesterday and today at the east end of the site of the residential building known as the Ashby Highrise at 1717 Bissonnet St. constitutes nothing more than “on-going site work.” Multiple permits to construct the proposed 21-story Boulevard Oaks tower have been issued over the past decade — the most recent ones a little less than a year ago. And construction crews have been active on the site before. But Buckhead reports to Swamplot that there is “nothing else meaningful to report at this time.”
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Just Digging It
The gates are wide open this afternoon at 1717 Bissonnet, notes Mike Bloom, who sends along a few pictures of today’s excavator-vs-concrete action at the scene. Some workers and some pipes can be seen hanging around as the operator cracks into a bit of former parking lot on the northwest corner (a survivor of the Maryland Manor demolition back in 2013).
And a permit related to foundation and sitework were issued this week, following the smattering issued for some electrical and fire line work back before June’s appeal ruling (which declared that the surrounding neighborhood can’t be awarded damages for a project that hasn’t actually been built yet.) Might some deeper digging be on the way?
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Stirrings at 1717 Bissonnet
BUCKHEAD: ASHBY HIGHRISE IS STILL HAPPENING, BUT THAT’S STILL NOT ITS NAME Chronicle reporters Nancy Sarnoff and Erin Mulvaney spend some time on this week’s Looped In podcast dissecting some circuitous answers from Matthew Morgan and Kevin Kirton, developers of the multifamily project commonly known as the Ashby Highrise (which, as Morgan is quick to point out, has never been dubbed anything other than 1717 Bissonnet except by neighborhood opposition campaigners). In the wake of Buckhead’s recent court appeal victory, the duo of duos touches on the project’s permitting history with the city, the ambiguous but active state of current plans, and the unexpected financial and emotional tolls of pushing a project forward through an unprecedented decade of protests (ranging from giant personalized signage aimed at the pair to that grim reaper sighting on Bissonnet). [Looped In Podcast from the Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Rendering of 1717 Bissonnet St.: Buckhead Investment Partners
COMMENT OF THE DAY: IT’S NOT WHETHER YOU WIN OR LOSE, IT’S HOW YOU PROLONG THE GAME “I disagree: The residents won this battle. They delayed this project into one of the worst recessions this city has ever seen. I doubt this gets built now — and even if it does, they paid lawyers to let them keep their neighborhood the same for 10 years . . .” [htownproud, commenting on Ashby Highrise Neighbors Lose Appeal: No Payment for Damages by an Unbuilt Project] Photo of Stop Ashby Highrise signs in 2009: Swamplot inbox
Texas’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals overturned part of the previous decision on the Ashby Highrise case yesterday, declaring that no, the developers of 1717 Bissonnet don’t have to pay the tower’s would-be neighbors $1.2 million as compensation for property value losses. Nor do the highrise planners have to cover for all those legal fees incurred by the various stages of the case — the homeowners are back on the hook for those as well, along with all costs incurred by the appeal.
The judges declared that even if the property values in the nearby homes did decrease, and even if that decrease was because of the proposal for the highrise, the homeowners can’t ask for compensation for property value drops caused by mere plans for a future “nuisance” — damages can only be awarded after said “nuisance” actually exists.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY DENSITY DOESN’T WORK IF YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE DOING IT “I used to think the whole ‘Tower of Traffic’ slogan was BS — that greater density will increase walkability and reduce the need for cars. However, the way many highrises are sited in Houston completely eliminates the benefits of a highrise. They basically become vertical culs-de-sac, still car-dependent, because each one is located in pockets of lowest land value either next to freeways or in the middle of single-family-home neighborhoods. If I recall correctly, city council or the planning department passed a rule that forces developers to stick to building heights that are close to those of neighboring structures. Is this really the case? I think it’s a great way to better cluster high-density developments and walkable areas.” [Derek, commenting on A Bird’s-Eye View of the ExxonMobil Campus; The Ashby Highrise Effect] Illustration: Stop Ashby Highrise
Rice U. math Ph.D. student, Boulevard Oaks resident, and poet Kenan Ince has been making the rounds of local open-mic nights with his brief ode to the as-yet-invisible but still-ominous spectre looming over 1717 Bissonnet St. known as the Ashby Highrise. The poem, entitled Rise, Ashby, begins with an epigraph clipped from a Swamplot story about the lawsuit that was filed by a few of the 21-story apartment tower’s Southampton and Boulevard Oaks neighbors last year. A video of Ince’s recent performance at Montrose’s Cafe Brasil (seen at left) has been posted on Youtube; you can read the poem — with its original, towering typography intact — below:
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What? No friendly neighborhood groundbreaking celebration? No pics of developers and local politicos wearing hard hats and wielding pointless shovels? A mere 7 years after Buckhead Investment Partners first quietly upgraded utility service, prepared traffic-impact studies, and replatted the property of the former Maryland Manor Apartments hoping no one would notice, some sort of construction work appears to have begun on the 21-story apartment tower planned for 1717 Bissonnet St. At least that’s what this photo, taken at the scene and sent this afternoon to Swamplot by a reader, appears to show. Last week, a district court judge refused to grant an injunction that would have blocked the building’s construction.
Photo: Swamplot inbox
A spokesperson for Buckhead Investment Partners, the developers behind the building slated for 1717 Bissonnet St. in Boulevard Oaks known as the Ashby Highrise, tells Swamplot that they now “plan to move forward with construction as soon as possible,” on the 21-story apartment tower — “without delay.” Yesterday, Judge Randy Wilson rejected a request from neighbors of the project to issue a permanent injunction that would have barred its construction. In a press release issued yesterday, Buckhead said it planned to appeal the judge’s ruling that the developers must pay 20 neighbors the approximately $1.2 million a jury decided would compensate them for their loss of market value.
Rendering: Buckhead Investment Partners
Judge Randy Wilson today issued a ruling affirming a jury’s conclusion that the proposed Ashby Highrise at 1717 Bissonnet St. would constitute a “nuisance.” But he couldn’t both grant an injunction preventing the building’s construction and award the complaining neighbors the approximately $1.6 million in damages determined by the jury, he explains, because that would constitute a “double recovery.” Instead, citing the extremely local nature of the nuisance, the difficulty of enforcing an injunction, possible harm to the developers, the disruption to city development rules a singular decision in this case would bring, and other concerns, he denied the injunction and the portion of the jury award for loss of use and enjoyment — but ordered the developers of the proposed 21-story building to pay 20 plaintiffs the $1.2 million the jury had apportioned for “lost market value damages,” because “these damages have already occurred.” The plaintiffs had argued they preferred an injunction to the payment; it’s likely they’ll appeal.
Photo of 1717 Bissonnet St.: Swamplot inbox
$1.2 Million for Lost Market Value
After more than 6 hours of deliberation over 2 days, the jury in the Ashby Highrise trial came back with a verdict this afternoon, awarding damage claims to a subset of the neighbors who filed suit against the developers of the highrise apartment tower planned for 1717 Bissonnet, claiming that the development would cause harm to their property. Jurors who spoke afterward to Chronicle reporter Erin Mulvaney said they believed the development was “out of place” for the Southampton neighborhood it abuts. Expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in the month-long trial presented evidence that the 21-story tower would cause lower property values, structural problems, and increased traffic for its immediate neighbors. Total bill, ordered for 20 of the 30 neighborhood households that entered into the lawsuit: $1,661,993.62. Next up: a hearing before Judge Randy Wilson over whether the project should be allowed to go forward.
Rendering: Buckhead Investment Partners
IN ASHBY HIGHRISE TRIAL, ENGINEERS GET TESTY OVER SETTLEMENT Engineers for both sides may be spending much of the coming weekend testing the Southampton soil surrounding the site of the Ashby Highrise. Erin Mulvaney reports that the judge in the civil trial has postponed additional testimony from Paradigm Consultants president Woody Vogt until next Monday, after the attorney for the group of neighbors suing Buckhead Investment Partners complained Vogt was attempting to present new evidence their own expert hadn’t had time to analyze and pick apart. Vogt, who was hired by the defendants, told the jury last week that construction of the proposed 21-story highrise tower at 1717 Bissonnet St. would have no adverse affects on the foundations of nearby homes, and produce only one inch of settlement in the soil. But he also admitted he had used separate sets of calculations for each of those 2 predictions, and that the expert witness for the group of neighbors suing the developers had performed a more thorough analysis of the construction’s potential effects. Writes Mulvaney: “Rick Ellman of New York-based Muesler Rutledge Consulting Engineers testified earlier for the resident group that 10 existing homes near the site could suffer moderate to severe damage, including cracked foundations, buckled walls and busted water pipes. Ellman predicted the ground would ‘settle’ four inches.” [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo of site: Swamplot inbox
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
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE ASHBY HIGHRISE, LIKE A ROCKET “I think the Yao Ming reference is a show of support for the project. Like Ming, the Ashby Highrise will be a highly valued source of inspiration for the commoners in its shadow. I’m glad people are finally coming together on this.” [Alec, commenting on New Ashby Highrise Fence Graffiti Talks Hoops, Holdups] Illustration: Lulu
So the site where the 21-story Ashby Highrise is going up appears to have been cleared now of the Maryland Manor apartments and bordered with a nice new fence, which appears to have been freshly tagged with some carefully considered — commentary? The reader who sends these photos suspects that the all-caps shout-outs to 2 of Houston’s most well-known towers showed up early this morning
Photos: Swamplot inbox