A SOUTHAMPTON BLOWUP OVER THE STATUE OF DICK DOWLING IN HERMANN PARK For the second time in 5 years, FBI and ATF officials on Sunday raided the house at 2025 Albans St. in search of explosives. Both ventures resulted in the arrest of one of its residents, now-25-year-old Andrew Cecil Earhart Schneck. Schneck, who was released from probation last year, had pled guilty in federal court 2 years earlier for knowingly storing explosives in the 2013 incident. He was arrested again this past Saturday night after a Houston park ranger reportedly found him kneeling in the bushes with tubes of nitroglycerin and the explosive HMTD, a timer, wires, a battery, and a detonator in front of the Carrara marble statue of Confederate commander and Houston saloon owner Richard Dowling. The statue was the first public artwork ever created by the city of Houston, and originally stood in Market Square outside of city hall when it was created in 1905. Albans St. and the alley to the south of it between Hazard and Wilton streets in Southampton have been under evacuation orders since Sunday, and gas service to the area has been turned off; law enforcement officials say they are working to “safely and properly dispose of” hazardous materials found inside the home “through a series of controlled detonations” — that may take place this afternoon. Nearby residents should expect to hear loud noises and smoke as a result of the detonations, they warn; there’s also a possibility of damage to adjacent properties. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of Richard Dowling statue at Hermann Park: Patrick Feller [license]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: COMPARING THE INGREDIENTS IN HOUSTON’S NIMBY STANCES “Just amazing what our city can do in [terms of] jeopardizing huge sums of taxpayer money to help Southampton fight off developers and laughable amounts of ‘increased traffic’ — and then turn a blind eye to communities having to do garage and bake sales just to fight to keep their children’s sanity and dignity.” [joel, commenting on Ban and Bake Sale for White Oak Music Hall; Hurricane Ike’s Last Blue Tarps] White Oak Music Hall lawsuit map: Harris County District Clerk’s office
The double-lot-straddling 2008 Lesem House at 2115 Wroxton is back on the market yet again, this time sporting about a 40 percent discount from the price listed earlier this year (after some gradual price declines since 2013 culminated in a sharp upward jump to $4.5 million last December). Following the increase, the 5-bedroom 2-kitchen home was pulled off the market around the end of May (having crept back down to $3.5 million); the new listing —with its markedly more modest price tag of $2.75 million — showed up last Friday.
As of yesterday, the home at 2115 Wroxton is on the market again — this time for $4.5 million, and with some zoomy new angles among the listing photos. When last we left the home in February of this year, the Southampton property had been listed (for the second time) for just under $3.5 million, and was bracing for auction with a minimum bid of $2.9 million. But the property was pulled from the market at the end of May, with no recorded sale. (The mod was first listed for $3.75 million in September 2013, but was pulled the following July.)
The new listing allows prospective buyers to peer across 1 of the 3 courtyards to Wroxton St. out front (above), and to gaze down into the pool through the solar screen (below):
Will an auction accomplish what a previous listing didn’t for this Stern and Bucek-designed modern mansion in Southampton? The property had stuck to a $3.75 million asking price from September 2013 to June 2014 before calling a timeout. Its relisting by a new agent last week notes that when the auction kicks in later this month, the minimum starting bid will be . . .
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
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
Over in Southampton, a brick ribbon wall (top) with curve toward the curb encases the front of a 1970 contemporary by architect Tom Wilson, who later consulted on the current owners’ subsequent renovations. Behind the barricade, the minimalist property centers around the contrasts between an open-plan living space and an even more open patio (above).
Stern & Bucek Architects designed this 2008 contemporary home for a mid-block double lot in Southampton. The site lent itself to a large, open-plan interior with many a view of the fire and water features found in the 3 courtyards behind the shade-dappled brick wall (above) marking the front yard’s setback . . .
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
Retail on the Morningside side of Hanover’s Rice Village mixed-use complex seems to be filling up: A reader sends this photo of signage for Cyclone Anaya’s, the Mexican kitchen named for the Mexican wrestler. It appears that the local chain restaurant will go in a few doors down from the walk-thru pizza window of Coppa Osteria, now open on the corner of Morningside and Dunstan, and, as this photo shows, right next to Chris Leung’s not-quite-ready Cloud 10 Creamery.