The “Only in Houston” Award: Vote for One of These Official Nominees

We are now ready to announce the official nominees for the 4th category in this year’s Swampies. Which one of them is most deserving of the “Only in Houston” Award?

Let your vote be heard! Add it in a comment at the bottom of this post, or send it privately to Swamplot’s super-top-secret email address. (You can read more about the voting rules here.) If you want to swing the voting toward your favorite candidate, start an email or social-networking campaign. (Yes, votes that come in via Twitter count extra!) The polls close at 5 pm on Monday, December 28th.

The nominees for the “Only in Houston” Award are . . .


1. The Continuing Battle over the Ashby Highrise, Boulevard Oaks. “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try and try and try and try and try and try and try and try again! The city finally approved construction plans for the Southampton-area 23-story residential tower in August, on the 11th attempt — after developers Kevin Kirton and Matthew Morgan of Buckhead Investment Partners agreed to add a large truck-turnaround driveway facing Bissonnet St., slightly reduce the number of units, and cut out 15,000 sq. ft. of commercial space from the project — including their own executive offices. But the developers want to build their original design. After an appeals board and city council both turned down that request, one of them admitted that they had never been serious about building the revised design, and had only made the changes to see if the city would approve anything they submitted. Chances are we’ll see y’all in court next year!”

2. Spec’s on Washington Ave., Camp Logan. “Back in 2007, owner John Rydman had sent notice to nearby Memorial Elementary School and noted on his permit application that he was hoping to open a new Spec’s liquor store near the Westcott roundabout, only 675 ft. away from the school. The store opened the following year after the city granted it a temporary permit to sell alcohol in that location. But in March of this year, the Harris County Attorney’s office filed suit against the chain for operating closer to the school than the legal limit. After filing and then dropping a countersuit, Spec’s closed the store in September, but the original lawsuit is still pending.”

3. The Decline and Fall of Wilshire Village, Lancaster Place. “Doesn’t everybody know most of this story already? How about this angle: The eviction notices tenants received last January were addressed to the decaying yellow-brick garden apartments’ ‘reported occupants,’ and came from Matthew Dilick, a man most residents had never heard of before. Meanwhile, Jay Cohen, the person tenants had been paying rent to for decades continued to tell residents that he was still the owner, and that he would find a way for them to stay. (If residents had only read a couple old newspaper stories, they might have learned that Matthew Dilick had claimed that he’d gained control of the property at least 4 years earlier.) How was the impasse resolved? The city building official showed up to shut the place down.”

4. The Grand Parkway Through the Katy Prairie. For a while, it looked like construction of the Katy-to-Cypress segment of the Grand Parkway would jump into high gear with a promised boost of $181 million in federal stimulus funds because it was a “shovel ready” project. But that was before county officials realized that conservation groups and the sprawl-hating set might actually demand environmental studies and other delays of their ready-to-go plan to run a 4-lane tollway through a wild expanse of undeveloped Katy Prairie. Will this thing be built with bird-feeder roads?”

5. The Strip Center Recital Hall of Highway 59, Upper Kirby. “Pause for a moment before you begin the Scherzo. Look up from that Hamburg Steinway Model C grand piano, past your audience, out the back window of the recital hall inside the Dowling Music store. Freeway traffic will seem to stand still.”

6. The Rogue Parking Lot of Bayou Woods. “Spurred to act by an appalling lack of parking space on the 4.1-acre lot surrounding his 26,638 sq.-ft. mock-French castle and attendant outbuildings, not-so-voluntarily retired insurance executive Stephen Way had workers build for him a stately and tastefully landscaped parking lot — in the Carnarvon St. traffic median in front of his gated compound. Sadly, Way’s neighbors didn’t appreciate his largesse — or the traffic bumps he also installed nearby.”

Which one of these nominees for the award do you most appreciate?

Photos: Buckhead Investment Partners (Ashby Highrise), Trip to the Outhouse (Spec’s), Swamplot inbox (Wilshire Village and Dowling Music), Flickr user kinjotx (Katy prairie) West University Examiner (Carnarvon St. parking lot)

34 Comment

  • Let’s face it, Wilshire Village could’ve happened in Dallas. Dallas led the nation for apartment demolitions in recent years, and by a significant margin. Their politicians promoted such actions. So between that, and that I don’t **personally** give a crap about Wilshire Village, clearly nobody should vote for it.
    Also out of the running should be the Ashby controversy, because that kind of thing happens in every other major city **except** Houston on a regular basis, and we only find it surprising because our politicians overtly subverted city ordinances instead of taking bribes to officially modify ordinances such as is the case everywhere else. It’s just not uniquely Houston enough, and it only makes our politicians and their constituents (i.e. me) look dumb. So nobody should vote for that.
    Numbers 5 & 6 are underwhelming. And Number 2 has limited impact or appeal to anybody beyond about a mile’s radius.
    I say that the Grand Parkway easily defines Houston. If you define Highway 6 as a ‘ring road’, then Houston has the world’s largest. If the Grand Parkway keeps getting built, we’ll have the second **consecutive** largest ‘ring road’ in the world. That’s pretty crazy. It impacts urbanites and suburbanites alike. And for better or worse, whether you’re on one side of the issue or the other, it’s definitively and uniquely Houston. So that’s what gets my vote.

  • It has to be the parking lot (#6). Where else would you find the utter hubris and complete lack of respect for authority that are at the foundations of what it means to be Houstonian?

    Ashby could happen anywhere dominated by HAR’s and zoning, the Spec’s thing could happen anywhere in the Midwest or Deep South, the Grand Parkway environmental flap happens all over the place, and the strip mall recital center is only unique in how close it is to our CBD.

  • It is #6. Zoning? Limits? Boundaries? Respect for your Neighbors? These are not concepts routinely familiar to Houston. Arrogance, Ostentatious Display, Conspicuous Consumption? That’s more lke it! This kind of attitude has to echo what happened in the building of some of the palaces in River Oaks.

  • #4… nothing defines Houston better than more sprawl.

  • I go with #6. Where else but Houston would someone have the gall to build a parking lot in the median of their street, sans permits, approvals, or common sense?

  • Guys, people in other cities blatantly misuse easements and ROWs all the time. Ask any real estate attorney. If this were a pipeline easement, then it might be Houston enough to qualify. But it’s not.

  • #4, looping sprawl

  • I tend to go with No. 6 also. The perfect confluence of oversized ego and too much money.

  • #2

    Don’t mess with Spec’s!

  • TheNiche writes:

    “Let’s face it, Wilshire Village could’ve happened in Dallas. Dallas led the nation for apartment demolitions in recent years, and by a significant margin. Their politicians promoted such actions.”

    Hey, I don’t have a problem with the demolition of poorly built, unsafe, crime-ridden apartment complexes with no historical or architectural significance. I could name a half-dozen or so within a mile or two of Wilshire Village. (Richmond Avenue, I’m looking at you, though not at Richmont Square.) I have trouble applying many of those adjectives to Wilshire Village, though, and it was easy to see how it could have been something amazing in the hands of the right owner. But that doesn’t get my vote.

    Ashby gets my vote because the lack of zoning and deed restriction between two highly restricted residential areas which (theoretically) makes it possible seems unique to Houston.
    The fact that the developers seriously thought that Bissonnet was an appropriate location for this, spent big bucks on infrastructure upgrades and were then surprised that the neighborhood decided to go to the mat over it seems unique to Houston. Weren’t they paying attention when the protests over the mid-rise in Rice Village and the Medical Clinic on Sunset occurred? They weren’t big news, but there were protests about those much smaller projects.
    The idea that anyone could think that adding even a few more cars to Bissonnet or blocking it off and on for months with construction was no big deal seems unique to Houston.
    The oppobrium leveled at the nearby neighbors, dozens of whom will actually lose a lot of their sky, by the property-rights at all cost crowd, seems unique to Houston.
    And, finally, the fact that an anti-development backlash of ANY kind took this long to happen instead of happening fifteen to twenty years ago seems ESPECIALLY unique to Houston.

  • #4 Parkway, Parkway, Parkway! If there’s one thing that is Houston to the core, it is blundering into grossly huge highway projects.

  • Love the parking lot, shop at specs and lived at WV. But #4 best illustrates Houston’s historic and continuing obliviousness to the environment we live in. Not to mention the siren call of the suburbs, ‘Build it and they will come…”

  • @ marmer: I know it seems obvious to you that a developer should realize that a highrise is inappropriate for your neighborhood, but that happens all the time in every major city in the country. Yours was the same tired old NIMBY rhetoric that I’ve encountered everywhere else. True, that the Huntington and other highrises ever got past it is remarkable and uniquely Houston, but those happened a long time ago and aren’t related to the Ashby controversy or anything that happened in 2009. If anything, successful Ashby NIMBYism heralds Houston’s increasing normalization as compared to other cities, and that’s not something we should celebrate with this category.

  • You’ve convinced me, marmer – that and the developers’ admission that any compromise on their part was a load of moose munch – #1 it is!

  • Without question, number 4.

  • My vote is for The Ashby.
    Yes, it happens all the time in every city, that neighbors try to stop development projects. But in Houston it’s different. Only in Houston people vote against zoning, and are proud of their no-zoning everything-goes city, and then try to stop a high-rise from being built in a residential neighborhood, which, because of the people’s vote, has no zoning protection against high-rises.
    Only in Houston!

  • Heh, I’m going to have to be the outlier and vote for #5. There’s just something uniquely Houstonian about the confluence of a 12 lane concrete freeway and high culture.

  • @TheNiche:

    I think you kinda reinforced my point. Whether Ashby NIMBYism is successful or not (my gut feeling is that it ultimately WON’T be and the thing will get built) my sense is that it’s part of a larger picture of anti-development sentiment, often presenting itself as historic preservation (Wilshire Village, River Oaks Shopping Center/Theatre) and sometimes neighborhood concerns (Ashby of course but also some of the Washington corridor issues.) You and I probably strongly disagree about almost all aspects of that interpretation, but I do think the fact that it’s happening now instead of years earlier is unique to Houston, for better or worse. I agree that the Huntington isn’t terribly relevant, and I think the fact that it exists only illustrates the change in attitudes between then and now.

  • @TheNiche:

    I’m not continuing an argument, but I’d really like to know. If the Ashby project had sailed through permitting and there had been no opposition at all and it went forward as Buckhead intended on their original timetable, where would it stand now? Would it be started? Completed? Vacant? Highly occupied? With your knowledge of the real estate and construction, I’ll bet you can make pretty credible predictions.

  • #6. Only in Houston would a rich mother thinks he’s better than his equally rich neighbors. If he had built a guillotine in his front yard, perhaps I’d have some sympathy for his plight.

  • Plus, I doubt he built the parking lot for the friends he’s inviting over for that
    charity gala. More like, let’s keep the hired hand’s vehicles out of sight and the neighbors be damned.

  • #4 gets my vote.

  • My vote is for Ashby as well. The motto for both sides is “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” and of course given the fact she never failed to mention it, no doubt her first act as mayor will be to pull the permit and try to get a new ordinance passed to make a second permit impossible guaranteeing a lawsuit that of course the taxpayers rather than her campaign supporters will have to pay for.

    By the time it is settled, the economy will have improved and 1717 Bissonnet will be the first hirise condo ever financed by the taxpayers who of course won’t be getting a P&I payment each month.

  • #1 Ashby

  • I’m for #5, the music store’s recital hall. It looks like the race is coming down to the parking lot and the grand parkway, with ashby highrise just behind, but I agree with Dani, there really is something very endearingly Houstonian about sprawling freeways juxtaposed with high culture.

  • #1 – Ashby saga

    The bully and then bullied developer who won’t give up, thinks Bissonnet is a huge throughfare, and then strings the city along about amended plans they never intended on making real.

    Oh, and the fact that with all the empty land in Houston, they want to plop this thing down where there’s already housing in-use.

  • i’m with the Niche, it’s gotta be #4. still blows my mind when people say Katy is just a short drive from town.

    i’d like to say #1 though. it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth and shows the ugly side of politics. bissonnet is still a main road in the center part of town. it should either be clogged with traffic or torn up and widened. anything less is just a waste.

  • #6 A parking lot AND traffic bumps. LOL!

  • 1. We don’t have zoning, so that’s nothing new. 2. Bureaucratic mistake, so the owner’s wrong, so? 3. Wilshire Village, been sad for a long time, big whoop. 4. Freeway through sensitive habitat, it’s in the way of progress so are the forests. 5. Strip center recital hall, really? Heard of drive through weddings? 6. Plenty of jerks in town. Not much unique to Houston here.

  • #4 for me

  • Ashby Highrise

Comments are closed.