Comment of the Day: Who Cares What the Neighbors Think?

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHO CARES WHAT THE NEIGHBORS THINK? “The fact is that the neighbors are not part of the transaction. The transaction happens between a developer who legally acquired land and new customers who will come from an outside area. Therefore developers do not have to and do not listen to them.” [commonsense, commenting on Comment of the Day: An Atmosphere of Mistrust]

29 Comment

  • That is why we should have zoning.

  • This attitude is toxic, indicative of the flawed logic of libertarian thinking. The most interested party in any development is, and should be, the neighbors, and neighborhood, who are also property owners and investors. They are the ones who, over the long term, will have the quality of their neighborhood and their property values affected by new development.

    It’s odd to me that Houston claims to be developer friendly, and yet ignores all previously developed attempts to make a working neighborhood, in favor of the immediate gratification of whoever wants to develop at that moment.

    Is there not a capitalist value in also being supportive of existing property-owners? In fact, over the long term, isn’t this more important to creating value than the immediate needs of a quickie developer? Ruining an entire neighborhood for the sake of one developer’s ability to make a profit seems to take a very short term view of how capitalism and markets are supposed to work.

  • A libertarian is only a libertarian when the issue is not in his/her neighborhood or affecting his/her property or wallet. Then they become socialist pigs like the rest of us!

  • And this, in a nutshell, is the root of the atmosphere of mistrust between the building community, and the public.
    It is a bit short sighted, to be honest. Because neighbors CAN be customers at the business being built. (For every Ashby High Rise there are thousands of neighbors who drive by, say, a new sandwich shop and say “this is awesome, I can’t wait ’til they open!”) But more importantly, because development is the most visible of business transactions, and development (for better or worse) has become highly politicized.
    Speaking as an architect, I’ll ask every developer reading this: wouldn’t you like to be safe from NIMBY’s? You CAN be, but not by retreating into your shell and saying “this transaction doesn’t have neighbors.”

  • @MW, the “quickie developer”, for the lack of a better term is natural way things work out. A developer is a number of people who do not associate with each other and in fact compete against each other. An average developer has 10-20 years at the peak of their career where they have to make the most money for themselves and their family. Therefore, long term planning is actually counterproductive to their interests because it may require sacrifices during their peak earning years.

  • But commonsense, gone are the days when neighbors will just shut up and put up, or leave at the first sign of trouble. People are more vocal than ever before, and city governments now listen to them. (Doesnt matter if they’re rich or poor).
    What this means is that the “quickie” developer can quickly find himself mired in a costly land use battle. Even if he’s in the right and he gets to build in the end, he’s out millions of dollars in delays and redesign costs; and that’s to say nothing of the damage to his reputation.
    In other words, developers are taking huge risks if they don’t grab the bull by the horns. The guys who wrote “NIMBY Wars – The Politics of Building” say you need to mount a political campaign to get a building built. I’m not sure it has to go that far, but reaching out to neighbors when you’re deciding where to build, considering neighbors’ concerns in your site selection, and designing a project that’s sensitive to its neighbors, should keep a developer from being mired in a land use battle. It can potentially save him millions.

  • We need to channel some of our frustration onto property buyers. I recall seeing a pro-historical preservation sign in the yard of a few of these new fake-Victorian townhouses in the Heights a year or two ago. Now those are people who just don’t get it.

  • can we approach this from a cit-wide perspective, or does it have to be singular and neighborhood only?

    there’s a couple million folks here who’s lives are all intertwined by the same development codes.

  • ZAW ???

    Do you mean like the very nice dental office they put signs in every yard over?

    Try again…

  • I assume commosense wouldn’t mind if a property near him became an auto body shop or a nightclub or a hog farm. Because after all, it’s none of his business.

  • What’s toxic is the attitude that you should have a say in what someone else does with their own property.

    If you want to control what happens on the lot next door–BUY IT. If you aren’t willing to do that–to put your money where your mouth is–you don’t get a vote.

    You’re like the person who has a beach house that complains about all of the houses being built on the beach.

    If you don’t like living in vibrant, living, evolving, changing city–move to the suburbs.

  • The neighbors did get a say, at the ballot box, when they collectively decided to not have zoning – twice.

  • What’s toxic (also without any real precedent and finally, ludicrously silly) is the idea that communities cannot set up some rules for what’s done within them. The “commonsense” view of the entire universe as a set of transactions is frankly just dumb, and not even one that most libertarians have traditionally espoused.

    It’s also based on the idea that a neighborhood/town/city is just a collection of independent properties that have no relationship with each other, which again is just dumb.

    Explaining why feels a bit like explaining to a five year old that yes, the sky really is blue.

  • “What’s toxic is the attitude that you should have a say in what someone else does with their own property.”–Jared

    I was just thinking the other day about the folks who lived in the vicinity of the fertilizer plant in West. Did those homeowners understand what was going on right across the street from their homes? Did they realize the potential for disaster? Or was it none of their business? The slippery slope goes both ways, it seems to me, with the X Factor being transparency. Sure, you have the right to do what you please with your property, but do you have the right to conduct risky and potentially deadly business on your property? The example of West is an extreme one, but so is the argument that any amount of community input is “toxic”. If I need to sell my property because I don’t like the direction the neighborhood is going, I need to base that decision on information. And that means development needs to be somewhat transparent, at the very least.

  • JaredM,
    Oh yeh. Just buy it. Why didn’t anyone think of that before? End of discussion thread.

  • I agree, there just is not a shortage of well restricted property in Houston. Its just usually not that cheap. Areas like the Heights thrived b/c of the lack of restrictions. Area’s like Memorial have thrived because of strong restrictions and the fact that the area is completely built out. As a buyer, when you buy in an area without restrictions YOU are the one taking the risk of something else you do not like being built nearby….its not the future developers job to ensure that what he wants to build fits your own personal version of what should be built there.

  • From John (another one): “I assume commosense wouldn’t mind if a property near him became an auto body shop or a nightclub or a hog farm. Because after all, it’s none of his business.”
    Maybe commonsense lives on a street/neighborhood where converting a home next to his into a body shop, nightclub, or hog farm is EXTREMELY UNLIKELY to happen as that’s not the highest and best use of that property.
    I understand that where I live in Montrose, that *COULD* happen but the land value and home prices are such that it wouldn’t be practical so there is no economic incentive for someone to do that. However, if I live in a very up and coming area with some cheap homes around me, I’d expect that they might be knocked down to build some new townhomes.

  • i don’t see how the development of a residential building in a mostly residential neighborhood is “ruining” the neighborhood. you’re just being drama queens when you compare it to a hog farm or a concrete plant. what really turned me against these resentful neighbors was when they started saying things like this in their list of protest methods: “sending regular communications to tenants ‘to let them know that they are not welcome in our neighborhood'” i think that sums up what this conflict is really about.

  • “People are more vocal than ever before, and city governments now listen to them. (Doesnt matter if they’re rich or poor).”

    Oh, please. People may be more vocal now but so far the only voices City Hall has listened to are the people in Southampton and Boulevard Oaks. Who of course haven’t joined the other voices in other neighborhoods when those other neighborhoods have voiced opposition to a new development. Of course other neighborhoods don’t have the money or the power to command the attention of City Hall. Although the ones that do accept the reality and accept the development. Not everyone in this city with money and power are pretentious spoiled brats who like to bully everyone with their money and power.

  • @Matt M……Oh God must we re-hash ad nauseam Southampton? If they want to spend their $$$$$ and time trying to influence City Hall, so be it. It is no different than Realtors who lobby the Legislature to make everything in a home sale transaction favorable to their interests.

  • Development regulations make sense when a project could cause direct physical harm to its neighbors (as I’m guessing a concrete batch plant could); performance standards can do much the same thing (noise ordinances). But building height (except as related to airport proximity) and being “out of character” or “out of scale”? In no way do these justify restriction on land use. Period.

  • There is no place in the Land of Liberty for restrictions on building height! None whatsoever — unless it causes you some kind of physical harm, like silicosis! It’s a completely newfangled, nutty idea:

  • Matt – what about the Inwood Golf Course? There you had a middle class neighborhood that was built on a golf course. The golf course failed. An Ohio Based company, Renaissance Golf Group, was going to redevelop at least part of the old golf course as multifamily and pad-site retail.
    Neighbors objected; the City listened. They bought the golf course and turned it into a park – but only after a lengthy court battle with the Renaissance Golf Group.
    My point is: Renaissance Golf Group didn’t have to duke it out in court. They could have avoided it If they had done their research into the site’s hstory and the neighborhood’s relationship with the golf course, it’s politics, it’s concerns about drainage and green space, etc. – and then used those to help determine if they were interested in the site and, if they still were, to determine how to go forward on it.
    Now of course it works both ways. Neighbors should do their research when deciding where to buy a home. But really – how many people will actually look at the finances of a nearby golf course when buying a house for their family? It is much more reasonable to expect a professional developer to do the kind of deeper research I’m talking about.

  • I would argue that the new highrise will probably be an aesthetic improvement, will add a new restaurant to an underserved neighborhood, and will replace lower-income households with higher-income households…never a bad thing in terms of demography and real estate valuation. In short, it’s going to be awesome.

    Moreover, this is a good example of sustainable development. Its a high-density projects squarely in between major urban employment centers. And even the shadow that it casts will be ‘green’. Shade certainly brings down the cost of air conditioning a mansion.

    If you oppose Ashby highrise, surely you must also be okay with the extinction of mankind. You probably also waterboard babies using kitten blood for your personal amusement.

  • Sure, other places have done it (most famously Austin and Washington DC). That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing for Houston. I have yet to see evidence in Houston that height harms neighborhoods, even if it casts a little more shade on lawns.

  • Progress, how does it work?
    Seeing this city grow and prosper is a great thing, so long as it doesn’t happen in your backyard, right?

  • i’d just point out that Houston is a large and growing city. although the inner-loop is changing, so are all the other hoods within 20 miles of here. nobody says you have to live in the same ‘hood all your life and i’d even go so far as to say that to expect to live in the same neighborhood indefinitely without seeing major changes is just selfishness. i’ll gladly pick up and move once the montrose has finally been redeveloped for the $150K+ income bracket only. i think it kills diversity and charachter of the area, but i’m glad it’s growing and more people are able to live near work and greater amenities while providing a larger tax base to make this city better for all the areas where it’s nothing but puree shite. i think my fellow citizens deserve that at least. if it changes it changes, but there’s no shortage of places to move to. as long as it’s making the city better.

    move to a poor neighborhood if you don’t want to see any changes, there’s plenty around. and that’s the danger of giving neighborhoods rights over can be developed. by nature they will only have their desires in mind, not that of the millions of others that could benefit from growth and new developments.

  • I’ll remind everyone that the question isn’t whether or not to develop. Of course Houston is going to develop! It’s a growing city, and it has to accommodate that growth. I don’t think anyone wants Houston to be a shrinking city (like Detroit or Cleveland).
    The real question is HOW IS HOUSTON GOING TO DEVELOP? The days of free-wheeling, ‘if you can fund it, build it and nobody will care’ growth are over. Nowadays, everybody has an opinion on what they want in this city, and they’re not hesitant to let you know it.
    So what do we do? Developers who want to build any old thing and ignore their neighbors would be wise to travel back in time to 1976. If they want to work effectively in today’s Houston, they had better be sensitive to their surroundings. For the rest of us, it’s time to ask ourselves: what do we really want? What are the goals? The answers vary from place to place. A single zoning ordinance is not the answer. But once we figure it out, we need to communicate it.

  • “Matt – what about the Inwood Golf Course?”

    What about it? The city bought it but as I recall it was part of a flood control project with the county. It does not maintain it. The homeowners do through the management district. I think they have to lease the property back from the city. Part of the property is to be used as “detention ponds” It may be a park but it is not a city park. There was a similar projecxt with Sharpstown Country Club and with Quail Valley Country Club. I am not an attorney but if I recall correctly there was an issue of “common area” in a subdivision which was part of what homeownerss purchased. That ‘s much different from a developer wanting to redevelop already developed land. In a city with no zoning that means “anything goes” with regard to unrestricted land.

    If you’re suggesting perhaps that the city should buy Southammpton and turn it into a park I’m all for it!