Living in the Shadow of the Ashby Highrise

LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF THE ASHBY HIGHRISE Though the demo of the Maryland Manor apartments at 1717 Bissonnet has already started, a group of homeowners still seems intent to stop the Ashby Highrise from going up in their place, filing a lawsuit this week against developer Buckhead Investment Partners that argues the building will cast a shadow — literally — over the neighborhood: Among other concerns about traffic and privacy, the suit alleges that the 21-story tower would deprive neighbors of sunlight and rain, limiting the enjoyment of their yards and making the maintenance of their gardens impossible. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Candace Garcia

48 Comment

  • Holy frivolousness. I hope Buckhead goes after attorneys’ fees.

  • Looks like Buckhead will be getting a check for their legal fees soon.

  • What? Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!

  • Better file a lawsuit against mother nature for putting all those darn trees up! Although no fan of this project, this is going a bit too far IMO.

  • ROFL. Although the lawsuit will most likely proceed, I can’t see a judge ordering stoppage of work. So construction will go on while the circus unfolds. This would be a good time to counter-sue all the NIMBYs individually for all sorts of things, including bad choices of hair styles etc.
    My Mariachi band idea is looking better and better.

  • @Walt- I am so confused by your post, what is over, who is “we” and I don’t recall the Germans ever Pearl Harbor…?

  • The only way to control what is built on neighboring properties is to buy the real estate yourself.

  • Sounds like a law school case study:

    Defendant A builds tower that prevents sunlight from reaching neighbor’s land.

    Defendant B builds dam that prevents water from reaching neighbor’s land.

    Q: What’s the difference?
    A: Who knows? The judge can do as he pleases. Now pay me $$$ for that legal advice!

  • Good god, when will this Ashby Highrise debacle end already? Houston’s gentrification of the inner city is eminent. I’m sorry to those of you whose multimillion dollar property values may go down and that your tulip growth in high season will be disrupted, but Houston is a city of constant change. Many of you living in those homes have benefitted greatly from that change and the very monster you’ve supported that has now come to bite the hand that feeds. Not even your neighborhood, like nearly any other neighborhood, is immune to change. Being from Seattle, it disheartens me that preservation and long term environmental effects are so badly neglected here. I saw gentrification change and destroy a lot of great things about Seattle, but it’s something I have had to come to live with. It will catch up with us at some point and things will get worse before they get better as far as congestion and misappropriate land use. We can’t stop progress; all we can do is do our best to put measures in place to make the transition a bit smoother like investing in public transportation and zoning regulations.

  • Highrises cause droughts. Who knew?

  • Yeah, it sounds frivolous, but as a gardener, this is one of the things that makes me insanely angry about new builds. I had an awesome vegetable garden in my Heights backyard until a McMansion went up next door and effectively destroyed all possibility of any future homegrown goodness. It’s never important to people until it hits them where it hurts them personally.

  • @Higher Density:
    Forget it. He’s rolling.

  • Walt – nice Animal House reference.
    SJH – I agree with you here. I’m definitely not a fan of this project. But a lawsuit at this point is counterproductive to their cause. I wouldn’t see it going anywhere, and it could backfire terribly.

  • The sunlight and rain arguments are totally baseless. These NIMBYs better start cutting back all those trees that keep most of the streets in that neighborhood a constant and pleasant, shady spot. I mean, just drive around there and tell me how they aren’t already living in conditions they say the high-rise would bring about. OH but it is completely different because… HEY look over there! Yeah, that is pretty much the neighborhood’s argument. Not to mention very few of those trees have the correct preventative maintenance ensuring downed power lines and bitchy folk for a few weeks after the next hurricane. Maybe this will prompt them to cut back those trees and let some light in. BOOM, two problems solved for the price of one.

    #6: WOOOSH! that was the sound of his post going over your head.

  • I guess it is true. You really can sue someone for anything, regardless of merit.

    Just for you, HD:

  • @Matt: That must be why Africa has such a drought problem… all the high rises blocking the sun and rain. I guess we can expect famine to hit Southampton soon. But I suppose that already happened when the Rice Epicurean in the Rice Village closed some time ago…

  • @alternativemike – I don’t think this debacle has anything to do with gentrification. Gentrification is the displacement of poor people. It is recognizable by the distinct lack of fuss raised by anyone with enough power to even slow down the process. While the anti-highrise crowd wasn’t ultimately effective, they did cause delays and get a few stories shaved.

  • @inner blooper

    Riparian rights.

  • I would think the people in that neighborhood have the financial muscle to fight 2 guys in Southside Place forever.

  • @Alec – My fault for the misuse of the term.
    It’s definitely not an ideal spot for the building, but it’s a good example that not even the upper classes in this case are immune to change that is potentially unfavorable to their neighborhood. They have been very vocal, fought this hard and gained a lot of attention, but ultimately, their loss is a good example that some zoning regulations are possibly in order.

  • Well, the property values will take a dive, for sure. Buyer: “I would like a home that backs up to a high-rise.” Not. @Anse, same problem here–can you garden in the front yard? The heck with the St Augustine and what the neighbors might think.

  • These homeowners knew they were adjacent to unrestricted property and the City doesn’t promulgate height restrictions except related to the airports, so a tall building was always a possibility. The same situation applies all over town. I find it hard to believe the diminished subjective enjoyment of one’s property provides a basis for legal action given these conditions. Of course, I’m no lawyer, so my opinion is admittedly semi-ignorant.

    Regardless, I don’t think height adjacencies provide a justifiable basis for land use regulation. They would hurt the city far more than help it.

  • The only time I have heard of a nuisance claim for blocking sunlight is a case where someone had solar panels and lost access to sunlight because of construction on a neighboring parcel. Not a Texas case. I do not think that Texas courts have ever addressed the issue. But, I do not see Texas courts as being a maverick and holding that there is a right in nuisance law to access to sunlight when most other states have held there is not. What is interesting in the lawsuit is that they plan on digging 100 ft deep for the foundation and will be drilling for piers just a few feet from the properties that abut the building from the south. Hats off to the engineer who can pull that off without causing foundation damage to the abutting properties.

  • Ihd, I doubt there’s any money changing hands to create the lawsuits for NIMBY. I’m sure it’s all provided out of the kindness of neighborly lawyers in that hood.

  • Why are we not hearing the same whines with respect to the Weslayan/West Alabama high rise that is currently under construction? There is residential surrounding that project, but I’ve not heard a peep.

  • And have any of these NIMBY’s even started a conversation on how to stop this from happenning in the future? They should be putting their efforts in that direction (zoning) because there will be more tall buildings to follow, and maybe not in this neighborhood but in many others. The city is everyones to enjoy, and just because you “own” the land that was taken by force not too long ago (native americans), all citizens should have a say with how their environment is shaped, not just the very wealthy.

  • RickinHouston, I doubt if the folks in Southside are contributing to the Buckhead legal fund.

  • Actually, Planner, height adjacencies and shadows are a very good reason for people to want zoning. They were a big part of the reason for New York’s zoning resolution of 1916, and in fact that resolution came out of a scenario that was strikingly similar to our Ashby High Rise fight.
    In 1915, The Equitable Building in Lower Manhattan rose 38 stories lot-line to lot-line – straight up with no setbacks. It put many of its neighbors in permanent shadow – including the venerable Singer Building, which was in shadow up to its 27th floor. It was the driving force behind the setback requirements that wound up giving us such classics as the Chrysler Building.
    Now, I’m not in favor of zoning for Houston. Since 1916, New York’s zoning ordinance has morphed into a 3,000 page behemoth. Who needs that? But let’s not pretend that shadows and height adjacencies aren’t a concern.

  • @Mother Hydra

    I would upvote your comment if I could.

  • Well the lawsuit is one thing. Amusing if nothing else. But I agree with Anse and some of the others that this light/shadow issue should be a consideration. I see it on a smaller basis when the maxipads take over my neighborhood of 1950 ranch houses. The low to the ground one story ranches get overwhelmed by the new houses built 3-4 feet off the ground. But then the new house gets a new fence along the small side yard, that rise in some cases 8-10 feet. Not just blocking any view from the windows, but totally blocking out any light. To me it’s a factor but I don’t know how you regulate it. It’s not any different than the new property affecting the runoff into your yard. It’s quality of life issues.

    You move into an older neighborhood that’s been stable for a long time and you don’t expect an f-ing high rise to be plunked down in the middle of it. Regardless of no zoning.

  • Look, I grew up in this area–and yes, I wish they were not building his ugly thing, but alas they are–you lost!, this is Houston, no zoning, developers rule–so let it go!!!!–these lawsuits are getting ridiculous! This last one is especially absurd.

  • Has the massive Huntingdon in River Oaks ruined the gorgeous gardens in that Valhalla of Houston neighborhoods. Have all those condo high rises effected the values of the huge estates in River Oaks–frankly, I wish this hideous ashby highrise looked like the Huntingdon or Bayou Bend Tower, then I’d have been supportive from the start. My main concern from the start was how f@@king ugly this Ashby tower is. It looks really cheap, like those heinous apt/condo pre fab things they built in Atlanta that ruined the skyline around Peidmont Park

  • And to use the name Buckhead is so cheesy. Like Beverly Hills Cleaners in Topeka or Grosse Pointe Pharmacy in De Moine. Look, we all know Buckhead is like an Atlanta version of River Oaks combined with Memorial, but to use it as a developer who builds crap like this Ashby sh#t, is the limit

  • Are people entitled to sunlight and no traffic? I’m sorry but I file this under “rich folk problems”.

  • If the Texas Open Beaches Act is no longer safe (and it was passed into law in 1959), then judges in Texas are not going to side with any Texan’s right to sunlight.

  • Good grief, Ashby hi-rise opponents, let it go! Start doing something productive, like getting zoning laws. Or stopping people from building crappy townhomes/condos all over town.
    Hmm, wonder what the view is like from Ashby?

  • Trouble is, Dom – it’s not JUST the Ashby High Rise. If we ask “are people entitled to sunlight?” we might ask, “are people entitled to clean, odor-free air?” Then we’re talking about the Ruffino Hills Transfer Station, and the Sunnyside Concrete Crushing Plant – in working class and poor neighborhoods respectively.
    Or we might ask “Are people entitled to adequate drainage and green space?” We can argue that, but apparently our City Government thought so when they bought the old Inwood Forest Golf Course.
    See what I’m getting at here? There’s a temptation to break off the anti- Ashby High Rise crowd and think of them as a bunch of rich whiners. This last lawsuit, beating a dead horse as it does, doesn’t help – but the reality is, what’s happening to their neighborhood could happen to any neighborhood in Houston. Of course in Sunnyside or Acres Homes it wouldn’t be a luxury high rise blocking out light – it’d be a factory releasing carcinogens, but in the end – same difference.

  • Moderator, time to close this thread. The ‘against the Ashby High rise’ committee has circled the wagons on this thread. Let’s all move on people.

    BTW, I wonder how the sign up is going on the ‘pledge YOUR personal money with your credit card’ vs the just put a sign in your front yard committee?

  • Most of us except the homeowners and Annise Parker and Ellen Cohen have moved on. Annise Parker is “front and center” in the lawsuit with her comment about “lipstick on a pig” which of ocurse overlooks the fact she also conceded the developers have and always did have every legal right under the city charter and the various ordinances to build the highrise which hopefully the court will take note of and then toss the suit and even more hopefully declare these people “vexatious litigants.” That of course will “close the thread.”

  • Give it up people. The tower is going up. You whiny losers get used to it. This IS Houston,land of NO zoning laws. Remember how many of you voted AGAINST them? Well now the lack of said zoning laws is affecting you & your precious haciendas. Deal with it. And quit being such wussies!!! If you don’t like being there MOVE.

  • P.S. A piece of advice I got years ago which saved me a lot of hassles and headaches: Next time any of you readers want to buy a lot/home RESEARCH that neighborhoods deed restrictions THOROUGHLY.If the prospective neighborhood doesn’t have deed restrictions, I would NOT buy there. And buy an INTERIOR property as far away from boundary streets,boulevards,roads, etc. In case a developer does build a hideous/unwanted structure.A related story: The residents of Farnham Park,77024(south of San Felipe/west of Voss/Buffalo Bayou/just this side of Kinkaid School have a lovely City of Houston water/sewage treatment plant that not only,especially in the warmer months of the year/&-or/when the wind shifts wafts a vile smell throughout the neighborhood;there is also a very loud,almost around the clock pump noise that I’m sure causes people to take sleeping pills/Xanax/drink/call the City/the Mayors Office and complain to the high heavens. But they CHOSE to live there and they decided to stay and put up with that incessant, irritating noise. I wouldn’t. But it’s all subjective.

  • @Patrick, I believe that’s actually a Memorial Villages treatment plant, not City of Houston, and given the amount of raw sewage the Villages used to dump in Buffalo Bayou, they deserve every last odor.

  • Maybe I’m missing something, but there is absolutely no way this building will cast a shadow over any one yard for a period of time long enough to keep plants from growing. As a matter of fact, it might actually end up being beneficial and they’ll get more refracted than direct sunlight, which is a good thing.

  • “Maybe I’m missing something, but there is absolutely no way this building will cast a shadow over any one yard for a period of time long enough to keep plants from growing. As a matter of fact, it might actually end up being beneficial and they’ll get more refracted than direct sunlight, which is a good thing.”

    The homeowners know that. They just hope others don’t know that. A judge and hopefully a jury in particular. Some are stupid. Some are not. Particularly in courtrooms.

  • Looks to me like the only real problem that will exist (if the tower gets built) is that the tower people will be able to look directly into the backyards and swimming pools of all those big houses along North and South Blvds. So much for backyard privacy…actually that might be a better approach for a lawsuit than “you’re blocking my sunlight.”

  • Matt Mystery, when you aren’t being a legal secretary can you get me a cup of coffee? Thanks.

  • “So much for backyard privacy…actually that might be a better approach for a lawsuit than “you’re blocking my sunlight.”

    You can use just about anything you want as a basis for a lawsuit as those who read the hysterical lawsuit the “Not-So-Magnificent Seven” just filed realize. It doesn’t mean it will be a sucessful lawsuit and if “lack of privacy” were a valid basis to block a highrise our “skyscape” would look much different. These people promised to harass the developers and anyone associated with the developers including tenants and apparently are intent on doing so. And are possibly providing the basis for a successful lawsuit against them. For harassment. If you want the city to be zoned, put it to the voters. But even zoning wouldn’t stop a highrise going up in an area that is zoned for highrises. Just ask the homeowners in other cities that have zoning. You live adjacent to an area zoned for highrises, you can prety much expect one to go up even if there isn’t one there when you buy. The homeowners who bought in the immediate area of that section between Ashby and Cherokee and Bissonnet and Rice and Sunset should have taken that into consideration when they bought. And Cheyne Walk and then the Medical Clinic of Houston should have made it clear that unrestricted means just that. It is “commercial” and despite two mayors and a couple of other elected offiials pandering to a bunch of pretentious spoiled brats there is no legal basis to deny a developer the legal use of the land in that section. There may be some devaluation because of the highrise. The real devaluation will be because of the homeowners who not only threatend to harass the developers but are making good on the threat. Who wants to live around people like that?