There seems to be some misconception about the City of Houston’s proposed settlement with the developers of the Ashby High Rise.
Most importantly, whether the Ashby High Rise gets built or does not get built has never been at issue in the developers’ lawsuit. In August 2009, the City of Houston approved the developers’ permit application to build a 23-story, 210 unit project on the site. The settlement announced by Mayor Parker last week apparently provides that a 21-story, 228 unit project may be built on the site. That difference is not insignificant, but the critical point is that the primary issue in the lawsuit was whether the City of Houston would have to pay the developers money damages for the difference between what they initially wanted to build and what the City approved in 2009. If the developers’ lawsuit went to trial and the developers lost in every respect, they still would have been authorized to build the 23-story, 210 unit project approved in 2009. So the City’s proposed settlement does not mean that we have “lost,” it only means that the City has agreed to certain changes to the project in exchange for the developers’ not receiving any money from the City for the alleged “wrongful” denial of their earlier permit applications.
That said, our expectation has been that the City would never agree to a settlement that subjects the neighborhood to the worst possible consequences of the project, if it gets built. And this settlement fails that test in all respects. That is the message that needs to be communicated to the Mayor, Council Member Cohen, and the at large City Council members at Temple Emanu El, 1500 Sunset, at 6.30 pm on Monday night. We strongly encourage all residents of Boulevard Oaks and Southampton to attend the meeting and express their opinions.
First, the increase in the number of units authorized to be built on site exceeds by 18 units the number that the City previously determined was the maximum that would not create an “unacceptable” traffic impact on Bissonnet. And that determination was based on a traffic study that is now more than four years old and does not reflect the additional growth that has since occurred in the area. This increase is apparently justified by the developers’ commitment to provide twice a day shuttle bus trips to the Medical Center and “loaner bikes” so that there will be fewer vehicle trips from and to the project during peak traffic hours. Really? How many of you would take a shuttle bus to work that left and returned at the same time every day without regard to what your work hours actually were? How many in our sub-tropical climate would ride bikes to work year round, loaner or not? Is the City really trying to justify a worse than unacceptable traffic impact on Bissonnet because of “loaner bikes”? Putting aside our neighborhood, what kind of precedent does this create for other projects with unacceptable traffic impacts in Houston? Are loaner bikes now how the City of Houston intends to manage the impacts of high density developments in residential neighborhoods? Really, Mayor?
Second, the settlement allows all traffic to exit the project onto Ashby Street. Supposedly, this traffic will be “permitted” only to only turn right onto Ashby. But how will this be accomplished? Any sign posted by the developers would lack the force of law and could be ignored without consequence. And a sign posted by the City would be just a sign. In this era of limited resources, does anybody believe that a City of Houston police officer will be posted at the Ashby exit to ticket the residents who illegally turn left onto Ashby and cut through the neighborhood for quicker access to Shepherd, Rice or Greenbriar? Really, Mayor?
It is our understanding that this settlement may be presented to and approved by City Council before it becomes effective. If so, our concerns can be heard and the settlement can be revised before it is approved and presented to the City Council. We look to Council Member Cohen to be an effective advocate for her district, and we look to the Mayor and the City Attorney not to sacrifice one of Houston’s most stable, beautiful, and historic neighborhoods to expediency. Mayor White’s administration assured us that the City’s legal position was strong and they were prepared to take this case through trial to affirm the City’s position. So why are the Mayor and the City Attorney now recommending this settlement?
In addition to attending the meeting on Monday night, we encourage you to express your opinions to the Mayor, Council Member Cohen, and the At-Large City Council members.
Finally, since 2009, we have understood that whether this project gets built will be determined by our own efforts and not anything that the City does or does not do. A City permit is just one step in trying to build this project; the more challenging obstacles are finding sufficient investors and lenders who are willing to risk their money on a project that will cost tens of millions of dollars to build. So regardless of how the settlement issue is resolved, we will continue to fight this project will all of the tools at our disposal.
Your continued support is vital.