September 24, 2007
Another high-rise, another neighborhood uproar

This sort of thing is becoming more and more commonplace; I'm talking about both the type of project and the neighborhood reaction to it.

A standing-room-only crowd packed the Poe Elementary School auditorium on Thursday night to oppose a 23-story high-rise building proposed in the 1700 block of Bissonnet.

Representatives of the Southampton Civic Club and the Boulevard Oaks Civic Association called the meeting. Both groups have voted to oppose the project, saying it would dwarf the predominantly single-family homes surrounding neighborhoods.

The members of City Council who attended the session said that while they oppose the project, city ordinances prevent them from stopping it.

"We don't have the authority to do that just because we don't like something in our neighborhood," said District C council member Anne Clutterbuck. "The parcel is unrestricted and unplatted, so they can build whatever they want to on it."

Buckhead Investment Partners Inc. is proposing to build a 266-foot tall building to house either 231 apartments or 187 condos. The first five floors would hold 460 parking spaces and 10,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. The sixth floor would be a common area for residents, and floors seven through 23 would be residential.


"This tower threatens all of the things we devote our efforts to," such as deed restriction and enforcement, said Southampton Civic Club President Erik Eriksson. "A 23-story, 266-foot tower rips through the fabric of our neighborhood."

Residents and council members suggested options such as buying out the developer, getting people to call Buckhead to try to persuade the company to build something different, and introducing new city ordinances.

"They have no idea the power of this community and the kind of outrage this is going to fuel," Clutterbuck said.

A major obstacle to getting Buckhead to halt the project is that it has already invested $500,000 to expand sewer capacity, Clutterbuck said.

I think it's the feeling of helplessness that comes from the realization there's nothing you can do about this thing that drives the ferocity of neighborhood opposition. At least with Metro and TxDOT, they're required by law to hold public meetings, gather feedback, and prepare impact statements. You know you'll get your chance to affect what they do. There's no such assurance with projects like this, so the only recourse is to make a lot of noise.

The developers weren't at that meeting, but they did talk to Nancy Sarnoff.

Developers Kevin Kirton and Matthew Morgan of Houston-based Buckhead Investment Partners said the project has been designed to be sensitive to the neighborhood, which is where they grew up.

The building's exterior will be red brick with cast stone details, meant to emulate the architecture at Rice University.

"We want to create a building that looks and feels like it's been there a long time," Morgan said.

The front of the building will be set back from the curb about 55 feet, creating a pedestrian plaza. And the tower portion will be 70 feet from the residential lots behind the building, which they said will ensure privacy for the neighborhood.

The developers did note that a traffic study indicated the level of service during the peak morning hours would decline slightly, but that the city required no mitigation.

I'd like to know more about that level of service. Bissonnet is one lane each direction there, and it can definitely back up. There's already a fair amount of cross-traffic on Ashby and nearby Kent because they lead to entrances at Rice University. How much busier do they think this is going to make that area, and hoe much busier would it have had to make it in order to require "mitigation", whatever that means in this context?

On a side note, you have to feel some sympathy for CM Clutterbuck. I mean, first Bolsover, and now this. What's next? The Inside Central Houston blog has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 24, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston

230 or 180 units on Bissonnet there would be a nightmare for traffic. This is a terrible idea. I am, however, slightly amused at the distress of the snooty Southhampton residents, who are so snooty and exclusive that they have their own private park on Parkway Dr. (all the better to avoid the gangbangers a few blocks north in Ervin Chew Park).

Posted by: RWB on September 24, 2007 7:51 AM

I always find situations like this somewhat amusing having been a traffic engineer on both sides of the issue. I've represented the angry neighbors team and the developers team when evaluating the traffic impacts of high rise residential developments.

The residents always get their panties in a wad over the raw number of condos/apartments - it doesn't matter what the actual type of residence is, its just the notion of high density development that bothers them. In my experience, the residents of the affected areas almost always object vociferously to the residential components of the project, yet give the typical ground level retail and restaurant uses a pass because they somewhat see those as desirable uses. (This is not obviously always the case, but frequently is based on my experience)

The ground floor retail or restaurant space of the typical development like this usually will generate a very similar number, if not more trips, than all the residential dwelling units combined. Yet the residents complain about the traffic generated by the dwelling units.

Of course it depends on the type of retail or restaurant mix that goes in, and obviously the amount of residential.

Using the numbers in the news article, I used worst case of apartments instead of the condo designation and assuming some high turnover restaurants like applebees, chilis, chipotle, olive garden etc - franchise chains instead of say a fancy joint like Americas or Churrascos just to illustrate my point here

I'm not trying to belittle the neighborhood concerns in any way, I just saying careful what you wish for. I have seen residents bemoan 200 units of 400,000k condos because of their density that cheered when the developer offered to convert to restaurant and office uses, which in his case actually generated substantially more traffic which would be more detrimental to the surrounding area than the high-rise residential uses.

Kuff, you mention you'd like to see the levels of service info. Obviously there has been a traffic study if that terminology is being tossed around. If you can get your hands on it it would have a description of the impacts. One important point is to not get hung up on the actual designations of A-F for LOS, but to also look at the actual delay values for the analysis scenarios. A development can change an intersection from Level of Service D to Level Service E, which is easy to hang a hat on as an adverse impact, however, when you look at the delay values you see a change from say 53 seconds of average delay to 56 seconds of average delay. Depending on the reviewing agency involved, jumping across the threshold from LOS D to E may require mitigation in the form of roadway improvements, however the 3 second impact may not be deemed significant and thus doesn't result in any mitigation being required.

I'm rambling... oh well

Posted by: Trafficnerd on September 24, 2007 6:36 PM

That park is within Broadacres and not Southampton.

Posted by: LMW on September 24, 2007 7:48 PM

This project is outrageous! There are very few beautiful neighborhoods in Houston. This is one of them, and it is about to be ruined!

There may be nothing the City can do, but there is something concerned citizens can do. How about some good old-fashioned civil disobedience? For starters, how about a massive sign campaign like the residents of Afton Oaks successfully did to stop light rail in front of their homes? The signs could say things like "Don't Rape Our Neighborhood," etc.

Let's start an organization to organize this type of activity.

Posted by: marjorie on September 25, 2007 6:34 PM