February 16, 2008
Can we all just get along?

Given that nobody has liked any of the proposed Ashby highrise ordinances so far, and that we may not see any action taken by City Council for the next seven months or so anyway, perhaps we ought to start hoping for the developers and the neighborhood residents to come to some kind of accomodation about the project.

"We continue to make an honest effort to cooperate, to negotiate some kind of compromise," said Matthew Morgan, who with his partner, Kevin Kirton, has proposed building a 23-story mixed-use project at 1717 Bissonnet at Ashby.

"That process is ongoing."

Morgan acknowledged that the two sides remain far apart after a series of offers and counteroffers emerged in a Feb. 5 meeting between the developers and neighborhood leaders.

But the fact that the two sides are talking represents progress, he said.


Ever since residents of the Southampton and Boulevard Oaks neighborhoods began protesting the developers' plans last September, the idea of a private solution to the controversy has been attractive to a number of city officials, developers and neighborhood leaders.

Developers, worried that a high-density development ordinance the city was writing in response to the project might hurt their industry and Houston's economy, tried to arrange deals for someone else to buy the property and develop it in a way more palatable to the neighborhood.

Chris Amandes, co-chair of the Stop Ashby High-Rise task force, said he and his neighbors would welcome a negotiated settlement as an alternative to city government action.

"We're interested in the result, not the process," Amandes said.

In the Feb. 5 meeting, Morgan and Kirton offered to reduce the size of their building to 19 stories or to build a six-story project while accepting a $2.65 million payment to recoup their investment.

Neighborhood leaders rejected these ideas but suggested some alternatives.

I'm more interested in the process than the result, but I certainly understand Mr. Amandes' perspective. I don't know how feasible any of the proposed alternatives are, but given that scale has been the issue all along - the place may be called the "Tower of Traffic" on some of the ubiquitous yard signs, but that caricature of the tower emphasizes its sheer height for a reason - a smaller project is clearly the endpoint of any settlement. The best outcome I can imagine is something that Morgan and Kirton work out solely with the neighborhood, and then all the lessons learned and feedback received from this process goes into the creation of a workable and up-to-date revision of the city's form-based codes, thus avoiding similar problems elsewhere. How likely this is, I couldn't tell you, but it's my hope anyway.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 16, 2008 to Elsewhere in Houston

This is a tough situation. Houston must densify. But how to do it? What makes 19 stories magically better than 23?

I grew up in a beautiful 1890s rowhouse in Chicago. It was covered with gorgeous red sandstone. We didn't have air or private greenspace or very much privacy. But I'd love to live there again.

Posted by: Peter Wang on February 16, 2008 9:18 AM
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