March 18, 2008
Ashby developers to move forward as originally planned

Whatever the next step in the Ashby highrise fight is going to be, get ready for it.

The developers of the controversial Ashby high-rise said Monday they are moving forward with their long-delayed permit applications because city officials haven't responded to their compromise offer to build a smaller development.

The decision by developers Matthew Morgan and Kevin Kirton of Buckhead Investment Partners revives their original 23-story project that has been on hold since November, when the developers agreed to delay seeking permits after an outcry from surrounding neighborhoods led to discussions of new development regulations at City Hall.

Morgan and Kirton said their revised proposal calls for a 22-story building with a smaller footprint and fewer residential units -- changes they said would eliminate any possibility the project would cause unacceptable traffic congestion.

The developers said they submitted this idea to city officials three weeks ago but had received no reply.

"We feel as if we have no choice but to move forward," Morgan said, adding that he and Kirton had instructed a consultant to begin walking the original permit applications through the city's review process.


Under the latest proposal, Morgan and Kirton said their building would be almost as tall as originally planned but significantly narrower, with a small park on one corner of the property, landscaping and other measures intended to provide a buffer between the building and surrounding single-family neighborhoods.

A document outlining the proposal, however, shows the offer is contingent on significant financial concessions by the city: An immediate refund of about $500,000 for new sewer lines the developers installed to serve the project, along with a payment to the developers of up to $2.15 million, over as long as 10 years, from revenue generated by increased tax values on the site.

Neighborhood leaders said the city would never agree to these payments, which casts doubt on the sincerity of the developers' offer.

"This is a charade," said Ron Kahanek, the president-elect of the Boulevard Oaks Civic Association, a neighborhood just north of the project site at 1717 Bissonnet at Ashby.

That doesn't sound like a sincere offer to me, either. Which suggests that Morgan and Kirton feel very comfortable that there was never any real chance the city could stop them. Hard to blame them for their confidence, I suppose.

Andy Icken, a deputy city public works director, said the pending permit applications for the project would be reviewed under a decades-old driveway ordinance that the city is now applying to certain high-density development projects. These reviews typically take 11 days, Icken said.

Mayor Bill White has said repeatedly that the project, as originally proposed, would cause an unacceptable increase in traffic congestion. It is uncertain, however, what changes the city would require under the driveway ordinance.


The dispute over the Ashby project has led to renewed discussions about how the city can encourage denser development in its core while protecting the character of older neighborhoods where detached single-family housing predominates.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you can't deal with a problem of scale by tweaking traffic regulations. Updating the form-based codes is the way to go. Which was unfortunately never going to be doable in time to help the anti-Ashby folks, but could be in place to deal with the next Ashby, if we get started now. Have we resigned ourselves to this yet so we can get something done? It'd be nice.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 18, 2008 to Elsewhere in Houston

There are so many other areas where "inappropriateness" should be the determining factor - no one has focused on those areas. Just this one hirise. The hirise that devoured a neighborhood. And a mayor.

The mayor will probably have someone deny the permit and once again the mayor will defend his right to override the will of the voters in a lawsuit against the city.

That really should disturb people. Hopefully when it happens, it will.

There are so many other neighborhoods that matter even though the mayor, and admittedly so, does not believe that any neighhorhods matter except Southampton and Boulevard Oaks. Someone posted on the Houston Chronicle how "they" were so important to our community, serving on boards, obviously the reason they serve on all these boards, if true, is to feel important, and are determing the future of our city. They. No one else.

Just summed up the attitude at work best. None of this has been about the city. Only about Southampton and Boulevard Oaks.

And about a mayor pandering to a law firm.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on March 22, 2008 7:14 AM
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