October 13, 2007
Examiner claims about Bissonnet high rise disputed

The following comment was left in this entry about a West U Examiner story claiming that the Bissonnet high rise was about by members of the Southampton Civic Club in 2005:

Contrary to claims by a neighborhood paper, the Southampton Civic Club fully disclosed--two years ago, in the September 2005 Southampton Newsletter--the threat of possible high rise development of the Maryland Manor site. The Oct. 10 edition of the West U Examiner quoted leaked "emails to members of the Civic Club legal committee -- dating back as far as Sept. 7, 2005" as the source of its inside "scoop." In fact, the supposed covert information trumpeted in the story's lead paragraphs was fully discussed in the newsletter, which goes to all residents. The same message was published in the Boulevard Oaks September 2005 Newsletter. (The full text of the September 2005 newsletter item is reproduced below).

All Southampton residents, not just "ranking members" of the Civic Club, were provided this information. The insinuation that the information was hidden in emails to insiders is simply false. The Examiner's reporter could easily have learned this had he asked, but he didn't bother. Apparently the reporter's eagerness to deliver a "Lesson in Civics" led him into this gross journalistic blunder.

The facts are that, following the September report, investigation yielded nothing, nor were the Dallas owners forthcoming with information. Meanwhile, similar residential properties in the area were being developed as low- to mid-rise. The issue did not surface again until early March of 2007 when another survey crew was observed at the site, although it is unclear if their presence was related to the Maryland Manor site or another neighboring property.

In March 2007, renewed activity near the site led Southampton to investigate whether any development plans were afoot. We eventually learned that Maryland Manor had been acquired by developers Matthew Morgan and Kevin Kirton. Morgan, who grew up in the Southampton area, has been active in local civic organizations, and was well known to many Southampton and BOCA residents.

Morgan assured the Southampton Civic Club Executive Director that he had no current plans to redevelop the site, merely that he was looking at options due to a collapsed sewer line that was causing foundation problems with one of the existing structures on the site. He also stated that he was considering town homes and possibly a mid-rise. In the same time frame, the developers' representative informed Council Member Anne Clutterbuck that a townhouse development was planned.

Morgan and Kirton did not disclose their true intentions until late August of this year, when they approached Council Member Clutterbuck, who immediately notified the neighborhoods of the imminent threat of a high-rise.

The commenter, who signed her name Kathryn, reproduced the text of a September 2005 Southampton Civic Club newsletter as proof that the project was known about by neighborhood residents at the time. I also received an email from a separate individual making the same assertion. Go back to that earlier post to read the newsletter and see for yourself.

In other high rise news, this story is the first one I've seen to contain extensive remarks from the tower developers.

"We will be interested in considering all of the available remedies provided to us and it may be there are none," said task force representative Chris Amandes. However, "(Buckhead) may ultimately conclude this project as proposed is going to be difficult to get permitted and get built.

"We don't want to go to war with them," Amandes said. "If they're willing to consider something that we think is consistent with the neighborhood we would love to see if we could work that out."

For now, Buckhead CEO Kevin M. Kirton and President Matthew J. Morgan say no deal.

"We stand sort of in the same place we always have," Morgan said. "We have a project here we believe is good for the neighborhood or we wouldn't have come this far with it.

"We have invested a tremendous amount of time and money bringing it to this point. In that process we have done everything we have needed to do to the letter of the law to comply with the rules, regulations and ordinances the city stipulates for development of that sort.

"We followed the publicly subscribed process," Morgan said. "We actually built a sewer at our own expense," as required by the city at a cost of approximately $500,000.

"We built an oversized sewer," Morgan said. "The sewer we built will handle far more capacity than what we are planning to use it for. It is sized to accommodate future capacity needs in that area."

Said Kirton of residents' reaction, "We think this is a natural reaction to change in the neighborhood. We live in a dynamic, changing city and this is to be expected."

Amandes says the task force and Hardin are looking for any legal means to stop the development.

"There are legal avenues that can be pursued," Amandes said. "We are looking and will be looking very closely at all of the applications they filed for permits and what not."

One theory they are looking into is whether the development could be legally considered a nuisance.

Whether it could, "I don't know, but it certainly is perceived in the neighborhood as a nuisance," Amandes said.

Well, at least now I know what argument Hardin might make. While again I would never underestimate the man, this seems to be quite a stretch to me. On the other hand, given the political climate, perhaps it's less so than I think. We'll see.

UPDATE: Miya has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 13, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston

I think the real nuisance here are the attorneys.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on October 13, 2007 6:12 PM

Nothing in the Examiner article said anything about this being a secret among the legal committee members. The information addressed the lack of timely knowledge on the part of the majority of those at the Poe meeting and elsewhere in the community. People who whether they read their newsletters or not felt taken by surprise.

Posted by: mike on October 13, 2007 6:23 PM