February 04, 2008
Nobody likes the Ashby Highrise ordinance

The long-awaited highrise ordinance, which was put off by City Council back in November, is still on the drawing board because it apparently satisfies no one and doesn't actually impact any existing development projects, including the Ashby highrise itself. But other than that, it's just fine.

"It seems to me that the current draft is going to make no one happy," said Kendall Miller, a shopping center owner who serves on a committee advising the city about the ordinance.

Jane Cahill, a neighborhood activist who also serves on the panel, said the costs of enforcing the latest draft would far outweigh any benefits.

Cahill said she was dismayed to hear Andy Icken, a deputy city public works director, say recently that the ordinance represents a "rifle" rather than a "shotgun" approach to development issues.

"A rifle aims a single bullet at a single target," Cahill said. "Aiming an ordinance at a single project is not a good way to develop public policy."

Miller is with Houstonians for Responsible Growth, the developers' astroturf group. And I agree with Cahill.

The goal of the measure is to limit traffic congestion caused by dense developments on streets with limited capacity in single-family residential neighborhoods. Finding ways to capture only projects that fit this narrow definition has required hours of discussions of fine points such as the meaning of the word "abutting" and whether individual buildings or total square footage should be used to define a residential neighborhood.

Developers of projects that met the criteria would have to conduct a detailed traffic impact analysis. If it showed congestion would increase beyond specified levels, the developers would have to reduce the project's size or take other steps, such as adding traffic lanes or signals, to reduce the impact.

May I just suggest that we all go back and read Christof's post on why issues of scale should not be dealt with by traffic ordinances? Thank you.

City officials have tested the various drafts of the ordinance against 15 to 20 existing or proposed Houston development projects. Each time, the only project that meets all the criteria is the Ashby high-rise.

Several people monitoring or working on the ordinance, however, said it would permit the developers to build a high-rise building on the site.

By eliminating commercial uses from the building and reducing the number of apartments from 226 to 133, it appears that the developers could comply with the latest draft of the ordinance, said Chris Amandes, the co-chair of the Stop Ashby High-Rise organization. This might translate into a 13- or 14-story building rather than the planned 23-story tower, Amandes said.

This again points out the problem with this approach. The problem is that a highrise doesn't fit in at that location. It doesn't make sense to squeeze in a thirteen- or 26-story building in an area that's all houses and low-rise apartments. Let's admit the problem, and then have a more fruitful conversation about what (if anything) should be done about it. What we're doing now is spinning our wheels.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 04, 2008 to Elsewhere in Houston

christof's points regarding form-based planning are well taken. a form-based approach is not an option with regards to the ashby high-rise, however. the developers' have vested rights recognized and protected by the state based on their progress thus far in the development and permitting process. the notion of vested rights is intended to prevent the rules being changed in mid-development. traffic and public safety issues are among the few exceptions recognized in such a case which is why the traffic angle is being pursued.
search "andres duany" + "transect" for a detailed look at one approach to form based codes. as contentious and time consuming as hashing out such a code would be, a great deal of inappropriate development could still occur barring anything short of a full moratorium on new development while ordinances were pending.

Posted by: robt on February 4, 2008 11:06 PM