For years a controversial proposal to build a high rise in the wealthy enclave of Boulevard Oaks appeared to be dead — a lesson in how land-use battles can erupt even in a city with virtually no zoning.
But after six years of sitting on the proposal — and the vacant, proposed site at Ashby and Bisonnet sitting dormant — the owners, Hunt Cos. of El Paso, last spring resurrected efforts to build the tower. They brought on a new development team, Dallas-based Street Lights Residential, to create a scaled-down version of the high-rise, now called The Langley, that they hope would win over neighbors who had fiercely opposed the earlier project dubbed The Ashby.
Almost a year after StreetLights filed updated plans with the city, the developer says it is weeks from breaking ground on the 20-story apartment building. The city of Houston granted StreetLights Residential a permit for site work and foundation work Monday, though it still is waiting approval to start vertical construction.
Stephen Meek, developer at Street Lights Residential, said the approved work could begin in early April.
“(The site now) is a brown field that looks like a black eye right at the entry of beautiful neighborhood,” Meek said. “What we’re proposing is bringing something beautiful and something as architecturally significant.”
The spacious units and high-end design of The Langley are aimed at attracting well-heeled empty-nesters, and Meek believes some neighborhood residents would want to live in The Langley if they decide to downsize but want to stay in the area.
Many of the neighbors, however, remain opposed. Several houses around the project site are adorned with bright yellow signs with a menacing carton caricature of a high-rise and the phrase “Tower of Traffic” and “Protect Our Neighborhood” — a nod to past protests against the previous high-rise proposal.
A small group of concerned neighbors have been quietly working to pressure city officials and Street Lights Residential to abide by a 2012 agreement reached between the city of Houston and the site’s owners that set certain parameters for size, traffic, noise and other concerns. (StreetLights rejects, saying it is following the 2012 deal to the letter.)
Neighbors also argue StreetLights should be required to follow updated city ordinances — rather than being built according to laws that were in place at the time Hunt Cos. and Buckhead Investment Partners first applied for building permits in 2007.
As of Tuesday evening, it wasn’t immediately clear if the city’s legal department had determined whether The Langley could be grandfathered.
See here for the background. As the story notes, some residents and neighborhood groups aren’t trying to stop The Langley – I will try to use the new name, but in my heart it will always be the Ashby highrise – but just want it to abide by the new 2012 rules. Which, hey, more power to them. The original 20-story concept never made much sense, but that doesn’t mean that some multi-story building there wouldn’t be a good fit. Could this story finally have a happy ending, or at least a tolerable one, for all? Maybe! Hopefully it won’t take as long to find out.