October 11, 2007
Bissonnet tower first discussed in 2005

Very interesting...according to the West U Examiner, the much-derided Bissonnet high rise has been known about (by some people, anyway) since 2005.

The Examiner has obtained e-mails to members of the [Southampton] Civic Club legal committee -- dating back as far as Sept. 7, 2005 -- that discussed the threat of "the potential high-rise that may be proposed on the site of the present Maryland Manor apartments...."

Among those sent the e-mails, which continue through Oct. 27, 2005, were current President Erik Eriksson, then board director Larry Foust and current board director Lyman Paden.

One e-mail, sent by committee Chairman Hugh Rice Kelly on Oct. 27, 2005 told of being notified by a Southampton resident that survey work was being done at the Maryland Manor site "a couple of months ago."

It read in part:

"The surveyor said it was his understanding that the new buyer intended to erect a high-rise development on the property. We then contacted the present owners of Maryland Manor who did not confirm or deny the report. We have heard nothing more -- but we've heard enough to take the matter seriously."

The e-mail ended by saying even a project like the seven-story development then under consideration at the corner of Bolsover and Morningside streets would be objectionable.

"The latter site (at Bolsover) is already thoroughly commercial, but the residential community on the other side of the street will obviously be materially impacted," it read.


Another e-mail sent Oct. 27, 2005 by Kelly was addressed to Kathie Easterly, manager of the University Place Association. It asked that a committee she was serving on with the city recommend a temporary moratorium on construction of buildings taller than 3½ stories.

He cited safety issues, including access for emergency vehicles in cases involving two-lane streets among his reasons.

That e-mail, also sent to members of the legal committee, referred to "serious threats of inappropriate high-rise construction in areas adjacent to single family residences (that) are pending at this time."

Serving with Easterly at that time as president of the University Place Association was Julie Tysor, who was and continues to be an executive officer of the Appelt Co. and general partner of Lamesa.

Lamesa, of course, is the builder of that project on Bolsover. Make of that what you will. The story also notes that Council Member Clutterbuck was the outgoing president of the Southampton Civic Club at this time, but was only the recipient of an email saying that the legal committee had been formed. She released a statement on Friday, which you can see here, that addresses the timeline of the project as she knew it:

Many have asked me about the timeline for this project. This Spring I was told that in February a plat had been drawn for the property at 1717 Bissonnet showing plans for a townhouse development. Buckhead Investments later submitted their application for permits on July 31st for the high rise development. I was not notified in any manner about their applications for permits. Similarly, I was not notified about the sewer upgrades purportedly made by the developers. This has highlighted a deficiency in our city code and I plan to propose public notice for upgrades such as these.

Interestingly, I have learned that part of the confusion over this matter at the city may be because the ownership of the real property never changed. I have been told that Buckhead Investments does not own the property in fee; rather they purchased the stock of the corporation that held the property.

Andy Icken in the Public Works Department first met with Mr. Kirton & Mr. Morgan on August 21st. Mr. Icken called me that morning to inform me that the investors were proposing a high-rise. I immediately called the directors of our local civic clubs and we began efforts to stop the project in any way we could.

I've no doubt that this has shown up some weaknesses in city codes regarding public notice of construction projects. I'll say again, if this controversy leads to better tools for residents to stay on top of and influence such developments in their neighborhoods, then it will be a positive regardless of what happens in this particular case. We'll see how the Southampton folks react to this revelation.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 11, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston

Interesting that the Chronicle is not running this little revelation.

It just points out the hypocrisy of some of the opponents. They are pro-development on the one hand and "NIMBY" on the other.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on October 12, 2007 12:19 PM

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.

Here is the full text of the article printed in the September 2005 Southampton Newsletter:

"Will there be a high-rise at Bissonnet and Ashby?

A Southampton resident reported that she had seen survey crews working at the corner of Bissonnet and Ashby for several days in a row. When she asked what they were doing a crewmember told her that the Maryland Manor apartments were going to be torn down and replaced with a four to twelve story residential high-rise, and that the crew had been hired by the prospective buyer.

Our area has been faced with the prospect of a high-rise since the mid 80s. In conjunction with other University Place neighborhoods, we have been able to convince developers to look elsewhere, but larger tracts of close-in land are becoming scare, and we may be faced with this prospect again soon, and possibly on the edge of our neighborhood.

There are no existing City of Houston development rules explicitly restricting high-rise structures on the edge of residential areas such as Southampton. Southgate acquired its first high-rise neighbors years ago, while River Oaks and Tanglewood have both acquired many tall structures directly adjacent to their deed-restricted boundaries. A very injurious 28 story high rise adjoining the Morningside neighborhood south of Rice Village was recently abandoned by its proposed developers after assessing aggressive opposition led by the Morningside Place Civic Assn. and the Southampton Civic Club, represented by Hugh Rice Kelly. They were successful in obtaining the support of University Place and enlisted strong personal intervention by Mayor Bill White and members of his administration. Although the location was immediately outside its boundaries, the City of West University Place also weighed in, as did a number of area legislators.

We are working in conjunction with Boulevard Oaks and University Place Super Neighborhood to verify this information with the owners and to plan a response. We have also made preliminary contact with the City. We will keep you posted."

Posted by: Kathryn on October 12, 2007 11:29 PM

The question has to be asked why no one attempted to address the problem two years ago - did it have to do with Sonoma?

The arguments made about 1717 Bisonnet were also made about Sonoma. The difference is our elected officials did little to stop Sonoma. And yet they seem intent on stopping 1717 Bissonnet. If that is not indicative of the hypocrisy involved I don't know what would be. Quite a few residents still object to Sonoma. Simply because with regard to promises from developers, they have already "been there, done that" with Weingarten and the Village Arcade.

To claim as so many do that they are concerned about traffic indicates that they rarely if ever venture into the Village or believe that indeed there is a sucker born every minute.

You have to wonder if some were silent about 1717 Bissonnet out of fear of blocking Sonoma as well?

It does seem, again, to be the ultimate hypocrisy to allow unchecked development on one side of Southampton but not another.

In any case, no one involved in the opposition to 1717 Bissonnet disclosed they knew about it two years ago and instead chose to mislead everyone into thinking that all of this was some sort of kamikaze attack by two greedy developers. The kamikaze attack seems to have been made by the attorneys who seem to be the primary force behind the opposition and who used their muscle, and no doubt their campaign contributions, to get elected officials to threaten to do whatever it took, legal or illegal, to stop it.

And as always, the attorneys are talking out of both sides of their mouths.

The homeowners in the Village area seem to be helpless to do anything but become pawns in political games and all of this is nothing more than a political game. And a fixed game at that. Political insiders get their developments approved. Political outsiders don't if a couple of the political insiders object. As a couple have with regard to 1717 Bissonnet.

Stinks to high heaven.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on October 13, 2007 1:32 PM