Anti-Bissonnet high rise ordinance proposed

In a sense, this is surprising, and in a sense, it’s not.

Mayor Bill White’s administration has proposed an ordinance that could require developers to reduce the size of a planned high-rise building that’s ignited a bitter dispute over what’s appropriate to develop in Houston.

The ordinance, distributed to City Council members Tuesday, could be on the council’s agenda next week — an unusually fast timetable for a new regulatory law in Houston. Such measures typically take months to work their way through the city bureaucracy.

White acknowledged that the ordinance was drafted in response to a controversial high-rise planned near Rice University that has not yet received a building permit. Residents of the adjoining Southampton and Boulevard Oaks neighborhoods hired a prominent attorney and staged a street protest against the project.

The ordinance would require traffic impact studies of projects on two-lane, two-way streets that include at least 100 dwelling units and increase density 100 percent or more. This description fits the 23-story building that developers Kevin Kirton and Matthew Morgan of Houston-based Buckhead Investment Partners want to build at 1717 Bissonnet.

The measure would give the public works director broad discretion to require steps to ease traffic problems involved. In the case of the Bissonnet project, White said, reducing the building’s size would be the most logical solution.

“The development on Bissonnet that will dump more than 2,000 (daily) trips onto a two-lane, two-way street exposed a loophole” in city regulations, White said, explaining why he put the ordinance on such a fast track.


The ordinance would authorize the public works director to use the traffic impact analysis as well as his “independent judgment” to determine whether the project would cause excessive impact on traffic. It would be the first time the city has required traffic impact studies of new developments.

If the director finds that the project would worsen traffic congestion, he could require any corrective action he deemed appropriate. The developers could appeal to the city Planning Commission.

Neighborhood leaders and the district councilwoman, Anne Clutterbuck, praised the ordinance Friday. Clutterbuck said it was a first step toward a broader traffic impact ordinance that would apply to other types of developments.

It’s surprising to see action being taken as swiftly and decisively on this. This sort of regulation on development just doesn’t happen in that fashion in Houston. It’s always been slow and incremental. On the other hand, given the neighborhood affected and the outcry they’ve been able to generate, it’s not surprising at all.

As I’ve said before, if this leads to a more comprehensive review of city ordinances on development, then it’s a worthwhile exercise regardless of the outcome in this particular case. I just hope we don’t limit the scope to just traffic flow, which I think in this case may be overstated anyway. Things like parking, sewage and drainage are important, too – more so, in many cases. Rethinking our implementation of form-based planning, so that projects are more appropriate for the neighborhoods they’re in, would be a big step forward. I’ll be very interested to see how this plays out. Tory has some related commentary.

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2 Responses to Anti-Bissonnet high rise ordinance proposed

  1. IHB2 says:

    how can an ordinance be crafted and enacted now that will stop the developers’ existing plans w/o that ordinance being ex post facto?

  2. Baby Snooks says:

    The developer submitted a traffic impact study that the city approved and then rejected. That is probably the most glaring example of what’s wrong with all of this.

    The objections raised are the same objections raised about Sonoma in Rice Village and about Medical Clinic of Houston on Sunset. The difference is City Hall said little if anything about either Sonoma or Medical Clinic and certainly did absolutely nothing to stop either. Sorry, but as someone pointed out in the Houston Chronicle, that smacks of double standards and double dealing.

    Anne Clutterbuck is a Republican so her hypocrisy when it comes to “public- interest” versus “self-interest” is self-explanatory.

    What is the mayor’s excuse?

    Do we need better control over development in our city? Of course. But everyone is fooling themselves if they believe this ordinance will apply to anyone else. It won’t. It is filled with more holes for developers to slip through than a slab of Swiss cheese. Especially for developers who are also “friendly” with City Hall. The proponents of the ordinance don’t really care. They just simply want to stop the hirise on Bissonnet.

    The ordinance does nothing to address commercial development. And commercial development has impacted traffic far more than residential development.

    Just look at the mess in Galleria.

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