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More on directing density

We know that the city’s Planning Department is prepping a draft ordinance that would add some restrictions to highrise construction in parts of the city outside designated areas. Here’s the Chron story about it.

The proposed ordinance was written in response to the controversy over the project known as the Ashby high-rise, a real estate development planned several years ago near upscale homes around Rice University.

“The one thing Ashby did was raise the level of interest from a lot of our neighborhoods. A lot of them have voiced to us they don’t want to see something similar in their neighborhood,” said Suzy Hartgrove, a spokeswoman for the municipal Planning & Development Department.


The ordinance would require that developers leave a 50-foot buffer along the sides of buildings adjacent to or within 30 feet of single-family homes or land restricted to single-family development.

The buffer would have to include 10 feet of landscaping, trees, and an 8-foot-tall masonry wall. Mechanical equipment or covered parking wouldn’t be allowed in the buffer zone. In addition, taller parts of the building would have to be set back farther than the ground floor.

Joshua Sanders, executive director of Houstonians for Responsible Growth, sees the additional setbacks on upper floors as too limiting, but supports the draft’s overall language.

“It does strike a very good balance between neighborhood protection and encouraging high-density development in areas that can handle these types of projects,” said Sanders, who served on Mayor Annise Parker’s transition committee on development when she took office at the beginning of 2010.

Just as a reminder, Houstonians for Responsible Growth is a developer-heavy group that “organized in response to a significant number of proposals by the City of Houston proposing stringent land-use controls.” For them to be basically okay with this ordinance says a lot. Note that there is nothing in the ordinance the forbids building a highrise in a residential neighborhood. Even with the new ordinance, you can still build something up to six or seven stories without triggering its regulations. Above that would require some design changes, but doesn’t otherwise say No. Common sense says that highrises belong some places and not others. There’s certainly room to haggle over the details, but there’s nothing in this to get alarmed about.

Well, except for this guy:

Kevin Kirton of Buckhead declined to discuss the status of the Ashby project because of the ongoing litigation, but said he doesn’t believe the proposed new ordinance would affect it.

“We have an approved set of plans and still have an application with the city,” he said.

To Kirton, the ordinance looks a lot like zoning, which he said Houston does not need.

“I think deed restrictions and the existing land use controls work just fine,” he said.

Dude. Your project is Exhibits A through Z of the reasons why our existing land controls don’t work. This new ordinance should be called the Buckhead Memorial Don’t Be Pigheaded About Where You Build Highrises Ordinance. If it weren’t for the litigious duo of Kevin Kirton and Matthew Morgan, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

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