WSJ on the Ashby tower and Houston developmentLast week the Wall Street Journal had an article specifically discussing the controversial high-rise residential tower proposed for Ashby at Bissonnet (details and FAQ), but also broadly talking about the lack of zoning in Houston. Unfortunately, the article had definite overtones of "check out this crazy city without zoning," but there are still some good excerpts worth passing along:
Isn't it refreshing to have a thoughtful mayor that avoids pandering to the NIMBYs?
The latest controversy has reignited the land-use debate at a heady time for Houston, a port city of more than 2.1 million people. Buoyed by its surging energy industry, Houston has added tens of thousands of jobs in recent years amid rising rents for office and retail properties. To some developers, the lack of zoning creates an advantage because it keeps options open.
But other developers and investors say such land-use leniency creates unpredictability; unsavory projects might pop up nearby and sap the value of their investments.
Mayor White, a businessman who worked in real estate, law and other industries prior to his 2003 election, doesn't see zoning as the answer to Houston's issues. "Not on my watch," he said in an interview. "I do think, as we are in a strong economy and we live closer and closer together, there will be both new development and more rules to protect our common interests. But we will respect consumer choice and not have some bureaucrat in City Hall become the taste patrol for the city."
...proposed a tower complex that would include 23 stories of either 187 condos or 236 apartments, a restaurant, boutique grocery store and parking for 450 vehicles. They paid the city's impact fees for the development and financed $500,000 in sewer upgrades for the project at the city's request. Their initial study of the traffic the project would generate found "no adverse impacts" on surrounding streets. They anticipate that a second study with a broader scope will deliver the same verdict.This is something people have a hard time understanding: this land was valued and sold to these developers assuming a large-scale redevelopment, so just scaling it down or converting to townhomes is not an option when they've already paid many millions for just the land.
Bowing to the city's demands for a smaller project isn't an option, the developers say. They decline to say what they paid for the property. "Doing anything less dense is not economically feasible," Mr. Morgan says.
Um, sorry, but the sun doesn't work that way. It comes up on one side and goes down on the other, so you're pretty much guaranteed sun at least half of the day (think of it as a giant sundial). And wouldn't a little shadow be great in Houston's summers?
Despite the fervor of their opposition, neighbors aren't sure zoning is the answer. Houston voters have defeated proposals to implement citywide zoning three times, in 1948, 1962 and 1993.
Lam Nguyen bought a two-story house adjacent to the project's site two years ago, intending to renovate it and move in. Now he's not sure what he'll do, though he has peppered his front yard with signs opposing the condo tower. He says Houston's lack of zoning "helps the city grow. However, it should not be treated as a blank check, and that's what this developer is doing."
Fearing that the condo tower would leave her townhome in perpetual shadow,
Ms. Miller wrote an opinion piece for the local newspapers depicting the lack of land-use controls as a "threat to Houston's very soul."Huh? Isn't "Houston's very soul" continuous growth, redevelopment, adaptation, and vibrancy?
I've been thinking about it, and there are already residential towers all over Houston that coexist just fine next to residential neighborhoods in River Oaks, on Montrose and Shepherd, next to Hermann Park, on Alabama at the 59 spur, and all around the Galleria area. Traffic should certainly be a consideration, but you'd be surprised how much traffic even a simple two-lane road can move, and they seem to have passed their traffic studies.
If I were the developer, I would defuse this firestorm by offering the immediate neighborhood free access to the fitness center, spa, and pool - essentially no cost to him but a very nice perk for them. Combine that with the walkable access they'll be getting to a restaurant and a grocery store, and I think this development might actually make their property values increase, if anything.