A simple rule for high-rise developmentThe ordinance being developed to target the Ashby high-rise is making no one happy, so they're looking at a delay of many months to rework it. In the meantime, the city will pull out a 69-year old driveway permit law giving a city engineer power to block it. Sheesh. Talk about striking fear and risk into the hearts of developers. Pay big money for land and plan a development, but if important people hassle the mayor enough, a city bureaucrat will find an arcane regulation to shut you down. This is not a healthy situation.
I've stated before that I think the Ashby situation has been blown way out of proportion by the neighborhood. Plenty of very high-end neighborhoods in Houston have very tall residential towers next to them with no problems at all (including River Oaks). And from the analyses I've heard, it would add less than 1% to Bissonnet traffic. A weak argument indeed.
That said, there seems to be a general clamoring for "neighborhood protection" from citizens, and for predictability from the developers. This situation needs to be defused before laws with some really bad side effects get passed. And it needs to be simplified and objectified too. Some of the language I've heard proposed for the ordinance is arcane in the extreme, involving detailed calculations and "traffic studies" with plenty of room for bias and subjectivity.
Most people seem to agree high-rise towers don't belong on small streets in single-family neighborhoods. In Houston, we have an arterial grid (roughly) that tends to have commercial on the arterials with residential behind, in the interiors of the arterial blocks. It seems reasonable to restrict anything over 6 stories high (a typical apartment complex, 4 floors on top of 2 levels of parking) to fronting major arterials.
I think "major arterials" could be defined as 4-lanes if two-way, or 2-lanes if one-way (as some feeders are), as well as any road with high-capacity fixed-guideway transit (LRT or BRT). That would eliminate the Ashby high-rise, since Bissonnet is only 2-3 lanes in that area (with a middle turn lane). But it does seem to retroactively allow almost every other high-rise in the city I can think of, as well as allow plenty of density where people seem to want it, like Downtown and Midtown.
Of course, there will be cases where a high-rise may make sense off of one of these arterials (like next to a large park, or inside an office park development), and in those cases developers should be able to apply to the planning commission for a variance just as they do for all sorts of developments today.
This seems to strike the right balance of allowing densificiation and helping maintain affordability through plenty of supply, while protecting off-arterial residential areas. On-arterial single-family residential (such as Beechnut in my neighborhood of Meyerland) is usually deed restricted, so it's already protected.
As always, let me know what you think in the comments.
Update: Chronicle update on Ashby negotiations.