Ashby High-Rise Hits Roadblock

The company Buckhead Investment Partners has been trying to develop the Ashby high-rise since 2007. The original plan called for a 23-story mixed use tower that would include luxury apartments, restaurants, retail space and offices.

But the problem is the location: the busy corner of Bissonnet and Ashby in an affluent residential neighborhood.

Houston Mayor Bill White says the city's concern is the traffic flowing in and out of the parking lot.

"I do think that there ought to be additional restrictions and policies and scrutinies of high-rise structures, high-density structures in residential neighborhoods on — that are outside of the major thoroughfares. I think the major thoroughfares are a better place to build some of the high-density structures."

A traffic impact study showed the development would generate an average of 184 trips in and out of the driveway during peak hours. City engineers denied the permit, saying the project would be detrimental to traffic flow.

The company appealed the city's decision.

However, councilmembers, including Peter Brown, were unanimous in upholding the appeal board's decision to deny the appeal.

"There's nothing in the record that would indicate that the city engineer or director of public works did not exercise very sound, professional judgment according to best practices in ruling that this was not consistent with our ordinances."

The developers, who were not present at the city council meeting, changed their plan, reducing the amount of apartments and retailξspace. The new plan, which brings traffic impact down to 120 trips during peak hours, was approved. But the developers argue it changes the scope of the project, making it less marketable and profitable.

Mayor White bristled at the suggestion that the city is simply trying to halt a project that's unpopular with wealthy homeowners.

Reporter: "Did Ashby high-rise get unfairly targeted? I mean is this a situation where a bunch of homeowners got to say we don't want this in our neighborhood?"

Mayor: "No. No. No, it didn't and I'll tell you why. Because there were multiple meetings for major developments that we've had and based on what the commitments I made when I got elected — my direction to public works was that we wanted to attract people to invest within the city limits and the one thing I thought we needed to tighten up was the scrutiny on these projects on their traffic impact."

Technically the developers have a permit to build a modified version of the Ashby high-rise. It remains to be seen if they'll move forward with construction, or possibly file a lawsuit against the city, or simply give up altogether.

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