Citizens and City at Odds Over Ashby Hi-Rise

After nearly three months of analysis, the city of Houston is almost finished on a draft ordinance that would affect the proposed Ashby high-rise. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the draft in its current form isn't making very many people happy.

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The draft ordinance would require certain proposed high density developments undergo a traffic impact study. The study would show whether the development could have a serious negative impact on mobility in residential areas. But in its current form, the ordinance would only apply to the Ashby high-rise and have no effect on any other high-density developments. City of Houston Planning and Development Director Andy Icken says there's a reason for that.

"We wanted to avoid unintended consequences, again a rifle shot not a shotgun to this approach. And clearly it's been our intent from the beginning that in no way do we want to discourage economic development for the ongoing health of the City of Houston.ξ So those are why we've chosen this to be a narrowly defined, focused ordinance."

Icken says they're trying to target a very dense project in the middle of a residential community. But not everyone agrees that's a good idea. Jim Gustavson represents a group called Houstonians for Responsible Growth. He suggested to councilmembers that this ordinance could leave the city open to lawsuits in the future.

"We have worked in good faith over the past three months to arrived at a reasonable city ordinance focused on traffic congestion as a consequence of building. Unfortunately, the current ordinance being considered is not really a traffic or density ordinance, but a spot-zoning ordinance that may have far-reaching and unwanted consequences on the city."

Gustavon might not be the most neutral critic of the ordinance, he does represent commercial development. But even strong opponants of the Ashby High-Rise were on hand to raise concerns about what the city is proposing. Bruce Wallace lives in the neighborhood near the site.ξ He says the ordinance has been watered down since it was originally drafted.

"The neighborhoods deserve protection from overly dense development such as the 23-story Ashby high-rise. Your challenge is to see that the ordinance provides a degree of neighborhood protection that's fair to all homeowners. The ordinance presented is not there yet."

Out of ten public speakers on both sides of the issue, less than half spoke in full support of the current draft. The city will hold two more meetings with stakeholders as they work toward a final draft. The planning department intends to present the final ordinance to city council on February 6th. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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