Ashby’s Getting High… the price we pay for lax Houston zoning

At long last, we finally have our answer to this most ugly feud. Mayor Parker sent a letter essentially putting the “nail in the coffin” to Southampton’s vehement protests, stating that the city has reached a final settlement with Buckhead development and that Ashby High Rise will get built. After five years of bickering, frivolous lawsuits, 10 rejected city permits, and a host of adult tantrums that could compete for the best reality tv moments on Toddlers and Tiaras, the devlopers have won. And they won by doing what all Houston developers do… abiding by Houston’s laws. Sadly, some of the worst may be yet to come, as the Southampton Civic Club promises to mobilize against Parker and Council Member Ellen Cohen if they don’t get their way.

The big gaping loophole that Southampton residents don’t want to address?? The city of Houston does not have basic, comprehensive zoning laws. Granted there are some city ordinances that have cropped around parking and land size, but there is nothing to actually protect a neighborhood from having a high rise built in the middle of it. The latest attempt at a vote was in 1994, and was overwhelmingly defeated in a low-turnout referendum. Now many argue that there are big advangtages to this… of which the most prominent is affordable housing throughout the city. But then there’s the dirty side of the storm seen through fights like this one. The Ashby High Rise wasn’t just a citizen group in protest, but elevated to become a very ugly stain on Houston’s political history.

Not to be negative towards the citizens of Southampton… in fact I agree with them that the location of this development is terrible, and will add more traffic to cripplingly busy intersection. But instead of spending thousands of dollars to demonize the developers, they missed an opportunity to put zoning on the ballot and let Houstonians decide. Remember the red-light camera debacle? As many complaints as were lodged against the city then, the ballot measure has ensured their removal. Done. END OF STORY. This could have also been the fate of Ashby High Rise, if the residents of Southampton had put 1/4th the energy they did in screaming signs and transferred it to the ballot box. What we have yet to figure out… until the citizens of Houston come together and put comprehensive zoning in place, there will always be another Ashby. And in the end, the developers will win that fight too.

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