City building ordinance draws complaints

January 22, 2008 5:36:36 PM PST
Should a city ordinance affect the whole city or just one neighborhood? That's the debate pitting some homeowners against developers. The battle began when homeowners near the Museum District fought against a potential high rise. Now a city ordinance that could solve that problem is drawing complaints.

Homeowners living near the Ashby high rise development have been very effective in getting the attention of city hall. But the ordinance they want is facing some tough questioning from two very different sides -- residents in other neighborhoods who feel like they're excluded and developers who want the whole thing to just go away.

Depending on your point of view, land on the edge of the trendy Heights neighborhood could be a premiere location for a high rise condo called Viewpoint, or a huge headache for Gary Mosley's neighborhood.

"It's a narrow street," said Mosley. "We're concerned about the fire trucks getting through. People parking on the street and fire engines not being able to get through."

His battle sounds similar to the Ashby high rise controversy in Houston's Southhampton neighborhood. For months, homeowners there have waged a different battle against a potential high rise. They've pressured city hall and have gotten results. A draft ordinance targeting high density residential developments was considered by a city council committee on Tuesday.

"We just feel like we want to protect the environment that we have and we don't have room for this huge building right the middle of a single family area," said Anti Ashby activist Janet Spencer.

The ordinance is supposed to be city-wide, but in its current state, no other high rise developments underway would feel the impact and the development community says that points to a problem.

"The ship has probably already sailed at this point, and even though the ordinance is about a particular project, the irony is that it will probably not affect it," said Kendall Miller with Houstonians for Responsible Growth.

If the Viewpoint condos are built, it would adjoin a neighborhood residential street. But the way the high rise ordinance is written right now, this area wouldn't be affected.

So while the development community is worried the Ashby high rise ordinance would be too far encompassing, Mosley says he's worried it's not encompassing enough and leaves out other neighborhoods with similar battles.

"I'm hoping the mayor is truly looking at the citizens," said Mosely. "We're pretty much crying right now."

The ordinance is still a draft and can be altered. If more developments are included in the draft, it might make nearby homeowners happy. If the ordinance is loosened, it might make developers more at ease. No final decision has been made yet.

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