Residents voice concerns over Ashby settlement

March 12, 2012 8:15:06 PM PDT
For one community near Rice University, the term Ashby High Rise is a toxic one. The development deal for it is done, but the debate is not.

On Monday night, there was a community meeting near Ashby and Bissonnet, where the high rise will soon stand.

Despite it being the first night of spring break, about 500 people attended the meeting. The goal was to help opponents understand the city's position on this controversial project but much of the discussion just made people more frustrated.

In front of packed house and a sometimes not so friendly crowd, Mayor Annise Parker took questions and also listened to people's frustrations.

"I'm so mad and so disappointed, I'm not sure I can present these remarks," opponent Mack Fowler said.

Monday night was the first time residents opposed to the Ashby High Rise development had a chance to speak out since the city announced a settlement with the developer. In return for dropping their $40 million lawsuit, the project with some modifications will move forward.

"I believe I've exhausted every legal means to stop this project," Mayor Parker said.

The mayor says the city is getting more controls. The agreement reduces the number of stories from 23 to 21, adds sound, light and aesthetic barriers, as well as a shuttle service designed to reduce traffic.

Still, people are skeptical.

Earlier, they stood together once again in protest and were just as suspicious behind the microphone.

"I find it hard to believe that there's going to be any controls during the construction process," opponent Katie Sherborne said.

"We've been concerned about this project from Day 1," opponent Scott Van Dyke said.

Silence filled the room only once, when the lawyer for the development group faced the crowd to explain what they're getting out of a settlement.

"I think that the settlement allows them to move forward," plaintiff's lawyer Stephen Adler said.

This has been a five-year fight.

"No matter what happens here, I can assure you this ain't over," said Jim Reeder with the Stop Ashby High Rise task force.

Many left either more determined or more upset.

"I think they're angrier now than they were going in because they put everybody in the position of there's nothing we can do about and that's how the city starts everything," opponent Camille Murphy said.

The developer, Buckhead Investment Partners, will still have to adhere to all of the city's construction ordinances and there will be a permitting process for that, and you bet those residents will be watching it closely.

The city attorney suggests designating a committee to work with this developer to "ease the pain."

We worked on this story with help from our friends at Houston Community Newspapers. You can read more in the Bellaire Examiner.