Wealth and Power in Stopping Construction in Houston

November 14th, 2013

My colleague Matt Festa comments in the Houston Chronicle about efforts by affluent neighborhood trying to stop the construction of a high-rise business facility.

To fund these efforts, the East San Felipe Association was established as a nonprofit. On its website, StopSanFelipeSkyscraper.org, it states that current and anticipated expenses have already mounted into thousands of dollars, including the cost of engineering and traffic studies, legal and consulting fees, printing the signs and fliers and website hosting.

“Please be as generous as possible, within your means,” the website urges. “Contributions of $1,000 or more per household would be consistent with the requirements of this project, although we welcome every contribution no matter how small.”

A representative declined to say how much has been raised or spent so far. Ogg said 500 people have signed petitions and letters submitted to the city.

Matt makes important points about how in an unzoned city, this is the primary way of stopping these devleopments:

The neighborhood’s fight recalls the efforts of Southampton residents who have fought the Ashby high-rise for the last six years, said Matthew Festa, a South Texas College of Law professor who specializes in property law and land use. That project, at 1717 Bissonnet, is now under construction.

“You have a situation with an affluent neighborhood with resources, a heightened level of interest and stake in the outcome,” Festa said.

That raises an equality issue, Festa said, about who can muster the most resources to fight a development. While the amount of money and time spent does not guarantee legal success, well-funded efforts may elicit more attention and generate public pressure.

“Even the River Oaks crowd may lose, but they are willing to write a check,” Festa said. “In the long-term, higher-level scholars who study this field are asking questions like: Do these wealth disparities argue for more generalized command and control or less?

“It’s not clear which way it’s going.”