Houston Chronicle: “The Ashby ordeal may open a can of worms.”

December 22nd, 2013

The Houston Chronicle editorializes about the recent Ashby trial verdict.

Houston has zoning, if you have the cash. That’s the lesson from the fight over the Ashby high-rise.

Last week, after years of petitions, protests and legal wrangling to stop developers from building the 21-story residential tower, a Harris County jury awarded to 20 nearby residents nearly $1.7 million in damages anticipated from the building’s construction. State District Judge Randy Wilson will soon hold a hearing to determine if the whole project should be shut down.

This is no way to regulate development in Houston. These sorts of decisions belong in a planning commission, not a courtroom. Proper development requires predictability, and this court case sets a dangerous precedent for construction at the whim of those who can afford high-priced attorneys. Arbitrary enforcement of tenuous nuisance claims is no way to plan a city.

Houston needs responsible development to help shape our city into a place where people not only come to work, but want to live. Incentives for dense development along transit corridors can help guide construction without the burdens of full-fledged zoning. But this trial does little to help us get there.

I agree with this editorial entirely. This case represents backdoor zoning for the wealthy.

I made similar comments to the Chronicle earlier this week.

“This represents back-door zoning for wealthy people to stop developments in neighborhoods,” Blackman said. “This gives a powerful veto to the residents.”