I’ve chronicled over the past few years an emerging phenomenon in Houston, a city without a formal zoning code, that neighbors have started to file nuisance suits to stop the construction of new developments. These cases stem from the now-infamous Ashby High Rise trial. Such a suit was filed in the affluent River Oaks Shopping Center by the owners of luxury condos. They seek to stop the construction of (of all things!) a home for elderly residents.
Erin Mulvaney of the Houston Chronicle has the story:
The latest battle over land use in Houston is between luxury condo owners who live near River Oaks Shopping Center and a developer planning to build nearby senior housing.
Seven residents who live in the high-end Gotham Lofts and Renoir Lofts complain that the mid-rise facility planned for a site between their buildings on South Shepherd will harm their property values, in part because of potential emergency vehicle visits needed by elderly residents, according to a lawsuit filed in Harris County Civil Court this month.
Lawsuits against planned development have gained more attention in recent years, particularly following the high-profile battle between some residents near Rice University and the developers of the planned 21-story Ashby high-rise, which the residents claimed was out of place in the neighborhood. This latest case has a bit of a twist in that the condo residents also live in mid-rise buildings and are most concerned about the planned use of the new development, rather than its scale.
Houston-based Bridgewood Property owns the nearly 2-acre tract at 1015 South Shepherd Drive, where it plans to open The Village at River Oaks in 2016. The site has been razed to prep for building a nine-story, 80,000-square-feet assisted-living and senior living care facility, the suit says. The facility will include 193 units and a 250-vehicle parking lot.
The residents who filed suit live in condo buildings that boast floor plans between 2,500 and 3,000 square feet on either side of the site. They want damages of more than $1 million and are seeking to halt construction, according to the Harris County court documents.
The developer asserts that this case is in no way like Ashby, although interestingly the developer conceded that the site was chosen to avoid Ashby problems:
“Obviously, this is not an Ashby high-rise situation,” attorney Lee Larkin said. “One of the reasons Jim selected this site was because it did fit in with surrounding properties and seemed an appropriate location for it.”
He added that the residents mischaracterized the project as a hospital or nursing home. Neither is accurate, he said, adding that the city of Houston determined the project would have such a low impact that it would not require an extensive traffic study, as many of the seniors will not have cars.
I am quoted at the end with a discussion of how Ashby has and will potentially chill development:
The residents may have been empowered to file suit because of previous cases, said Josh Blackman, assistant professor at the South Texas College of Law. Residents who don’t like developments can file these suits and hope to get a favorable jury and potentially could get some money, he said
“This basically puts the developers between a rock and a hard place,” Blackman said. “A developer can get all his permits and at the last minute, this lawsuit could bring them to court. … It could put a crimp in the planning for Houston developers.”
A temporary injunction hearing is set for Monday, where residents will seek to halt the project.