Yesterday a Harris County jury determined that the Ashby high-rise project “was the wrong project at the wrong site,” awarding several plaintiffs just over $1.7 million in damages—if the project is built.
This case comes at an interesting time in Houston—which lacks any cohesive zoning ordinance—when developers commonly pit their interests against those of the community. As Houston continues its rapid growth, the city will need to find some way to appease the demand for development with the desire of residential areas to keep their distinctive aesthetic. And it’s not going to be easy. This latest trial only highlights the disparity between interests.
But some people are saying that the neighbors can’t have it both ways—advocating for a robust free market in Houston while simultaneously trying to curtail the lawful development of property through judicial means. Whatever happens with this case, the problem is not going away immediately. Unless —and until—we have a comprehensive zoning law, keep your eyes open for similar lawsuits in the near future.
What I find interesting, though, is the philosophy behind this sort of "NIMBY-ism." People are all for growth and development, until it happens in their own backyard—their own little kingdom. It's no secret that Houston is exploding in population, and that includes areas inside the Loop. People are moving here, and there's not a lot we can do to stop them. And if we are going to welcome them and be excited about the city's growth, it is going to take some compromise and sacrifice—especially on the part of people who live in the urban core. Gone are the days of 6600 square foot lots just a couple miles from downtown; the population growth won't support it. So when we come to those who extol Houston's growth out of one side of their mouth, but snarl at the growth in their backyard out of the other, what are we to make of it?
I think that people—and I am guilty of this, too—want growth and development as long as it comes at no cost to them. We want to become a premiere urban environment, but only if we don't have to drive on crowded streets, or give up our sense of sprawling space (or our parking space). We want the ideal without the toil and trade-offs it takes to get there. Because we are kings within ourselves, and the people around us are our subjects. No one will admit it, but I believe that's the real issue.
Maybe zoning will fix these problems. Maybe not. I can imagine the political circus that would accompany changing Houston from zoning-free to a comprehensive zoned plan. And still the root remains. We need to realize is that sometimes it's ok to "suffer" through a little crowdiness here and there if it means more people can enjoy our great city.