Developer's Current Status
The proposed development at 1717 Bissonnet is located on a long-established commercial section of a major collector street served by one of the top five most utilized Metro bus lines in the city. It is within walking or cycling distance of: the Main Street and Richmond Avenue Metro Rail lines; Rice University; the Texas Medical Center; all of Houston’s major museums; Hermann Park, with its outdoor theater and golf course; the Houston Zoo, and the Rice Village shopping area.
The documents approved in August 2009 confirm how the City’s arbitrary application of an old and arcane Driveway Ordinance to limit the amount of traffic that theoretically would be generated one-half mile away forced the developer to eliminate the very elements designed to foster pedestrian, not vehicular, traffic in the area and to integrate the project into the adjacent neighborhoods. Changes included elimination of a small retail store, a wellness spa and a handful of private offices. Also, a pedestrian plaza in front of the residences was replaced with a driveway. Buckhead Investment Partners has reserved the right to challenge and appeal these important losses to the original design.
The developer is confident that the project satisfies the Driveway Ordinance, if reasonably applied, remains committed to the project and will pursue its rights for a permit for the original design under applicable regulations in place on July 31, 2007.
Concerns for the Real Estate & Development Community
The re-interpretation of the Driveway Ordinance adds a new dimension to the permitting process for all new development:
The Driveway Ordinance regulates Driveway Permits, is ambiguous, has been unilaterally expanded in scope by Mayoral fiat, and provides for subjective interpretation by the City Engineer (who traditionally has not been responsible for traffic - the current City Engineer is a hydrologist) to indirectly regulate density. Previously, traffic staff handled Driveway Permits.
The City has approved, then revoked approval of, a Traffic Impact Analysis by an acknowledged traffic engineering firm (the key principal of which is former assistant head of Traffic for the City), which concluded that the project will not have a material adverse impact on Bissonnet and that no mitigation is warranted. This practice is unprecedented in the City of Houston.
The City indicates that projects on streets near their “design capacity” must reduce density unless the City approves traffic mitigation efforts. This has never been done before.
The City changed its position on this project due to political pressure and sought to stop a project after City staff acknowledged that the project meets applicable rules. All future development is now subject to political veto.
The City has not been forthcoming with clear standards. Thus, the developer is unable to propose mitigation to satisfy City concerns. The City Engineer consistently refers to nebulous criteria like the “nature and volume of the traffic on” and the “dimensions and conditions of Bissonnet” in his denial comments. Requests to share the specific data and provide standards are denied. Clear standards are necessary for predictability in future development decisions.
The City’s arbitrarily application of the Driveway Ordinance to force the developer to eliminate mixed-use amenities completely contradicts City officials’ statements that they want new development inside the Loop to create a “walkable Houston”. Their action not only removes predictability from the development process but also results in the loss of millions of dollars in value to this project and deprives the adjacent neighborhoods of substantial amenities and the City of significant tax revenues.
It is important for the future growth of the City that its government follows the law consistently as written and that the law is not contorted to reach political ends.