High-Rise Brouhaha in Downtown Houston

     HOUSTON (CN) - A 17-story office building being built on a residential lot in Houston will create a traffic "disaster" and cast an "enormous shadow" over surrounding homes, neighbors claim in a lawsuit that aims to stop the project.
     Lead plaintiff Jack Ogg, an attorney and former Texas state senator, sued 2229 San Felipe LLC in Harris County Court.
     The building's first eight floors will contain a 400-car parking garage. The upper floors will house "boutique" office space geared toward "small scale" tenants, the developer Hines says on a website dedicated to the project.
     The high-rise is going up on less than 1 acre in Houston's River Oaks neighborhood, the geographic heart of the city, and one of the wealthiest in Texas.
     Ogg calls the building "the wrong project in the wrong place." He says more than 1,000 property owners have signed a petition opposing the project.
     Hines claims a traffic study it commissioned concluded "the project will result in little to no change in the level of service at each intersection in the study area."
     Ogg disagrees.
     "There is simply no way to mitigate the traffic problems that would be generated by putting a 17-story high-rise office building, with a 400-car garage on the first 8 floors of the building, in the middle of what is primarily a residential neighborhood," Ogg says in the lawsuit.
     In addition, Ogg says, the building will create traffic hazards for parents dropping off and picking up their children at nearby River Oaks Elementary School.
     "The building would block the sun and create an enormous shadow over many of the surrounding homes and would block the rain from reaching the yards of adjoining properties," Ogg claims. "This would inevitably damage plaintiffs' grass, shrubs and trees."
     The plaintiffs' attorney John Boswell told Courthouse News that he looked at the case for more than a month before taking it on, and believes with the 1,000 cars a day the building will add to the area's already congested roads, "the homeowners need representation; there needs to be a hearing about this."
     "Long before I got involved, Jack Ogg and some of the other owners out there met with Hines and tried to negotiate some sort of settlement, saying that if you'll come in and consider building a five- or six-story building, something like that in this area, that would be acceptable and we wouldn't have any objection. But not the 17-story building on one residential lot," Boswell said in a telephone interview.
     Boswell said the high-rise will take about 18 months to build and area residents are "already having problems with dump trucks and parking and noise."
     Hines claims the growing pains are worth it as the building will provide much-needed office space in the area.
     "The building will benefit the community by addressing a significant demand for new office space in this rapidly growing part of town," Hines public relations chief George Lancaster said in an email.
     "It will also create valuable jobs and create significant property tax revenues for the City of Houston. 2229 San Felipe is fully permitted by the city and complies with all applicable building codes and other legal requirements. 2229 San Felipe, LLC has given special attention throughout the design process to minimize noise, protect privacy, limit light pollution, minimize traffic impact, and create a sustainable, energy efficient building that will be a valuable asset to the community. "The building's fate rests with state judge Michael Gomez, who will consider the plaintiffs' demand for an injunction to stop its construction, and damages for the loss of value to their properties if the project goes forward.