Fred Cook and Derek Pershing Join Panel on Development Conflicts
Fred Cook, a shareholder with Wilson Cribbs + Goren, PC, and Derek Pershing, an associate with the firm, recently spoke on a panel on “Land Use and Development Zoning Conflicts” hosted by the Real Estate and Construction Law Society of South Texas College of Law in Houston.
A specific conflict discussed during the one-hour conversation was the decade-long legal battle between residents of affluent Houston neighborhoods and Buckhead Investment Partners, a Houston development firm with plans to build a high-rise building at 1717 Bissonnet at Ashby — a project whose opponents labeled the “Ashby High Rise.”
In 2007, Buckhead applied for a city permit to build the previously proposed 23-story tower. The announcement was met with strong backlash from surrounding homeowners, who organized protests and filed complaints against construction of the tower. In 2013, attorneys Cook and Pershing, along with other Wilson Cribbs + Goren attorneys, defended 1717 against numerous neighborhood plaintiffs who filed a nuisance lawsuit. Opponents asserted that the tower would create problematic traffic, damage the structures of surrounding homes, and lower property values in the area and asked the jury to award $40,000,000 in damages.
After a month-long trial, the jury awarded nuisance damages on behalf of some of the closest neighboring properties, but no damages for the more remote neighbors. The judge substantially reduced the jury’s damage award, but did not enjoin the construction of the project. Both parties are appealing and the appellate decision is pending.
According to South Texas College of Law Professor Matthew Festa, the case has an opportunity to set a precedent in Houston, where a lack of zoning laws has resulted in “de facto zoning” that could hurt development in some neighborhoods. Copycat suits are springing up across Houston and around the nation, and some developers are adding a line item to their budgets for seemingly inevitable legal fees.Click here to read more on the panel discussion.