Forget the two-story house and the swimming pool that sits next to it. Never mind the deck or the playground or the big backyard, which features shade trees and small hills that slope toward an adjacent gully.
The most valuable piece of Gary Mosley’s property might be a corner of his lot he doesn’t really use – except to keep away a slab of concrete and several unwelcome, would-be neighbors.
The southeast edge of Mosley’s homestead in the Heights blocks what could be an extension of East 5th Street across the gully, through some woods and toward the Heights Hike and Bike Trail to the east. He has used that piece of his property, along with repeated efforts to rally the support of his neighbors, to help prevent the development of a nearby complex of condominiums.
A subsidiary of Canada-based LSR Communities, which owns a 1.3-acre plot of land along the trail, has made repeated attempts to construct a drive from the end of 5th Street and recently tried again. Viewpoint at the Heights LP also owns a piece of the land immediately to the east of the dead end and has tried to buy the corresponding piece from Mosley, who refuses to sell.
Mosley, a father of three daughters, considers a bridge that would run along his fence line to be an immediate danger.
Mosley, a local restaurateur who has lived there since 2004, has spent the last 15 years fighting the planned development next door. He keeps winning, while LSR Communities, which purchased its property in 2004, continues to be at a loss.
There is no road leading to the land, which at one point was listed as 0 Frasier St. by the Harris County Appraisal District but is now 0 E. 5th St. LSR has made multiple attempts to extend 5th as well as Frasier, which stops just north of the trail, but to no avail.
In many cases, the developer’s plans have been denied by the Texas Department of Transportation or City of Houston. In other cases it has refused to compromise on its desire to build a multi-family structure instead of a single-family residence. In at least one instance, LSR squandered an opportunity granted by the city.
LSR executive Ben Lemieux said he didn’t know the property lacked a viable access point when he purchased it. He said the company also has been unable to sell it, with one of the prospective buyers being the Houston Parks Board.
“So we’re trapped,” Lemieux said. “Now we cannot be trapped anymore.”
Along those lines, a new multi-part variance request on LSR’s behalf was recently submitted to the city’s Planning & Development Department. A hearing with the Houston Planning Commission was scheduled for Thursday, but a city spokesperson said the request was withdrawn Wednesday.
So just like the developer’s previous variance requests during the last 15 years, the latest one fell flat. It sought permission to build a private drive from the end of 5th Street, rather than an extension of the street for public use, and to have 35 feet of frontage instead of the required 60 feet.
Margaret Wallace Brown, the interim director of the planning department, said Tuesday that it likely would not recommend approval of the variance request to the planning commission. Mayor Sylvester Turner, through a spokesperson, said Wednesday morning that he also opposed the variance application.
“We have concerns about supporting it,” Wallace Brown said. “We believe the street will be too narrow to adequately provide public safety, primarily in terms of fire trucks.”
Same song, different verse
That is a familiar refrain to Louis Conrad of Surge Homes, another subsidiary of LSR. Conrad has been involved with the project for much of the last 15 years and said the developer has often acted on suggestions from city officials, only to have its proposals ultimately turned away.
Citing a Texas law that states land owners must have access to their property, Conrad said earlier this week that he would consider pursuing legal action if the latest variance request was denied. He also said the request was similar to previous ones.
“Not much difference, except it’s the last time we try with the variance process,” he said. “We will go the legal route after that.”
Bill Baldwin, a planning commission member and prominent Realtor in the Heights, disputed the notion that LSR does not have access to its property. He said the developer would not need permission from the city to construct a private drive for a single-family residence.
Conrad said he has not considered such a plan because it would not make for an adequate return on the developer’s investment.
“We’re not denying him access,” Baldwin said. “He can drive a tractor or a Bentley (to the property). The city doesn’t really care. But he doesn’t have access for 40 condominium units. That’s the way I understand it.”
Marlene Gafrick, director of the planning department from 2005-13, said she “saw this project several times and several different variations” during her tenure. LSR wanted to extend Frasier Street to its property and was initially denied by the TxDOT, according to an October 2004 letter copied to Conrad.
At the time, TxDOT controlled the abandoned railway just south of Frasier’s end point. The land was subsequently converted to a hike and bike trail and is now controlled by the city, according to Baldwin, and the idea of extending Frasier is no longer being entertained.
It was at one time, however, according to city planner Aracely Rodriguez. She said records indicate the developer had a plat approved in 2010, without the need for a variance, to construct a drive connecting Frasier to 5th Street with a roundabout in between.
Rodriguez said the plat was never recorded with the county clerk and lapsed after one year. She said the developer also had plats approved to put a cul-de-sac terminus at the end of 5th Street, in 2007 and 2012, but also failed to record the plats and let them expire.
Conrad questioned the validity of the plat approvals in 2007 and 2010 but acknowledged that his company wasted the chance to construct a cul-de-sac in 2012, saying it “was our fault.” He said that was around the same time that LSR’s founder and Lemieux’s father, Serge, died unexpectedly, so the company shifted its priorities for a period of time.
Conrad also said that if he knew in 2004 what he knows now, “We would have never bought the tract.”
It’s far from worthless, however, having recently been appraised by HCAD for $423,836. So LSR could keep trying to develop it and keep trying to sell it, which means it could keep seeking a viable access point.
Mosley, meanwhile, will keep doing all he can to stop that from happening near his property. He said rainwater drains from that part of 5th Street into the gully and then into nearby White Oak Bayou, which mitigates flooding.
“I think people have a right to build when it’s sensible, when it makes sense,” he said. “I do know when it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense.”