November 4th, 2010
Houston Zoning – The Hole In Our Heart?
We’ve discussed city planning here before, but I think it’s time to touch on the somewhat controversial but interesting topic of zoning. You know, those regulations that keep a strip club from being built next to a school or your neighbor from building a 7-11 on his property. The City of Houston has actually proposed zoning multiple times: 1948, 1962, and 1993, and each time it was rejected. This begs the question, would zoning work here? And, more importantly, do we need zoning?
A good chunk of Houston has introduced deed restrictions via homeowner’s associations, but the city proper still has no real zoning laws. There are rules regarding schools and sexual businesses, but nothing regarding commercial vs. residential property or sidewalk setback, and still, without most of these rules in place, Houston has continued to grow.
One interesting aspect to all of this is the movement to create historic districts in order to protect homes from being knocked down. Both sides of the argument are fervent in their beliefs, but I think there is a middle ground. For example, introducing zoning laws that account for housing over a certain age and knockdown procedures for such properties would allow the homeowner to retain their rights while making it unpopular to demolish old homes.
Another upside of zoning is the ability to change bus routes to suit the way areas are zoned. Better distribution of bus stops in residential areas would make it easier for people to use mass transit. You could also cut down the number of stops in commercial areas by strategically placing the bus stops. We could save some gas and make it easier for people to get to and from commercial areas and their homes.
There are downsides of course. The major one is that we have gone so long without zoning in place that we would have to do a lot of tearing down in order to build back up. Families and businesses would be displaced as areas underwent a transformation. There is also the chance that the zoning rules would be abused, with certain places being spot zoned to residential or commercial on the whim of a council member.
Whichever side you are on, something has to be done. The sprawl is getting to the point of being ridiculous. Let’s get some ideas out there and start making some changes. What do you think Houston?