The City of Houston is trying to sneak through backdoor zoning in Mayor Turner’s lame-duck last year by rushing through an ordinance authorizing “conservation districts” where 51% of a neighborhood can impose a form-based code on all the owners there (Chronicle, NPR).
“The draft recommendation characterizes conservation districts as “a more flexible way for property owners to protect their community’s character and address other concerns stemming from redevelopment.” Toward that end, these districts could regulate a variety of elements including minimum lot size; lot width and depth; front, side and rear setbacks; building height; and architectural style.”
By charter, zoning is illegal in Houston without being authorized by the voters, but this is an end-run by the mayor and the council around that restriction.
Had this ordinance existed 30 years ago, Houston would not have experienced the wonderful townhome and apartment densification we’ve had, including the attendant affordability. Central Houston would have instead evolved like West U or Bellaire, with massive expensive McMansions on large lots displacing middle-income families. It would have been a disaster, and it will be now if it passes. It will give a powerful tool to NIMBYs all over the city to kill development and force stagnation on their neighborhoods, and more broadly kill the vibrancy, dynamism, and affordability of Houston itself.
This piece first appeared at Houston Strategies.
Tory Gattis is a Founding Senior Fellow with the Urban Reform Institute and co-authored the original study with noted urbanist Joel Kotkin and others, creating a city philosophy around upward social mobility for all citizens as an alternative to the popular smart growth, new urbanism, and creative class movements. He is also an editor of the Houston Strategies blog.