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Ready or not, here comes Chapter 42

Changes are coming to Chapter 42, the section of Houston’s ordinances that deal with density and development, and to Chapter 26, the section on off-street parking for bars and restaurants and what have you.

The revisions would allow neighborhoods to create special parking areas tailored to their needs, reduce parking requirements for historic buildings, allow the substitution of bike parking for car spaces, loosen rules on how close lots must be to a building’s front door, and make it easier for businesses to share parking.

Bar and restaurant owners would be most impacted by the new rules. Some eateries – dessert shops, carryout restaurants – would need less parking, but requirements on most restaurants would go from eight spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area to 10, with bars going from 10 to 14.

“We’re trying to redevelop our city, we’re trying to bring renewal and think over the next 10, 15, 20 years. Part of that is to build more walkability into our city,” said Councilman Ed Gonzalez. “I don’t want the parking requirements to be onerous for a small mom and pop shop. The focus should be on building more businesses in those communities, not building more parking lots just to meet, maybe, an arbitrary number that we’re coming up with.”

David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow, a nonprofit that works on quality of life issues, has quibbles with both proposed rewrites, but said his key concern is broader.

“We’re not having the right conversation,” he said. “Rather than do all these Band-Aids – and there’s so many of them going on and they often actually disagree with each other, they’re in conflict – why don’t we just do a general plan for the future in which you say, ‘This is how we want to develop and these are the goals we want to have, and so we’ll build transportation and so forth to meet those goals.'”

[…]

“If council fails to adopt these amendments, many areas between 610 and the Beltway will remain underdeveloped, blighted and abandoned, while development will rapidly continue inside the Loop and outside the city limits,” said builder Ed Taravella.

Some residents are wary, however, saying the push for density inside the Loop has hurt neighborhood aesthetics and created infrastructure problems, compounded by a lack of city enforcement. That would only worsen if development density extends citywide, they say.

The evidence from the 1999 changes to the ordinance is clear, said Jane West, president of Super Neighborhood 22 in the Washington Avenue area.

“Although it was hoped that this redevelopment would create transit-served pedestrian-friendly environment, in most cases that has not happened. And in many cases, problems such as flooding, inadequate drainage, traffic congestion, and lack of sufficient on-street parking have worsened,” she said. “There’s no reason to believe the expansion of Chapter 42 urban standards beyond Loop 610 will yield a different result.”

What I said about this the last time still holds true. There is a need to unify the development code and treat outside the Loop in the same fashion as inside the Loop, but the issues Jane West addresses are real. Ideally, what I want to see out of this is the encouraging of development in parts of town that really need redevelopment, greater emphasis on walkability, more investment in transit, and a sense of urgency about making life closer in more attractive and affordable. A lot to ask, I know, but we only do this every couple of decades, so let’s try to get it right.

Some of the concerns about revising Chapter 42 and the effect it would have on inner Loop neighborhoods can be addressed via increased enforcement, as Mayor Parker noted in the story. I would hope that this acknowledged need for increased enforcement can be addressed in the next budget, since I’m sure there aren’t enough inspectors and whoever else is needed to handle the current caseload, let alone the caseload that would result from the hoped-for boom in construction that updating Chapter 42 would bring. I feel this is even more true for Chapter 26, the off-street parking ordinances.

Heugel’s Anvil bar is just south of the Cherryhurst neighborhood, where June Spencer is civic club president. Heugel has been a good neighbor, she said, but other area bars and clubs and the popular Hugo’s restaurant, despite its on-site parking lot, have created parking problems.

“I have them parking all along the side of my house, the front of my house. They’re loud at night, they don’t even try to be considerate. They throw garbage,” Spencer said. “They shouldn’t give these people permits to open businesses unless they have the appropriate parking.”

While I have some sympathy for folks like Ms. Spencer, let’s be real here: We don’t own the street space in front of our homes. People are allowed to park there. This is a totally normal thing in most cities. Requiring more off-street parking, especially in inner neighborhoods, will result in more parking lots and fewer new establishments being opened. Neither of these are good things. People parking on the street and then walking to a nearby restaurant or bar are not a problem. People creating disturbances and littering are problems. That can and should be dealt with in a way that doesn’t necessitate restricting parking to a special, permitted few. Let’s please aim for that. While we’re at it, let’s also encourage alternatives to more car parking such as more bike parking. We just approved $100 million plus for expanded bike trails, let’s act like we plan to use them.

Finally, as I noted yesterday, you can give feedback on these and other proposed ordinance here. This affects all of us, so if you have something to say, please make sure you say it.

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3 Comments

  1. joshua bullard says:

    why jane cahill west and the washington corridor super neiboprhood 22 doesnt know best for the whole city,washington is rare,it had limited amount of green space before the super boom of that specific area-what was available to use by developers was limited from the start-it wasnt the fault of the builders, it wasnt the fault of the developers-it was a natural sonic boom that took place on washington-causing real property value to sky rocket-limited more so -on washington-now then it was a crowded field all along on washington since there wasnt anywhere to build any ways-now heres what the anti builders ar youe not telling-there is lots of open land to build outside of 610 even past the beltway-why in gods name would we want to restrict the developers from buidling as many habitations that it can sale on a plat of land-certainly when we are talking about an abundance of builder space-for example-lets take a builder that wants to -roll the dice-and develop 100 acreas outside 610- and he wants to build as many homes on that land that he can-let him,.this isnt washington corridor-its a hundred acreas of land outside 610 that some developer is attempting to develop-we should support familys wanting to live in houston-we should not allow one subdivion on washington to micro manage an entire city-there are hundreds of thousands of people that want to move to houston,we need to be mindful of peoples right to live where and how they desire-my vote is to allow the builders to build unrestricted to accomidate the incoming people,as for city council woman wanda adams-she is aware that the sunnyside southpark super neiborhood voted against the restrictions of builders-we welcome the building community to sunnyside southpark with open arms and with zero restrictions- we publically ask council woman wanda adams to vote against the anti builder group as this is the will of sunnyside and southpark-a vote by wanda adams to restrict the builders would in fact stop any development in her district for years to follow……it would be unfair to the people of southpark and sunnyside,

    lets let,Houston Grow…………….

    joshua ben bullard
    ps-conditionally if council woman wanda adams votes against the future growth of houston, then i will personally publically ask that she resign from office.

  2. […] I said before, I have some sympathy for neighborhood residents who are tired of dealing with packed streets full […]

  3. Catherine SBC SN #85 says:

    I am not in favor of the changing the urban designation as Chapter 42 will do. Is this following the UN Agreement 21 that our mayor supports?

    Houston is a unique city and theire are other ways to develop blighted areas. I feel there is enough blight within the 610 loop that should be addressed before ruining our neighborhoods between 610 and the Beltway.

    But, Chapter 42 will now make everything out to the city limts and unincorporated area subject to 1400 sq. foot lot minimums.

    Most of the neighborhoods deed restrictiosn were made in the early 50’s and updated, if at all, in the 90’s. Very few protect them from this new Chapter 42 language.

    This should be out in the open and put to a vote by the people not decided by a small group of people who do not even know what is best for their constituants.

    More time is needed to come up with a better plan!

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