Ordinance to limit high-rises renews zoning debate in Houston

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by Gabe Gutierrez / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on July 25, 2011 at 7:36 AM

Updated Monday, Jul 25 at 8:20 AM

HOUSTON – A proposed ordinance to limit high-rises in certain parts of the city has renewed the debate over zoning.

Houston is the biggest city in the country without zoning laws.

Council members are considering a “high-density ordinance” that would make it much tougher to build structures taller than 75 feet next to single-family homes in residential neighborhoods.

Eight "major activity centers" would be exempt. They are downtown, the Galleria, Greenspoint, the Texas Medical Center, Beltway 8 at Westheimer, the Katy Freeway at Highway 6, the Katy Freeway at Beltway 8, and Greenway Plaza/Upper Kirby.

“It will give a buffer between the neighborhoods and the high-rises," said councilmember Sue Lovell, who supports the ordinance. "It is to encourage development and at the same time protect neighborhoods."

Supporters of the ordinance say it does not amount to zoning because it would not spell out what any given property could be used for. The idea is to reduce congestion in residential areas, they say.

But passing the ordinance might be a tall order. Many developers and property rights advocates are lining up to oppose it. They say it will stifle growth and drive builders out of Houston.

"It's a violation of property rights," said Barry Klein, the president of the Houston Property Rights Association. “I think it's a way to bring in zoning and to sidestep the city ordinance that was adopted by the voters in 1994 that requires a city-wide referendum."

The proposal comes several years after homeowners in southwest Houston began a battle to prevent developers from building a high-rise on the corner of Ashby and Bissonnet. The project became of symbol of builders clashing with residents.

Signs protesting the high-rise are still on lawns throughout the neighborhood.

Terri Fieldler is one of the many neighbors against the so-called Ashby High-Rise. She supports the new density ordinance.

"If it prevents the big buildings in residential neighborhoods, it seems like a positive,” Fiedler said.

The city’s planning commission heard from a packed public hearing last Thursday. Council members are expected to vote on the ordinance once all the details are worked out. That vote could come within the next few weeks or months.
 

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