HOUSTON -- As Houston's real estate market booms, brining new construction to neighborhoods throughout the city, it seems a large segment of voters favor more controls on development.
In the KHOU 11 News - KUHF News Election Poll, voters who supported tougher land use restrictions outnumbered those who opposed zoning.
The poll didn't directly pose an up-and-down question on zoning. Instead, it asked voters which of two statements came closest to their opinion:
1) "Some people say Houston's lack of zoning laws have helped keep home prices affordable and should not be changed."
2) "Some people say Houston should enact tougher land use restrictions to protect our neighborhoods."
The first statement, endorsing Houston's current "no zoning" climate, was cited by 33% of voters. But the second statement, calling for more restrictions on development, was endorsed by 38%.
"That's the highest number I've seen in support of some type of land use regulations in 35 years," said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst who supervised the poll.
Visitors and newcomers often voice astonishment at the city's loose land use restrictions. But zoning has repeatedly been rejected by Houston voters, most recently in a 1993 referendum. Since then, city planners have embraced Houston's no-zoning ethos and even bragged about the flexibility it has given urban developers.
But during the last few years, as midrise apartment buildings and high-rise condominiums have proliferated inside the loop, homeowners' groups have become more outspoken. After an especially well-organized opposition mounted a high-profile challenge, the proposed "Ashby high-rise" still hasn't gotten off the ground. Meanwhile, homeowners in the Heights have fought mutli-story developments in their neighborhood.
"And this particular poll probably also reflects the inmigration of large numbers of people -- young people who are looking for jobs, in the oil industry particularly -- who've have lived in communities with better land use," Stein said.