HOUSTON—Inside an old house in Houston’s Museum District sits a bicycle shop run by a 77-year-old woman who likes parking her pick-up truck in her yard.
Joy Boone says she’s owned the shop since 1968, back when property around the now popular area was comparatively cheap and occupied by lower-income Houstonians.
“If everybody works together, you survive,” she said. “You know, 45 years I’ve survived.”
Now the old neighborhood is rapidly changing, with bungalows giving way to multi-story townhouses within walking distance of the high-income jobs in the Texas Medical Center. Gentrification has brought its share of complex conflicts, but the latest can be summarized in a simple question.
What would you think if you bought an expensive townhouse and your next door neighbor started parking his car in his front lawn?
Maybe it depends on where you live. In some neighborhoods, the practice has been common for decades and nobody’s complained. But in other neighborhoods, homeowners consider it an eyesore.
Houston confronted this problem more than a decade ago, when homeowners in the Spring Branch area and the city’s east side complained about neighbors—many of them first-generation immigrants from countries where yard parking is more commonplace—cluttering their front lawns with old cars. City councilmembers debated banning the practice citywide, but objections from people who didn’t mind yard parking led to a compromise. The city adopted an ordinance that allows civic clubs and groups of property owners to ask for yard parking bans restricted to their neighborhoods.
Now civic club leaders in three neighborhoods—around Braeburn Terrace, Meredith Manor and Museum Park—are asking city council to ban yard parking in their areas. Their arguments are both practical and aesthetic.
“It’s just not attractive,” said Kathleen O’Reilly, who works with the Museum Park Neighborhood Association. “And then the other aspect is tree roots. You know, we have seen our canopy so seriously impacted by drought over the past few years.”
They also argue that yard parking can also damage underground infrastructure, like city water mains.
But people who support yard parking have launched a petition drive and raised opposition that’s attracted the attention of city council.
“We do have some parking problems now,” Boone said. “If you drive through our neighborhood in the evenings, it’s almost impossible to find a blank parking space on some blocks, because you have the townhouses that have five houses where a single house used to be.”
The applications from the three neighborhoods appear on this week’s Houston City Council agenda, but votes might not come until later.
The city councilmember representing the Museum District heard so many complaints and questions that she decided to ask the mayor to pull the issue off this week’s agenda. The decision disappointed O’Reilly, who’s worked hard on passing a yard parking ban for her neighborhood.
“Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder,” Boone said.