April 10, 2007
Zoning in the Heights?

There's a provocative subhead if ever I saw one: Houston panel urges zoning on development in neighborhoods. The reality sounds a lot less scary, though.

As the city continues to struggle with the impact of new development on its older neighborhoods, "the next issue is what we would call the McMansions," said Marlene Gafrick, Houston's director of planning and development.

In 2002, the city added provisions to its development code that gave residents inside Loop 610 more influence on development in their neighborhoods. The City Council in March made the measures simpler for neighborhoods to use.

The new concepts being discussed by the neighborhood protection committee would be the first regulations on the size of new structures. Using the same petition process, residents could establish a maximum height for buildings as seen from the street, and a maximum width based on the lot size.

Don't we already have some of this, in terms of things like setbacks? And aren't residential structures limited to 2 1/2 stories? I guess I'm a little confused as to what this would be doing that's different.

By early May, [Mark Sterling, a University of Houston research physicist who serves on the city's Plannin Commission committee,] said, the neighborhood protection committee plans to recommend ways to help neighborhoods deal with aesthetic and practical impacts of new development in older neighborhoods.

A three-story townhome that fills a lot next to a one-story bungalow, he said, can intrude on the privacy of residents of the older house, restrict their views and block sunlight from their gardens.

"These ideas are not draconian in any way," said Sterling, who became active in such issues after fighting a condominium development in 2005. "They are just meant to leave a little elbow room for the folks in the neighborhood."

I have a lot of sympathy for that bungalow owner, and I think that neighborhoods should have a certain amount of ability to self-determine. Unfortunately, I don't feel like I have a greater understanding of the solution that's being proposed after having read this story. Maybe it'll become clearer after the committee makes its recommendations. We'll see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 10, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston

I already contacted the Chron to point out their inaccurate use of the Z word. These proposal have nothing to do with zoning. Zoning is about land use - residential, commercial, chicken processing plant. If passed, all this would do is allow people to petition to keep some green space on their block. That is really all it is.

Posted by: Sheila Sorvari on April 10, 2007 4:42 PM