Maybe the z-word isn’t so dirty after all

You can always count on the Houston Area Survey for some provocative data.

Most Harris County residents would support zoning or other land-use planning tools to guide growth, protect neighborhoods and curb suburban sprawl, the 2008 Houston Area Survey shows.

Almost two-thirds of those responding to this year’s survey thought more land-use planning would benefit Houston, three-quarters said redeveloping older urban areas was the best way to absorb population growth, and more than half said they would support zoning.

As neighborhood leaders push for stronger protections against development they consider unsuitable, political analysts and potential candidates said the survey results send a message that will resonate powerfully in the 2009 city election campaign.

“There is a clear perception that there needs to be a system to guide growth,” said Stephen Klineberg, the Rice University sociology professor who has directed the annual survey since 1982 and will present this year’s results to the Greater Houston Partnership on Wednesday. “There’s a pretty powerful consensus there.”

Somewhere, Wendell Cox and Randall O’Toole are wailing and gnashing their teeth. Oh, the humanity!

It’s uncertain, however, whether these public attitudes will lead to new policies.

Klineberg and others cautioned that the survey gauges support only for general concepts. Details of a zoning ordinance or other planning initiatives might get a different reaction, they said.

Shortly before Houston’s last zoning referendum in 1993, surveys showed a majority favored a zoning ordinance. But the election failed after voters saw maps showing how the new rules might affect their own property, said Kendall Miller, the president of Houstonians for Responsible Growth. The organization, led by real estate professionals, lobbies against additional regulations on development in Houston.

“Giving up control of their own property and handing it over to city government is part of the process of land-use restrictions,” Miller said. “When people understand that, they generally reject it.”

The print edition showed that the approval rate for “zoning” was a bit less than it was for the 1999 survey. This is a little like those “do you plan to vote for a Republican or a Democrat this year” polls. The generic result may look favorable for your side, but once a specific candidate – or in this case, a specific proposal – is in place, there will be specific things to criticize about it, and people who might like the idea in the abstract will see themselves as losing if it passes. This is not to say that another zoning referendum would be doomed to fail, just that having a majority in favor of the concept now means little.

One last thing:

Houston’s business, political and neighborhood leaders have debated growth and development issues for decades. These discussions have intensified in recent years as people flocked back to older neighborhoods inside Loop 610, land values rose and developers started replacing bungalows with townhomes or high-rise buildings.

Again according to the print edition, 76% of respondents said that growth in Harris County is best done by redeveloping older areas, rather than expanding to the outer edges. That’s a fine and responsible thing, and I’d give the same response. But it does bring up the matter of traffic congestion on surface roads again, and it highlights the urgent need to address those issues now while it’s still possible to do so. I’ve got more to say on this shortly, but for now I just want to note the point.

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2 Responses to Maybe the z-word isn’t so dirty after all

  1. Kent from Waco says:

    Actually the greater Houston area does have a great deal of zoning. It’s private zoning rather than municipal zoning. Paint your house the “wrong” color in the Woodlands or Cinco Ranch and see how fast the shit hits the fan.

    I think one of the reason Houston has so many massive master planned communities compared to other more mature cities is due to the lack of zoning. With proper zoning there would be less need to re-create mini model cities out of nothing.

  2. Baby Snooks says:

    These “master-planned” communities are exactly why so many are opposed to zoning. About they only thing that isn’t “regulated” are the clothes the residents wear and the cars they drive although you better be careful to keep the cars washed and polished and pristeen and, most importantly, off the street. Other than that, your house is basically theirs. Everything from landscaping to the type of window coverings allowed to be seen from the street is spelled out in black and white. And if you refuse to comply, well, get ready for foreclosure if you don’t pay the fine. Sometimes a hefty fine. There is continuity but it is in many cases a sterile one. And boring. Unless you’re a Stepford Wife. Or the owner of the Stepford Wife.

    By the same token, the attempt at “regulation” via “land use planning” within the City of Houston has produced a total disaster with various building heights, the latest supposed “no-no” with regard to 1717 Bissonnet, for 2 and 3 story homes and townhomes and varying setbacks which have produced some really ugly streets in some neighborhoods. Original bungalows and mini-mansions and the townhome mini-communities. The bungalows may be set back 25 feet. The mini-mansions 15. The mini-communities about a hop, skip and almost a jump from the street. If we ever do have zoning, hopefully no one involved in the “planning” and “approval” process so far will be able to determine anything. We will end up with worse than what we have WITHOUT zoning.

    With all respect to everyone, this is just more propaganda being put out there by the “Stop Ashby” gang to garner more public support if it ends up in court.

    Put up or shut up. Put it back on the ballot and let the voters decide. Not the mayor. And certainly not the “experts” who as this points out have been proven wrong with regard to their polls on zoning.

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