Urban Living Outside the Loop?

Dec. 12, 2011Laurie Johnson, 88.7 KUHF FM

A proposed Houston ordinance that would extend the city’s urban development zone out to the beltway drew a lot of public interest at City Hall. The changes would allow builders to develop more townhomes outside the loop and create higher density neighborhoods. Residents want more time for public input.Chapter 42 of the code of ordinances deals with land use and development.

Houston’s planning department wants to make several modifications to the ordinance to allow high- density development outside of the 610 loop. One of the changes would allow property owners to subdivide lots and build townhomes in areas where that’s currently not allowed.

Toy Wood is with the Greater Houston Builders Association. She was one of many developers who spoke in favor of the changes.

“We’re already outside Loop 610, we know that. We’re already — the urban area is moving outside. And so we really need to move with that. The property inside Loop 610 has become so expensive that housing costs inside Loop 610 are just pretty much out of sight and that forces people to move outside the city limits, which we don’t want.”

But the main theme from neighborhoods was give us more time. They want time to learn about the changes, time for the city to hear their input and time for the planning department to take that input into consideration.

Catherine Barchfeld is President of the Spring Branch Central Super Neighborhood and says the area’s aging deed restrictions would not protect the neighborhood from these new proposals.

“We feel the integrity of our neighborhoods will be compromised. Our neighborhoods are over 50 years old and are quite charming and we want to keep them as they are. To alter or change deed restrictions would take at least two years. It’s our understanding that the director of planning wants the city council to pass this proposal by the end of this year. This is not enough time for us to prepare ourselves for our neighborhoods.”

Many of the speakers came from Councilmember Brenda Stardig’s District A, which includes Spring Branch. She says the only community meeting on this subject came at her request.

“I think there’s an opportunity here that we just need to take the opportunity to bring it out to the neighborhoods. We can roll this out, get it out to the neighborhoods, especially those between 610 Loop and Beltway 8, where a lot of the changes will occur. I think information is power and the fear of the unknown is much greater than the reality at this point. So I think if we can just communicate with our neighborhoods, get their buy-in, make sure that they’re comfortable with it.”

The changes are scheduled to come up for a vote next week. But after a number of residents echoed similar concerns,
Houston Mayor Annise Parker suggested she would be willing to conduct community meetings before asking council to vote on the amendment.