Houston’s off-street parking rules got more flexible with the approval of City Council on Wednesday. Rewritten for the first time since 1989, the ordinance loosens rules on how close parking lots must be to a building’s front door, makes it easier for businesses to share parking, allows substitution of bike parking for car spaces, cuts parking for historic buildings and allows the creation of “special parking areas” so neighborhoods can create new rules tailored to their needs.
The vote was 14-2, with Council members Helena Brown and Jerry Davis opposed, and Andrew Burks absent.
“The goal was to have a more flexible ordinance so that as we densify as a city, particularly in the inner city inside Loop 610, that we have more flexibility and we recognize changing demographics, changing lifestyles and the increasing presence of mass transit,” Mayor Annise Parker said. “It really allows for the opportunity for targeted solutions for neighborhood problems going forward. I’m very excited about that.”
Added to the changes was an amendment, suggested by Councilwoman Melissa Noriega, that allows businesses within a quarter-mile of a transit station to get a 20 percent reduction in parking requirements if they build to city guidelines for development in transit corridors, meant to encourage pedestrian-friendly environments.
Independent restaurateurs’ initial concerns about higher parking requirements, which they said would prevent small operators from opening, were addressed with a compromise limiting the increases for restaurants smaller than 4,500 square feet and bars smaller than 4,000 square feet.
The only point of contention came from Davis, a restaurant owner concerned about prohibiting businesses from holding events in parking lots if the blocked-off spaces prevent the businesses from meeting minimum parking requirements.
Based on complaints
“I understand the intent of parking lots and I understand neighborhoods, but I also have to understand the business owner and what makes this city, and certain particular areas in the city of Houston, popular and favorable,” Davis said, mentioning farmers markets as one example.
Davis asked for a review of the ordinance in six months to ensure it is working, a request Parker said she would facilitate through a council committee if complaints arise.
After the meeting, Parker said enforcement of the provision Davis highlighted will be complaint-driven. The rule is meant to deter a business from forcing patrons onto neighborhood streets. Parker said she suspects the occasional charity car wash or parking-lot party is not going to generate complaints.