Ready or not, here we come…
After six years of vigorous debate, the Houston City Council has voted to further increase the city’s density. Chapter 42 passed Council on a vote of 14 to 3. The ordinance changes development rules in the hopes of making the city more competitive with the suburbs. And given the extreme interest by area developers, it will likely be successful in that regard. This was far from an easy vote, as virtually every Council Member had qualms with the ordinance. As the Mayor said, this vote ends the separation between inner loop and outer loop areas. “The city of Houston now has one development code.” And it has been updated to reflect a much more ‘urban’ reality.
Council Member Melissa Noriega voiced resident concerns that Chapter 42 does not address a legacy of draining issues (currently covered under Chapter 9 of the development code), and that will only put a greater strain on an already aging drainage system. Even with this concern, Noriega voted in favor of the ordinance.
Council Member Helena Brown even proposed an Amendment to exclude her entire district (District A) from the Chapter 42 changes. It failed, and Brown voted against the whole measure. Of course to most Houstonians ‘Council Member Brown voting no’ shouldn’t be a surprise.
But even with all of the added drama, anxiety and resistance, this grand bargain is an important next step for the city of Houston. The Mayor and her office worked tirelessly on the issue, and to strike an agreement between the neighborhoods and builders was a win in itself. But now that agreement is law, and Houston can pave the way to a more dense development future.
From a purely political standpoint, the passing of Chapter 42 is a very big win for Houston Mayor Annise Parker. It is yet another major legacy issue that she has tackled as Mayor. If any other elected offices lie in her future, she can point to Chapter 42 as one of the big things that she accomplished. Hopefully, the continuing issues with drainage, complete streets and buried powerlines will be tackled in the not-too-distant future. But Chapter 42 is officially DONE.