Four Land Use Vignettes from (Unzoned?) Houston
28 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2010
Date Written: September 22, 2010
Houston has been called "the hair shirt of city planners." The profession's discomfort stems from the city's repeated rejection of land use zoning – the essential tool of their craft. The unrepentant city touts itself as a model of enlightened differentness: a public-private combination that provides a better formula for managing growth in a modern city. But beneath that Chamber of Commerce gloss, Houston's land use is a far cry from free enterprise in action.
What this article calls "The Houston Way" combines: (1) An adamant refusal to use government power prospectively to guide growth and protect existing investment; with (2) A willingness to respond to specific developer-citizen conflicts with ad hoc solutions that assign the City Planning Commission a unique role in mediating the constant battle between homeowners and developers. Rejection of traditional land use solutions oftentimes places the city at the borderline between legal and not-so-legal regulation.
Keywords: Ad hoc regulation of land uses, Traffic control as leverage for land use, Subdivision restrictions as alternative to zoning, Politics of nonzoning, Unconstitutional delegation of regulatory power
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