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Land Use in the Unzoned City

Land Use in the Unzoned City (Spring 2012).

3 Pages Posted: 28 May 2013  

Matthew J. Festa

South Texas College of Law; U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School; Rice University

Date Written: May 28, 2013


Only one major city in the United States remains without a traditional zoning code based on geographic regulation of land use: Houston, Texas. Property lawyers and scholars attribute Houston’s non-zoning system to cultural and political factors. But is America’s “Unzoned City” really as unregulated as its reputation might suggest? This short piece reviews the background of Houston’s land use system, and provides the immediate legal answer to the question of why Houston alone lacks a formal zoning code. It then looks briefly at the numerous rules that control land use in the city, and observes that Houston’s land use regulations actually function in many ways quite similar to those of a formal zoning regime. This suggests that even the Unzoned City has — in reality — a system of “de facto zoning”.

Keywords: Property, Property Rights, Land Use, Zoning, Legal History, Texas

Suggested Citation

Festa, Matthew J., Land Use in the Unzoned City (May 28, 2013). Land Use in the Unzoned City (Spring 2012).. Available at SSRN:

Matthew Festa (Contact Author)

South Texas College of Law ( email )

1303 San Jacinto Street
Houston, TX 77002
United States
713-646-1857 (Phone)

U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School ( email )

600 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903-1781
United States

Rice University ( email )

6100 South Main Street
Houston, TX 77005-1892
United States

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