Thursday, February 14, 2008

To Plan or Not Plan?

Houston Strategies has always been anti-planning and anti-zoning. So I was surprised to read this in a post about the Ashby high-rise and high-rise development in general:
Most people seem to agree high-rise towers don't belong on small streets in single-family neighborhoods. In Houston, we have an arterial grid (roughly) that tends to have commercial on the arterials with residential behind, in the interiors of the arterial blocks. It seems reasonable to restrict anything over 5 stories high (a typical apartment complex) to fronting major arterials.

I think "major arterials" could be defined as 4-lanes if two-way, or 2-lanes if one-way (as some feeders are), as well as any road with high-capacity fixed-guideway transit (LRT or BRT). That would eliminate the Ashby high-rise, since Bissonnet is only 2-3 lanes in that area (with a middle turn lane). But it does seem to retroactively allow almost every other high-rise in the city I can think of, as well as allow plenty of density where people seem to want it, like Downtown and Midtown.

Of course, there will be cases where a high-rise may make sense off of one of these arterials (like next to a large park, or inside an office park development), and in those cases developers should be able to apply to the planning commission for a variance just as they do for all sorts of developments today.
This kind of rule is similar, as far as I know, to what most cities have. But I believe it's the kind of thing that Randall O'Toole and CATO would generally oppose. Or am I mistaken?

I'm not trying to brand Houston Strategies as inconsistent or "hypocritical." I've never viewed Tory Gattis as dogmatic on these issues. The simple rule he proposes here seems pretty commonsensical on the face of it, yet it does end up giving the city a great deal of power of what property owners can and can't do with their property.

Some of these issues will be debated in public at the George R. Brown Convention center on February 26. The Gulf Coast Institute is sponsoring this debate, which will feature Gulf Coast Institute David Crossley and Virginia Tech professor of planning and urban affairs Arthur Nelson on the planning side, and Former Mayor and Houstonians for Responsible Growth head Bob Lanier and Demographia's Wendell Cox on the anti-planning side. It's free, but requires an RSVP.

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