Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Houston PAC: Down With Preservation and Parks!

An article in this morning's Chronicle details a new organized movement of builders and developers to squash the nascent movement toward quality-of-life and preservation regulation in the city.

Former Mayor Bob Lanier has joined prominent home builders and developers campaigning to limit new development regulations they believe could threaten Houston's growth.

Lanier's comments are part of a nascent effort to respond to recent city laws and policies, including a high-density development ordinance now being written, that affect the politically powerful real estate industry.

A new organization, Houstonians for Responsible Growth, which has begun the process of registering as a political action committee, is coordinating the campaign, said Ken Hoagland, a political consultant working with the group.

Presumably by "responsible growth," they mean "endless unbridled sprawl, as long as it's profitable for us."

Lanier's involvement came in a letter delivered Dec. 27 to all 14 City Council members and Mayor Bill White. It also was signed by Leo Linbeck Jr., owner of a major local construction company, and Richard Weekley, a prominent developer and home builder.

Leo Linbeck co-taught a great class I took last semester. I already got my grade (an "A"--thanks Leo!), so I won't be shy about saying he's on the wrong side of this issue.

Examples of the trend toward greater regulation, developers say, are a recent ordinance requiring residential developers to help pay for parks and the creation of a protected historic district in the Old Sixth Ward west of downtown.

Houston is so damn park poor (in terms of the number of parks that you can actually walk to), and this regulation seems merely a piece of common-sense. If developers are going to benefit from growth, they should contribute a bit to quality of life. If the City of Houston pays for new parks out of general funds, every taxpayer pays, while the developer of the park-adjacent region benefits (because parks make an area more attractive to buyers). So developers, as usual, are indirectly subsidized by the tax-payers of the cities. They don't want that subsidy to end, of course. So naturally they team up with devotees of free markets like the Cato Institute (who don't particularly love public parks anyway).

And as for the modest historic preservation that Houston is experimenting with, well, see my previous post. It seems to me that some developers won't be happy unless all of Houston is a soul-crushing melange of strip-malls, big boxes, parking lots and McMansions.

Certainly no one expected Houston's baby steps in terms of quality-of-life regulation and/or planning to go unopposed, particularly by those who have profited so long by the absence of such rules. I hope "our side" is capable of putting up a similar fight.

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