Sunday, July 18, 2004

When ill-informed homebuyers attack

Two Thursdays ago, I had business to attend to at the City of Houston’s Planning Commission meeting. It was the first time I had been to a Commission meeting in Houston, and it brought back memories from my days in Denton, with discussions about plats, variances, Texas Local Government Code regulations, and the like. It was all so eerily familiar; the only difference is that, since Houston has no zoning, the Commission obviously doesn't hear rezoning applications.

Despite the fact that there is no zoning in Houston, homeowners here complain about unwanted development in their neighborhoods just as much as homeowners in Denton did. Several replat and variance cases regarding new townhome construction (which, over the past several years, has become ubiquitous inside Loop 610 as people begin moving back into the inner city) drew protests from property owners who didn't like the fact that a developer was about to bulldoze a nearby single-family tract, subdivide it into three or four narrow lots, and build boxy three-story townhomes on them. However, their protests were for naught; if the replats conformed to all applicable city regulations and there were no deed restrictions to prohibit such types of development, then state law required the Commission to approve the replat. Without zoning, the question as to whether such proposed development is compatible with surrounding land uses or densities is irrelevant.

Which made me wonder: were these complaining property owners around eleven years ago, when Houston's most recent attempt at zoning was narrowly defeated in a referendum? If so, how did they vote?

Then there was the new homeowner in Fourth Ward who came to complain about the narrow streets in his neighborhood. He thought the city was stupid and irresponsible for allowing such narrow streets to be built in the first place. He apparently didn't understand that he had purchased a townhome in what was once an historic African-American neighborhood settled by freed slaves after the Civil War (which has since been almost completely bulldozed by townhome developers). Because these freed slaves were collectively allocated a relatively small tract of land on what was then the outskirts of Houston, they had to conserve space by building narrow streets and small houses. Even after this bit of history was explained to him, however, he was not satisfied and continued to complain.

Ah, the joys of gentrification. Inner-city home-buyers, like their suburban counterparts, need to do their research before buying that new inside-the-loop townhome. The history behind your new neighborhood is an important a thing for you to learn and know.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

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