How to Plan Houston's Future

One of the big campaign platforms for Houston's mayoral candidates is city planning and land use. The KUHF Houston Public Radio — 11 News survey shows there's a lot of public support for tougher land use laws. Laurie Johnson takes a look at how that could play out for Houston's neighborhoods.

The first thing you need to know when candidates talk about land use is it's not the same thing as zoning. Zoning is when cities determine that a particular piece of property can only be used for specific kinds of development. Land use refers to how neighborhoods are planned and designed.

David Crossley is president of Houston Tomorrow, a non-profit that researches urban growth issues. He says the numbers show Houstonians want to change how neighborhoods are developed.

"As I hear this all the time out there that people really do support some form of land use regulations indicates that they are not happy with the really extensive regulations we have right now."

In fact, more than 80 percent of respondents to the KUHF-11 News survey approve of tougher land use regulations.

"I don't think our main problem is a lack of regulation."

That's former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier. He says it sounds good for the candidates to say they want tougher land use laws. But he questions what that really means.

"But it's very different to get ahold of the idea 'I'm for tough regulation.' I'm for tough rules on clean water, I'd be for that. But what specifically they want to do, we have a lot of rules now on clean water. But it sounds good, but then when you get into it if it's a debated thing you quickly get into the specifics."

Houston already has a lot of land use regulations on the books. Rice University Political Scientist Bob Stein says the
mayoral candidates know people want to see those regulations enforced.

"Whether it be deed restrictions or city council written ordinances. As you recall, the mayor's and the council's study of their land use ordinances identified scores of policies that we've adopted in ordinances and one of the conclusions from the consultant who did this work for the city was you've many ordinances and they're not being enforced. So I think you'll hear the candidates saying we've got the ordinances, we just have to be more aggressive in enforcing them."

David Crossley agrees.He says the city already has what it needs to make land use regulations better.

"There's, for instance, Chapter 33 of our code of ordinances, which instructs the planning commission and city council to create and adopt a comprehensive plan for the city's future. That's been on the books for 15 years or something like that. So it's not an option, it's a law. They're required to do this. But they haven't done it. So we have no plan for the future."

Crossley says if the next mayor can dust off the city's planning playbook, Houston already has all the tools it needs.

"We could come out of this ten years, 15 years from now looking like the city of the future."

On 11 News tonight at ten, what our poll says about the issue of immigration. Should Houston Police be used to enforce federal immigration laws?

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

 

> To read the results what voters favor: fees for BARC and drainage by wide margins 11 News website.

 

> return to the 2009 Houston Mayoral Race page
Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...