City Considers Restricting High-Rise Development

Houston could soon have new rules on where high-rise towers can be built. A new ordinance is under development that would limit high-rise construction.

The Houston Planning Commission is working on the draft ordinance this week after hearing from developers and residents who are at odds over high-rise construction.

The new ordinance would curtail scenarios like the one that played out when residents in the Boulevard Oaks area launched a campaign against the proposed Ashby high-rise.

Marlene Gafrick is the City of Houston's Director of Planning and Development. She says the new ordinance would limit the development of high-rise structures in residential areas.

"So if you have a structure that's over 75 feet in height from grade to the top floor, if it's over that height then what happens is you have to set back further from the residential property. And then you also have to provide a solid wall. We're looking at some lighting standards as well."

Gafrick says the original plan called for a 50-foot setback from residential properties. But after hearing concerns from real estate developers, the planning commission is now considering a 30-foot setback.

An eight-foot tall solid wall around the property would also be required.

"They also thought planting trees in the buffer area, so as the trees grow up that would also kind of help with the sound and block any light into the residence. So those are things that they were thinking about."

Of course it wouldn't make sense to limit high-rises in downtown or even the Galleria.
There are eight designated major activity centers where the ordinance won't apply because the city wants to promote density in those areas.

"It's about how do we continue to grow as a city, yet at the same time realize that there are neighborhoods that we want to protect and be sensitive to. So it's a fine line and it's a delicate balance that we have to work with."

The planning commission will meet Thursday afternoon to vote on the final version of the draft ordinance. It may be several weeks before city council votes on the new rules.

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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...