Proposed Parking Changes Alarm Restaurant Owners

Houston's Planning Department is making changes to parking requirements for the city's restaurants and bars. At issue is balancing the need for more parking with the increasing density of urban neighborhoods. The Parking Commission will ask council to vote on the changes by the end of the year.

Houston's parking ordinance hasn't substantially changed since it was first enacted in 1989.

But a lot has changed in the city in the past 22 years and the old parking rules don't address all of Houston's needs any more.  

Brian Crimmins is a senior planner with the City of Houston and says the proposed changes would create a tiered system for bars and restaurants. Companies would have to provide a certain number of parking spaces based on how many thousands of square feet the building has.

"We're adding new restaurant classifications. So we're going from just one restaurant expanding it to have a take-out restaurant only, which will be four per thousand. A dessert shop, which will be six per thousand. A small restaurant, which will be eight per thousand. And then a full-service restaurant, or larger restaurant, which will be at ten per thousand. So we're creating more tiers to kind of understand that Houston's bar and restaurant scene doesn't fit nicely into two categories."

But those categories would only apply to free-standing businesses, not to establishments connected to other buildings.

Anvil restaurantThat's a problem, according to Bobby Heugel, who owns Anvil, one of Houston's most popular bars. He says having two sets of rules for free-standing restaurants versus establishments connected to other buildings doesn't make sense.

"The notion that free-standing buildings are the only buildings that would be able to meet this tiered approach requirement just doesn't make a lot of sense in your pursuit of a space for your restaurant or bar. It's just another example of how they're limiting the options that we have. We just think that a basic tiered approach that's simple and leaves it open to the real estate market gives us more options to be able to pursue our businesses."

In response to the proposed parking changes, Heugel and several other restaurant industry leaders have formed an
independent restaurant association called OKRA, which stands for Organized Kooperative on Restaurant Affairs.

He says they have one point they're trying to make.

"Do you want more parking lots instead of businesses in the city of Houston? And I think that it's a fair question. If you value parking and pulling up to a business and getting a quick parking spot over having more businesses then I think you'll know where you stand on the issue. And I think that more people who are in the middle, who are unaware of this issue need to be more vocal about it because it's going to dramatically change what it's like to live in the community we call Houston."

Back at the City of HoustonPlanning Department, Crimmins says they are listening to OCRA, but they have to balance the concerns of the restaurant industry with the needs of residents in an extremely car-dependent city. For more information to all of the proposed parking changes, visit Parking Ordinance webpage.

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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...