Criticism of municipal regulations in Texas usually centers around Austin and San Antonio, while Houston is often praised for its zone-free model and relaxed land use regulations. Houstonians appreciate the absence of zoning restrictions that allow developers to quickly respond to housing and shopping demand, but many overlook the burden of parking minimums.

Developers, however, pay close attention. Parking minimums may seem inconsequential when compared to Houston’s large-scale problems, but meeting such requirements can restrict the size, scope, and location of intended developments. Effectively, they serve as an indirect form of zoning. For a developer that can’t meet the city’s mandate for a specific number of parking spaces, whether because of the cost or limited space, they are left with few options.

While Texas is a state that prides itself on “not being California,” these ordinances are often stricter in cities such as Dallas and Houston than they are in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

*Despite my repeated calls to both the zoning and planning departments of Dallas, they were unable to answer my simple question about parking minimums for restaurants. If it is this difficult for me to obtain answers for research, imagine how frustrating it must be for businesses who need these figures to move forward with development.

As the chart shows, even though Los Angeles has a considerably higher population than Houston, Houston’s minimums in some developments are as much as nine times higher than that of L.A.

Houston’s parking minimum is in direct contrast with their newly created “Houston Plan.” The plan calls for, “walkable neighborhoods,” and goes on to advocate for convenient and accessible public transportation. Why is a city whose goal is to discourage personal transportation, enforcing parking restrictions on economic development?

These regulations are especially restrictive to existing developments that are forced to adjust when cities increase the minimums. They are left with the choice to pay fines, apply for exemption (only available in some cities), or be forced out of business. Developers wanting to break ground on a new project will alternatively choose to build in Houston suburbs because there just isn’t enough space for onsite parking inside the city.

This regulatory scheme is preventing redevelopment inside Houston’s city limits. Houston politicians pay a lot of lip-service to the need for economic development. Instead of handing out subsidies with taxpayer money, they should be doing everything in their power to reduce arbitrary obstacles that would help create an economically sound environment that attracts development instead of pushing it away.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.


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