Houston is a city defined by a lack of zoning. While the majority of US cities plan which areas they want designated for shopping centers, businesses, bars or residences, Houston isn’t tied down by that invisible government map. That lone bar down the street from your house, the adult video store next to your church, the scattered clusters of skyscrapers , all these phenomena are gifts of Houston’s non-zoning approach to city planning. The parking problem, largely created by the lack of zoning laws, has ironically prompted the city to pass parking ordinances. These ordinances have the potential to become the most influential factor for the future of the densest areas of Houston.
The city is presently proposing an amendment to the current city parking ordinance. This amendment would increase the required parking spaces for all public establishments such as schools, beauty parlors, hotels and restaurants. The requirements for a bar, club or lounge is increasing by 40 percent and the requirements for restaurants is increasing by 20 percent. The only type of establishment not to see an increase in required parking spaces are shopping centers, whose parking requirement would drop by 20 percent.
While the amendment is aimed at solving the congested parking dilemma, it is clear that this amendment would have severe implications for the spatial use of our city. Businesses required to increase their parking would either redistribute their land or acquire more land for a parking lot. It could also mean the end of many small businesses, since some establishments are confined by space and any establishment can be fined $100 to $500 dollars each day they are not in compliance with the parking ordinance. It is clear that the creators of the amendment are aware of the fatal implications for small businesses since they included a clause for Historic Landmark buildings to be exempt from the ordinance.
A coalition of small local businesses is making their parking ordinance concerns known to city council. OKRA or Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs, has been involved since November 2011. Bobby Heugel, the President of OKRA, owner of Anvil and part owner of Underbelly commented on why he views this ordinance as important for the future of Houston:
“They are asking for a 40 percent parking increase to bars and a 20 percent parking increase for restaurants. This creates a barrier to [the success of] the business. This is not only a discussion about parking. The bigger concern is that leaders in our city want to rely on cars instead of creating a city with mass transit. We are asking that city council take a slower, more manageable approach to addressing the parking problems. Do we want to see Montrose turn into a giant parking lot where only developers will be able to afford parking lots large enough for the ordinance?”
OKRA’s full point of view can be found on their Facebook page. One can personally voice their concerns to the council at the sub-committee hearing on the parking ordinance. The meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday January 30, 2013 at City Hall which is located at 900 Bagby. You can also send your comments to Houston City Council Members through their website.