Houston City Council voted July 17 to expand the boundaries of the city’s “market-based parking area,” which previously only covered downtown. Within these boundaries, developers can determine how many parking spaces to include with their developments, if any.
The goal is to encourage high-density development and to increase the walkability of an area, according to Hector Rodriguez, an administration manager with the Houston Planning Department.
“I believe that it'll be good for small-business development and also that it will lead to better streetscapes,” said District H Council Member Karla Cisneros, whose district includes part of Near Northside. “This is a transition period of becoming an increasingly urban city, which will help us be a greener, healthier and more walkable Houston.”
While the measure passed with one dissenting vote from District G Council Member Greg Travis, other council members also expressed concerns over the measure.
“We have parking requirements to protect neighborhoods,” said District J Council Member Mike Laster, whose district includes much of southwest Houston. “Certainly we have it in Montrose, Washington Avenue and Richmond corridor or you name it all across the city. We've faced problems where businesses have come in, they've grown up too big and then impacted neighborhoods.”
District G Council Member, whose district includes portions of Uptown and west Houston, said lifting parking requirements to promote walkability is not a realistic option in an over 600-square-mile city.
"You can walk, skip crawl, I don't care what you do to get to this establishment," Travis said. "We are not high density like New York. You are not going to have enough people who are going to be able to just walk in and support these businesses."
Midtown residents were divided on the issue, and boundaries of the parking exempt area were ultimately adjusted to exclude parts of Midtown. The Midtown Management District and the East Downtown Management District both issued formal letters of support for the measure.
District C Council Member Ellen Cohen, whose district includes Montrose and parts of Midtown, said the feedback from her constituents was mixed; however, she supported the measure.
“I think that there is evidence that what we're proposing does work,” she said. ‘It’s not just for the wealthiest. It’s for small-business owners who are looking to open businesses in the area and people can walk to these businesses.”
District I Council Member Robert Gallegos said the measure will help preserve affordability in east downtown, a large portion of his district.
“More parking lots in our neighborhoods do not protect our neighborhoods,” He said. “If you build more parking lots, according to studies, and you have more parking lots, what you're actually doing is the land that's left available is going to become expensive.”
To address a potential lack of parking availability, At-Large Council Member Amanda Edwards said the city should look into public-private partnerships to build parking garages the city can also profit off of.