Houston City Council votes to end parking requirements in some areas surrounding downtown Houston

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New developments in Midtown, east downtown and parts of the Near Northside and Montrose will no longer be required to provide a set number of parking spaces.

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.

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  1. The Houston Planning Department and City Council members need to get in touch with the taxpaying homeowners who live in Midtown. The last thing Midtown needs is to encourage more small business (e.g. BARs) with fewer restrictions. In Midtown, this particular policy will perpetuate a reinforcing cycle where “bar patrons” park in poorly marked “no parking” zones and get ticketed and towed by the city.

    Finally, on behalf of some of us who live in Midtown, the Planning Department & City Council members would do well to consider that an URBAN WALKABLE city is irrelevant if taxpayers are driven away by rowdy noisy bars that erode our quality of life.

  2. I have to laugh at the council-member who said “Houston is a 600 square mile city so this doesn’t make sense”. Does this person think all 600 square miles are the same?

    Houston is getting denser all over the city, but especially in the Inner Loop. This is absolutely perfect. Less parking space means less concrete, which will in turn help some of the flooding issue. You look at other cities that have done this and it’s nothing but positive. You don’t have to have New York City density for this to work, and this area of the city is at minimum double the density of most other areas of Houston. If people want to get drunk and bar hop in Midtown or Downtown, they can take a Lyft and walk comfortable from place to place. If we had constructed the rail transit system that was approved by voters but destroyed by now voted out congressmen John Culberson and Tom Delay (the federal funds approved for Houston that would have made a better system instead went to Dallas and they in turn wasted it on a system not designed for DFW, but I digress…), we’d have had this policy in place years ago because Inner Loop Houston is built for this.

    Only Southwest Houston can compare and something like this would work in areas around there too. Seriously how many times do you pass by a business/shopping centers during open hours and see at least half the parking lot empty? What is it being used for besides a hangout at night or the traveling carnival? Wouldn’t it be a lot better to rip up the half of the parking lot that’s rarely used and add some greenspace? This is where Houston needs to go. Start eliminating all of that unused and unneeded concrete.

  3. Is the City considering all the Midtown floating population parking in front of our homes and making it imposible to have guest parking?

    All the bars around bring people from all over the place not just Midtown residents.

    I like the walkability part of it but the parking situation concerns me a lot.

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Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered health care and public education in Austin.
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