Public has final chance to weigh in on new policies aiming to make Houston more walkable

GreenStreet is a 570,000 square foot mixed-use, walkable development located in downtown Houston along the METRORail, an area that would be subject to new development guidelines being considered by the city.
GreenStreet is a 570,000 square foot mixed-use, walkable development located in downtown Houston along the METRORail, an area that would be subject to new development guidelines being considered by the city.

GreenStreet is a 570,000 square foot mixed-use, walkable development located in downtown Houston along the METRORail, an area that would be subject to new development guidelines being considered by the city.

After nearly three years of planning, two local policy changes that aim to make Houston more dense and pedestrian-friendly are taking steps toward final City Council approval this spring.

One policy change recommends expanding the reach of the city’s Transit-Oriented Development Ordinance, passed in 2009. The ordinance gave developments near the city’s METRORail lines the option to use a set of walkable design standards, such as eliminating required parking and creating wider sidewalks, without paying certain fees or getting special approval as is typically required by the city. A 2014 study from Texas Southern University, however, found that many developers did not opt in to the program.

Now Houston’s Walkable Place Committee is recommending to make those development standards mandatory in some areas along METRORail lines and forthcoming bus-rapid transit lines as well.

Another effort known as the Walkable Places Ordinance establishes Walkable Places pilot areas. The goal of the ordinance is to create three pilot areas in Midtown, the Near Northside and East Downtown. Within these designated areas, plans for new construction and renovations would be required to follow a set of design guidelines that promote walkability and are specific to that area of town.

As written in the proposed ordinance, groups of developers in an area can also get together and apply to earn a Walkable Places designation outside of the pilot sites. To apply for the designation, they would create a design plan for their area that promotes pedestrian accessibility, and when approved, the development would be exempt the same fees and approval processes that the pilot areas are exempt from.


James Llamas, former planning commissioner, member of the Walkable Places committee and member of the Midtown Management District spoke on behalf of the management district at a January Planning Commission meeting. He voiced approval of the framework and the plans for the Midtown pilot area. While the group sees opportunities for some changes, such as including Midtown’s stretch of West Alabama Street in the pilot area, Llamas said he is still confident the final proposal will benefit his part of town.

“We believe the proposed framework will improve outcomes in a variety of ways and ensures better large-scale redevelopment projects while enabling small-scale infill that has previously been difficult,” he said.

Often highlighted in debates about these policies are the consequences of eliminating parking requirements used to promote density.

Several members of the Museum Park Super Neighborhood, which includes the area surrounding the Museum of Fine Arts and Hermann Park, spoke against some aspects of the policy proposals.

Julie Farr, executive Director of the super neighborhood, said they support pedestrian-friendly policies, however as representatives of a popular visitor destination and site of rapid residential development, the increased density allowed by these changes will increase traffic beyond public transit’s ability to offset it.

“We could see very negative effects in an already parking-stressed area,” she said.

Feedback can be provided on the Houston Planning Commission website or during three upcoming public hearings at Houston City Hall at 901 Bagby Street, Houston.

Next steps:

Public comment submission periods

Walkable places ordinance framework: Jan. 9 - March 5

Walkable places pilot areas: Jan. 23 - March 5

Public hearings

Walkable places ordinance framework: Feb. 20

Transit-oriented development ordinance amendments: Feb. 20

Walkable places pilot areas: March 5
SHARE THIS STORY
By Emma Whalen

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


MOST RECENT

A Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County study on eliminating ride fares left both METRO board members and officials seemingly unconvinced of the likelihood of implementing it in Harris County. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
METRO board of directors say free fare 'not feasible' for transit authority

A METRO study on eliminating ride fares left board members and officials unconvinced of the likelihood of implementing it in Harris County.

Houston City Council approves revisions to 2015 flood buyout processes

New guidelines adjust single-family and multifamily home buyout process for those affected by 2015 floods.

The interior of Eighteen36 will include a mural based on Houston's original map. (Courtesy Eighteen36)
New Houston-themed bar Eighteen36 joins Roadster Grill at former Owl Bar location

Eighteen36 will operate on the first floor, with Roadster Grill, a Greek-American restaurant based in Bellaire until 2017, on the second floor.

(Jen Para/Community Impact Newspaper)
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo concert tickets go on sale Jan. 16

Lower-level seating options are already very limited.

Texas oil and gas industry could see a major slowdown in 2020

The oil and natural gas industry paid a record-setting $16.3 billion in taxes and royalties to local governments and the state in 2019, the Texas Oil and Gas Association announced Tuesday.

HGA driver Derek King picks up a patient from David Wayne Hooks Memorial Airport in Spring before transporting her to the Texas Medical Center. (Courtesy Derek King)
Houston Ground Angels seeking volunteers to drive patients to Texas Medical Center

Houston Ground Angels is a nonprofit organization that provides transportation between local airports and the Texas Medical Center for patients with cancer and other life-threatening diseases and illnesses.

Chevron Houston Marathon
Chevron Marathon 2020 street closures, places to watch and cheer on

This year’s Chevron Houston Marathon will bring 27,000 estimated participants into the area on Jan. 19.

The Texas Department of Transportation has announced a major road closure on Loop 610. (Courtesy Fotolia)
TxDOT: Section of Loop 610 will shut down overnight Wednesday, Thursday

The Texas Department of Transportation will close a section of Loop 610 overnight this week as construction continues on the elevated bus lanes project.

Courtesy Voodoo Doughnut
Houston's first Voodoo Doughnut opens to the public Jan. 15

Portland-based Voodoo Doughnut will open in the Washington corridor this week.

Courtesy Drift Bar
Beach-themed Drift bar opens in the Heights, sporting big screens, ample patios

The latest Heights bar is big on beach vibes and watching the next big game.

 A line of thunderstorms with severe wind gusts is likely to roll through southeast Texas on Friday night. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Friday night storms could bring 75 mph wind gusts; how to prepare for strong winds

The Storm Prediction Center has issued tornado, wind, and hail probability maps for Jan. 10. The greatest threat for severe weather remains north of I-10. ABC 13 will get four more updates of all these maps from the Storm Prediction Center throughout the day.

Closures are making way for construction at the I-610 Loop-I-69 interchange. (Courtesy TxDOT)
LOOP 610 CLOSURE: Westheimer ramp, Hidalgo frontage road closing for several months

The Westheimer Road entrance ramp onto Loop 610 will shut down at 9 p.m. Friday until further notice, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Back to top