Stephen J. Smith provides background about some of the legal and regulatory contexts in Houston, especially following a potentially precedent-setting decision in a recent lawsuit against the developers of a high-rise project known as the Ashby.
In the past, explains Smith, land use regulations in Houston induced sprawl, such as the sewer moratorium in 1974, which severely restricted development for a decade, as well as regulations that limited the types of townhouse construction popular with developers.
But when such restrictions are overturned, such as the anti-townhouse rules were in 1998, Houston's market and regulatory environments usually encourage density. "Since the minimum townhouse lot size has been dropped to 1,400 square feet, the attached houses have been popping up all over Houston’s inner-Loop. The townhouses are not always popular, with the treatment of their garages — each requires two parking spaces according to the city’s non-zoning code — coming in for most of the criticism. But despite their design defects, the attached homes are adding real density — filling in the holes in neighborhoods like Midtown, Montrose and beyond, and packing bodies within walking distance of shops, restaurants, light rail and frequent bus routes."
What does this mean for the recent decision in the Ashby case? "The Ashby high-rise case was a setback for the development industry, but not a fatal blow." In fact, says Smith, "Houston has become considerably more friendly to dense infill development, and will likely continue the trend."