Opinion: Forget Zoning, Houston Needs a Floodplain Ordinance
John S. Jacob advocates for a stronger floodplain ordinance in Houston—to prohibit or control the development floodplains. First, however, Jacob distinguishes between zoning (Houston famously lacks zoning) from land use regulation. That's important, according to Jacob, because "[m]unicipalities in Texas have the power to limit development in areas that they consider a threat to human health and safety."
So, Houston also had the tools that could have prevented a lot of Hurricane Harvey's worst effects:
There is sufficient volume in our floodways and floodplains (100-year, 500-year, and beyond) to have handled a storm like Harvey. There is more than sufficient land outside the floodplains for all the current and future projected development in Houston. There was nothing inevitable about the impacts from the flooding caused by Harvey. A floodplain ordinance early on in our history could have kept development out of them. Development outside of the floodplains could have proceeded as helter-skelter as Houston would have wanted.
Jacob is responding most directly to comments by Mayor Sylvester Turner, who defended the city's lack of zoning by saying it wouldn't have helped prevent the flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. To be fair, Mayor Turner was responding to outside voices looking to score political points in the wake of Harvey. However, Jacob think it's important to reframe the points made by Turner by thinking about Houston's potential to regulate development—zoning or no.