Houston Lacks Zoning—Or Does It? The State Supreme Court Will Decide

A lawsuit argues that Houston's Historic Preservation Ordinance is a form of de facto land use control, equivalent to zoning, which isn't allowed by state and local laws.

1 minute read

September 15, 2020, 12:00 PM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Houston, Construction

Sandra Fernandez / Flickr

Ryan Nickerson reports on a legal controversy that could decide the future of land use control in the U.S. city most famous for rejecting the most common form of land use controls. 

A pair of local homeowners are attempting to make the legal case that the city of Houston's Historic Preservation Ordinance (HPO) constitutes a form of de facto zoning—a system of land use control that is ostensibly not allowed in the city. 

"In a brief filed on behalf of Powell and Luccia on Sept. 8, Houston lawyer Matthew Festa said that Texas law does not support, 'a vague and unlimited power for local governments to regulate property rights without limitation,'" explains Nickerson. 

Festa argues that the city's HPO "[limits] individual property rights to create restrictive historic zoning districts, ignoring the requirements set forth by the Texas Legislature and the people of Houston," according to the article. 

Sara Bronin, Real Property Law professor at the University of Connecticut Law School and a land use reformer in the state of Connecticut, is quoted in the article saying that the legal argument presented by the plaintiffs is novel in the legal system. More on the history of the lawsuits against the HPO, and the history of the HPO, itself is included in the article.

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