Condo Project Upsets Affluent Houstonians

<p>In Houston, the only major U.S. city with no zoning laws, plans to construct a high-rise condo complex in an affluent neighborhood have residents outraged.</p>
October 19, 2007, 11am PDT | Nate Berg
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"Plans to build a 23-story condominium tower among the million-dollar homes of two stately neighborhoods here has appalled affluent residents and put local politicians in the hot seat."

"Angry residents have hired a lawyer to fight their cause. Houston Mayor Bill White has pledged to use "any appropriate power under law" to scale back or cancel the development. The problem is, without zoning laws to regulate land use, the city can do little to thwart the project other than apply traffic restrictions and write sternly worded letters."

"The project's developers, two Houston natives who grew up just blocks from the site, vow to push forward. They've already received many of the approvals required under the city's current guidelines."

"In most cities, zoning laws would prohibit an intensive commercial use, such as a fast-food restaurant, from setting up shop on a residential street. Houston, however, regulates land use mostly through deed restrictions, which are typically crafted by the developer of a subdivision and apply only to that area, dictating issues such as lot size and construction design. Deed restrictions are usually enforced by civil lawsuits, whereas zoning is a matter of city law."

"Even so, only 30% of Houston's neighborhoods have viable deed restrictions in place, according to City Councilman Peter Brown. The other 70% are mostly low- to moderate-income neighborhoods now 'at risk' of seeing developments move in that residents might oppose, Mr. Brown says."

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Published on Thursday, October 18, 2007 in The Wall Street Journal
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