Help Combat the City's Proposed Parking Increases Today at City Hall
If you thought the fight against proposed parking increases for bars and restaurants was over, you're wrong. The battle is just gearing up, although it's been 16 months since proposed changes to the City of Houston's severely outdated Off-Street Parking Ordinance were first introduced by the Planning Commission.
Photo by Josh Hallett The issue is actually quite simple: Do you want more parking lots? Or do you want to encourage the continued growth of small, independent bars and restaurants in our urban core?
Anyone who's a fan of urban renewal, increased density in the city's core or the continuing revitalization of neighborhoods such as Montrose -- where independently owned bars and restaurants like Uchi, L'Olivier, Underbelly, The Hay Merchant, Blacksmith, Roost and Triniti have been drawing national acclaim -- will want to listen up, because the proposed changes to the parking ordinance would deal a huge blow to the progress that's being made city-wide.
In a nutshell, says Bobby Heugel -- co-founder of the Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs and owner of Anvil Bar & Refuge, among other local ventures -- the problem is this: Increasing parking requirements for bars and restaurants is a temporary and shortsighted solution to a much more complicated problem.
"It's just a simple answer that people think will pacify a small miniorty of neighborhood residents," Heugel says.
Vociferous neighborhood associations and their residents have rightfully complained about the increasing number of cars parked on side streets and in residential areas as businesses bloom in areas like Montrose, Midtown and the Heights. The City's proposed response to this is simply to require restaurants and bars to offer more parking spaces. Under the proposed changes, 40 percent more parking would be required for bars and 20 percent more for restaurants, although there is at least one caveat worth mentioning.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt The show of support at one of the first City Council parking ordinance meetings last year was massive.
That caveat is the City's one attempt at pacifying the bar and restaurant owners who have lobbied passionately against the increase: small, freestanding restaurants below 2,000 square feet would be exempt from the parking increase. But even that compromise seems hollow when you realize that structures of that specific type are few and far between in Houston.
"The only problem with a 2,000-square-foot freestanding building is that it doesn't exist," says Heugel, who cited his newly opened coffee shop -- Blacksmith -- as an example. "Blacksmith wouldn't even qualify -- and you don't get much smaller than Blacksmith."
Although existing bars and restaurants would also be exempted from the parking increase and grandfathered in, the main issue is that the increased parking requirement would make it exponentially more difficult for future bars and restaurants to open -- especially those run by independent operators.
Why? Simple: Chain restaurants can afford to purchase extra land and raze existing structures within the urban core to make room for parking. Start-up restaurateurs and small-scale entrepreneurs can't.