Help Combat the City's Proposed Parking Increases Today at City Hall

Categories: News

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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?
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 The battle is just gearing up, although it's been 16 months since proposed changes to the City of Houston's severely outdated Off-Street Parking Ordinance were first introduced by the Planning Commission.

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.

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
The show of support at one of the first City Council parking ordinance meetings last year was massive.
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.

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.

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45 comments
JKSweets
JKSweets

I wish we had sensible zoning laws.

Amanda Eckstadt
Amanda Eckstadt

I park my car in the garage at home after I leave work and walk or bike everywhere I would like to go, or in some cases jump on the rail. Houston does have sustainable neighborhoods, it's just that people here tend to prefer green space, and massive green space at that. If there were more roof top green spaces, or more green spaces period in condensed housing neighborhoods like downtown, people might choose them more often and be able to support local businesses on a regular basis, not just the bars and clubs in Midtown and Washington corridor. Green space is always the answer, not more concrete.

Mo Naqvi
Mo Naqvi

Put up parking garages on corners, no reason to add flat parking lots. Stupid and inefficient

Caroline Bailey
Caroline Bailey

Walkable! However, we also need to build parking garages instead of just parking lots. Several businesses can use parking garages. It saves space! Parking garages would be especially useful in Midtown and on Washington Avenue. I love the parking garage in the village for the arcade businesses. It just makes life easier!

Jesse Rodolfo
Jesse Rodolfo

If we we had even halfway decent weather in Houston, I'd say walkable. But since that's the farthest thing from reality, give me parking!

GlenW
GlenW

For crying out loud, give residents parking permits and put up meters. Problem solved. No more required surface lots. We live in a city, not sprawling suburbs interconnected with strip malls... oh wait.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

Is Council Member Burks on this committee? Can't wait to see what he thinks about parking.

Montrosian
Montrosian

Hey Houston.  It's the year 2013. In 1913 we had more miles of track for light rail than we do today.  It's time to grow up. We ain't a small town which became massive by swallowing up all of the surrounding suburbs anymore.  We are a big city.  Act like it. This means a dense urban core (inside the Loop) where cars should no longer get all the amenities and preferences.  Seriously. It's dumb.

It's disgraceful that city leadeers fail year after year to give us a long term vision.  This chicken little strategy is so short sighted.  News flash.  THERE IS NO SIMPLE SOLUTION WHICH MAKES EVERYONE HAPPY AND DOESN'T COST ANY THING.

The proposed changes to increase parking requirements are so indicative that we have no long term vision, no strategy to get there.

Wait, we've invested hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in light rail?  So we can move people around the city without more cars.  But then we turn around and increase off street parking for the places where we are trying to get people?  It's mind boggling how hypocritical it is.  It must give urban planners, assuming they exist in Houston, a headache?

I've lived in Houston since the early 1980's.  I've never taken the train.  I almost never take the bus. I hate the 610 Loop in front of the Galleria.  I live in an old Inner Loop neighborhood.  Even I recognize it's time to change our mindset.  We can't be a fun/cool/hip/happening place to live unless we let go of our car culture. It's that simple.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

Eh, no matter what they decide, the forced valet will take all of the parking and you will still have to walk 10 blocks to get to the restaurants...

SirRon
SirRon topcommenter

I can't wait for Uchi to move to West Houston!

-Selfish opinions are the only correct opinions

UrbanYeti
UrbanYeti

If you don't live in these areas you just don't get it.  Yes we choose to be in these neighborhoods for the amenities that they provide.  The parking issue is not something that just comes along with it.  I am not saying that what the city proposes is the correct answer, but I do call bullshit if you think that bars, restaurants and developers can just build and operate as they please with apparent negligence for parking.  I happen to live in midtown and can tell you that the developers in the area have built and maximized structures while admittedly providing insufficient parking.  This places the burden on the residents in the surrounding neighborhood since we have the closest free parking.  The city insists on charging for any street parking next to commercial structures so people will naturally look for the free option.  It pisses me off that when my family and friends come to visit me that they have to park sometimes several blocks away from my house.  There needs to be a reasonable solution for these high density areas.  If the city will not adopt zoning then they have to come up with a solution to allow neighborhood residents to have equal parking available for guests.  This is not just something that you should have to do without as a property owner.  Yes, it would be ideal if we had a mature mass transit system that would offset this.  We don't, and we likely never will have an appropriate one.  So leave my 30 feet of curb space for me and my guest and all you business owners deal with the space you have available just as we have to.  I see nothing out of line with that logical request.  

thepresident
thepresident

Did you consider interviewing another source, aside from Heugel, who presents only one side of the argument? It may be worthwhile to also include insights from the city and neighborhood representatives affected by this issue. Or how about the opinion of an urban planner or civil engineer? Someone who is actually qualified to discuss this topic from a perspective that encompasses more than simply the opinion of bar and restaurant owners? Journalism 101.

Megan
Megan

Katharine, I think you mean "raze exisiting structures".

Matthew
Matthew

when i hear residents complain about people parking in the street infront of their house when they live in areas that they chose because of their "in-town" location, all i hear is, "waaaaahhhhhhhhhh". these restaurants are a big part of what makes living there desirable, but they want to make it more difficult for business owners?

GlenW
GlenW

A-men to that

BrittanieShey
BrittanieShey moderator

@YourAllWrongI say this in the comments of every post about parking in Houston, so I'll say it again here.

I live near what was once La Strada. Back in the day, La Strada's annoying Sunday Funday crowd would clog our street, parking even in front of our security gate and blocking the drive. So us neghbors went to the city and got residential parking installed on our street. This took NO MONEY and minimal time (it was totally worth it) and benefits the entire neighborhood. People can still park on one side of the street but must have a residency permit to park on the other (or get towed). Actual residents get two free permits a year, and can purchase additional permits for guests for $10 each. It's not that complicated.

Also, my neighbors WILL call the city to come tow or ticket if you ignore the signs and park where you shouldn't. So, revenue for the city, and parking for the residents.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@YourAllWrong I do live in these areas (or have lived) and totally get it. When I lived in Montrose, I only had street parking. And it drove me crazy because if I got home any later than 9 p.m. most day of the week - especially Thursday through Saturday nights - I had nowhere to park. (This was among other issues, such as homeless men constantly passing out in the front yard or waking up in the morning find to discarded needles/condoms outside my car.) My solution at the time? I moved to Midtown, where I could have a parking garage and a dedicated spot. When I moved downtown, I made sure I had a dedicated spot again - although it's definitely difficult for guests to visit/park on busy nights. That's just what you deal with when you live inside the city. I'm not interested in making restaurants or bars have more parking, because I don't want the urban core of my city covered in more parking lots.

Houstonians - and I say this as a native-born daughter - are, by and large, quite lazy. We hate walking. We especially hate taking public transportation. But at the same time, we want to be a "grown-up" city and play with the big boys like Chicago, New York and San Francisco -- all cities that have various climate issues which make walking or taking public transport just as obnoxious. But they deal with it, because that's what you do when you live in a big city. You can't have urban sprawl and urban redevelopment. It just doesn't work both ways.

For our city to continue to evolve and grow, we need to change our mindset when it comes to how we use our land resources inside the Loop and how we use the (admittedly limited) public transportation that's available. If more people began riding the bus or the Light Rail, Metro would have more money and more public support to create better and more efficient systems, because God knows they're pretty inefficient right now as it is. But it's not going to magically change overnight; there has to be public pressure and demand for these resources. Why aren't there rail lines from the suburbs into our major urban cores, like downtown, the Galleria and the Medical Center? Those are all highly walkable areas, and yet we don't demand efficient public transportation. Instead, we continue to plop into our cars day after day and sit in gridlock, or insist that still more freeways be built. So you can see the supply-demand effect in action right there -- we just need to invert that and start demanding better public transport instead.

Or -- if that seems untenable -- why not pressure the City for parking management districts that will allow individual areas to create solutions which are best suited for their needs? Why not pressure the City to help fund (or at least encourage with tax incentives) the construction of parking garages in densely populated areas instead of parking lots? Build up, not out. These are all more sustainable ideas in the long run than simply building additional concrete heat islands (which, by the way, don't help with flooding one bit either -- something that already happens nearly every time it pours here).

tl;dr - I totally understand parking issues for residents inside the Loop. Building more parking lots is not, in my opinion, the solution. 

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@YourAllWrong "This places the burden on the residents in the surrounding neighborhood since we have the closest free parking."

You don't have that parking. Street parking should be for anyone to use. You buy/rent your house and driveway, not the street. That's paid for with taxes.

samagon
samagon

@YourAllWrong parking is an amenity. there's lots of places to live out in the woodlands that offer plenty of parking, or katy, or sugar land, even south there's parking. inside the loop has NEVER been known for parking.

J.A.Justice
J.A.Justice

@YourAllWrong Here's a problem, you don't own the curb.  And your insistence otherwise shouldn't place the preponderance of burden on small business owners to the point of forcing them out of business (this WILL happen) and essentially give strip mall developers free reign over your neighborhood.  

While I would find it hilarious to have all the "residents" (you've been there a whopping 14 months, congrats) find their houses backing up to a giant strip mall anchored by TGIFridays and 3 nail salons like Katy, I don't particularly feel my desire for schadenfreude is the best option.

Anse
Anse

Maybe the obligation to provide parking should be on the developers of residential structures. They're already building out a lot of the available space, and after all, you're concerned about visitors to your home, right? I don't travel to Midtown often, but when I do, I don't feel any obligation to think, "oh, this free parking space on this public street ought to be reserved for the residents of this expensive condo/townhouse complex in case grandma comes to visit." Sorry if that's insensitive, but hey, if you buy a home there, maybe you should take it upon yourself to buy some additional space to provide parking for your visitors. I can see this going both ways.

Montrosian
Montrosian

@thepresident Historically the small (that is ones which are not part of a chain) restaurants and bars have never had a voice in this issue because we are so busy trying to run our businesses that we don't have time to lobby the city on our behalf.  Because Heugel has taken the lead via OKRA to speak for us, don't assume our message is being heard disproportinately.  Far from it.  It's clear the mind set of Planning & Development is still "cars, cars, cars, cars".

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@thepresident How about a board member of the Montrose Management District? Would that work? Good, Heugel is one.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@thepresident Absolutely. I'm covering the City Council meeting today and will get responses/opinions from those in support of the proposed changes. I'm honestly just as interested in both sides of the issue (although I think it's pretty clear where my personal feelings on the matter lie for now.) The post this morning was just a preview of the meeting; look for a full write-up tomorrow.

samagon
samagon

@Matthew seriously. once they get these things passed that disallow parking on the street all these cool places are going to close up shop because the city won't let them operate without enough parking and then the reason these people moved here are all gone. 

Megan
Megan

Yes! While I understand a bit of complaining, when you look for a place to live, the cliche is "location, location, location."  It's also a bit of NIMBY.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@BrittanieShey @YourAllWrong  I live in a neighborhood across from a movie theater on Weslayen, and they do provide a parking garage, but instead of paying for parking people would flock into the neighborhood, block driveways, litter,  and give grief to any homeowner that dared question any of the above, so we too approached the city and received permitted parking. Overnight noise and trash was reduced by 100%%, and the movie theater did not go out of business, so I agree that the businesses need to join with the city in building adequate parking (and not charge an arm and leg for it) .....

UrbanYeti
UrbanYeti

@Anse Because those of use that live down here have all the money in the world at our disposal to do just as you suggest.  Also I don't know of the last time you came to midtown, but I am unsure of where all this available space you speak of is.  Please point me in the right direction and I will make sure to buy property in those areas while providing enough parking for myself.  Hell, I should just build a preformed concrete parking garage next door and charge my guest to park there. Brilliant suggestion on your part. Developers, however, have a greater responsibility to ensure access than your typical resident.  Take a look at the city codes for requirements for parking between residential property and commercial property.  They are much more encompassing when it comes to a residential development and a lot harder to get around.  We are finally seeing the city try to make the code changes needed to prevent these establishments from ignoring the need for parking.  I cant fault you for parking in-front of my house when you have every right to do so at this time.  And the fact that you could care less about how your actions affect others makes you no different than most of the people that complain on this site.  Its my fault that I chose to live down here and how dare I expect a better quality of life than I deserve.  Guess I should just move to the burbs with the rest of them and throw stones at the inner loop residents like everyone else. 

thepresident
thepresident

@Montrosian @thepresident that's all fine and good – but this notion that we should all bow to King Bobby and storm the gates of City Hall is tiresome. issues surrounding parking, mass transit, foot traffic, what have you, are much broader than the knee-jerk reaction of small restaurant and bar owners.

samagon
samagon

@YourAllWrong @Anse I think what you meant was that Anse couldn't care less, to say that Anse could care less would mean that Anse cares even the slightest about your parking issues in an area that has been notoriously horrible for parking for years and years and years. I would imagine that someone buying a house for the amenities in the area would have weighed all the amenities, such as parking. 

Presumably if you bought a house and not a townhome, you have a front yard you can have them park on, or you could pave the front yard and charge parking on Fridays and Saturdays, I bet you could make a nice commission.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@YourAllWrong You can't afford to buy parking for your guests, so you think it is the taxpayer's responsibility to provide you exclusive parking space on the street. The street belongs to all of us, and any of us should be able to park there.

UrbanYeti
UrbanYeti

@Anse I am not saying I did not know of this when I built my home.  I have lived in Midtown for 10 years and am native to Houston.  I have watched the city grow and change and I truly love where I live.  I just think its ridiculous that people so quickly defend these small business' and blame the residents for there choice to live here.  There needs to be a balance and the residents have already done everything they can with what they have.  Its time for these business to take on a little more.  And really the issues are with these large developers like Post and Camden.  They work around city codes every day to maximize profits.

Anse
Anse

I lived in downtown Austin (and in West Campus, near UT) for a number of years. I know what it's like. Now that I own a home in a neighborhood just outside the 610 Loop, I enjoy having a yard and a fence for my mutts to run around; I like my barbecue pit and my quiet neighborhood and all the parking I could possibly want for friends and family. But I do miss not having to get in my car to do every little thing from buying groceries to going to my favorite pub. What I'm saying is, it's a trade-off. We don't have the kind of mass transit this town needs to deal with some of these problems. But neither of us purchased our homes blindly; we both accepted the trade-offs.

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