Chapter 42 and Growth

April 17, 2013

This is part of a continuation of a series of articles about Chapter 42 and its effects on the city of Houston.

After the City Council hearing on Chapter 42 on April 10th, 2013, it became clear that removal of the Super Neighborhood Alliance’s objections had paved the way for its passage.  Unfortunately, concerns about flooding were not abated and I’m not sure if the well-meaning City Council members understand that Chapter 42 will likely increase flooding and not stem the disparity between growth in the City and its extraterritorial jurisdiction(ETJ).  Depending upon which expert is cited, growth in the ETJ is somewhere between 5 and 10 times the growth in the City.  Developers used this argument to convince Mayor Parker to change the City from and urban/suburban City to a completely urban City – the largest urban-only City in the country; i.e., uncharted waters.  Herein we’ll attempt to shine a penlight into the murky waters.

The growth in the ETJ has been driven by many factors: lower housing costs, jobs, lower insurance rates, planned communities, less risk of flooding, less density, and better schools.  Historically, what prevented moving to the ETJ was the bad commute to downtown jobs, but jobs are leaving the City to relocate in the ETJ so the disincentive is now an incentive.   It should be no surprise.  No matter how big a slab of concrete was poured, within 5 years or so it was almost as clogged as it had been before with  the SW Freeway and I-10 being good examples.  Had Houston pursued commuter rail to give an alternative to the frustrating freeway delays, perhaps the situation would be different.  In the meantime the Grand Parkway (GP or NAFTA Highway, as insiders know it) is being built in the ETJ to service the increasing number of residents.  The GP has already induced growth along it’s planned route as new housing developments spring up to service the new jobs.

Can Chapter 42 bring the jobs back to Houston?  Maybe some, but the Mayor needs to find a way to sweeten the medicine.  Her “because I say so” approach is doing little, except helping her political opponents.  The issues raised by the SNA are real issues that deserve better answers.  Everyone knows that the drainage is defined in a different manual, and parking is in a different chapter, and noise is still undefined, but the reality is that they are all related to increased density, so all need to be addressed before moving forward.

It’s difficult to believe that the City spent 6 years on this one chapter and never considered the need to deal with related issues.  Now we are.  Chapter 42 and Chapter 9 need to be harmonized – right now they don’t agree.  It shouldn’t take six years, but it certainly should be given more than two weeks.


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