Chapter 42 of the City of Houston, Code of Ordinances passed as proposed by the Mayor’s administration with minor amendments at the April 24, 2013, Houston City Council with only three votes against: CM Andrew Burks, CM Helena Brown, and CM Jerry Davis. It is now the law. As a consequence, our Chapter 42 discussions have been removed. If you have linked to them, please let me know and we’ll work something out.
CM Laster’s two amendments passed as well. CM Laster’s amendment to reduce from 60% to 55% the level of support needed to complete an application for minimum lot size protection passed with only one vote against (Bradford), and his amendment to allow development on less than an acre of land outside of existing neighborhoods had unanimous support. CM Brown’s two amendments (1) to keep most of District A “suburban” and, alternatively, (2) to refer Chapter 42 back to the administration, both failed.
Chapter 42 extends the “urban” density formerly found only inside Loop 610 to all of incorporated Houston; i.e., inside the City limits. Suburban density now only applies to the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
What should homeowners do? You should begin scheduling somebody from COH Planning to come explain how to adopt minimum lot size criteria for those neighborhoods that don’t have provisions in your deed restrictions. If you haven’t started already, you should also begin the process of modifying deed restrictions to add protection verbiage. You cannot start too soon.
Also, plats not associated with any neighborhood are eligible for redevelopment instantly, so drive through your area to see if you can identify any that don’t seem to be a part of any subdivision; for example, abandoned utility ROW or abandoned drainage ROW. Likely it’s too late to do anything about these, since developers have had 6 years to identify these odd parcels, but it may not be too late to begin planning for denser development.
If you are building a new home or rebuilding on an existing site, consider pier and beam construction. Construction costs may be slightly higher, but ultimately the serviceability and flexibility offered over the life of the home will make up any difference. If water shows signs of rising in the neighborhood, it’s relatively simple to raise the house higher and install more porch steps. Despite the fact that Rebuild Houston doesn’t credit pier and beam as being permeable, it does allow water to flow under the house and provides less surface area to flowing water. Piping is accessible and less prone to stress cracking as the ground shifts during Houston’s periods of torrent and drought.
Finally, Chapters 9 and 13 of the City of Houston Infrastructure Design Manual that deal with Stormwater are up for revision. With the increased density that Chapter 42 will provide will come increased stormwater runoff. This is particularly problematic in areas where flooding is already prevalent and may migrate to areas that are marginal. Chapter 9 deals with the “grandfathering” of existing permeable surfaces. Currently, if a property has existing concrete, mitigation of on-site detention need only be done for increased imperviousness, but only at 50% of the impact rate for properties above 1 acre in size. Smaller properties are mitigated at 20% with properties below 15000 square feet only requiring 10% of increase impervious cover.
Because of objections by homeowners, minor changes to these requirements have been made already, but these are insufficient to prevent an increase in flooding. Instead, we recommend complete elimination of any special provisions for already developed areas because many were originally installed without adhering to detention requirements, so should not be grandfathered. Arguments that it is unfair to burden new developers with the transgressions of the past don’t seem logical. We think that it is unfair to developers of virgin properties to have to mitigate stormwater runoff while those of older properties are allowed to remove existing concrete to elevate their property without any mitigation. It is also unfair to adjacent property owners.
Please help us protect Houston from future flooding. Please join us to get these provisions updated.