November 2, 2009
Election Day: land use issues!
Most of the national attention for Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3d, is focused on the horse races in New Jersey, Virginia, and NY-23. But here in Houston and across Texas we have some land use issues both on the ballot and behind the politics.
First, the mayoral race. The generally popular Bill White is term-limited (and has his sights set on the 2010 Senate race). Vying to replace him as chief executive of the nation's fourth-most-populous city are four candidates: Peter Brown, Gene Locke, Roy Morales, and Annise Parker. Morales is a Republican, and the other three are Democrats, but Houston's charter prescribes nonpartisan elections. The three Democrats are leading in the polls, and there will probably be a runoff between the top two.
Land use regulation is a very big issue looming behind the scenes in this election. Houstonians are very much aware that we are the leading Unzoned City in America, and many are calling for stricter development rules, particularly because of a high-profile controversy over the proposed Ashby High Rise (more about Ashby later). The Houston Chronicle editorialized that Guiding Growth will be a Key Issue in the mayoral election, and it also reported recent poll results that Houston Voters want Tough Land Use Laws.
I have read and parsed various statements by the leaders Brown, Locke, and Parker, and this Houston Chronicle story analyzes their stances on land use, and I can't really tell much difference between the three candidates. None of the three is in favor of the "z-word," that is, (Euclidean) zoning, but all three seem to be vaguely in favor of more regulation (while maintaining that they are pro-development), and talk about good-sounding things like "protecting neighborhoods." Candidate Peter Brown is, as I noted the other day, an architect and planner, and is on record advocating form-based codes. But for the most part it's hard to see major differences between the leading candidates; I think they each can fairly be characterized as having a mild "more regulation" stance without a lot of specifics yet. The interesting part will be to watch what the new mayor actually does, or tries to do, to change land use law in the Unzoned City.
The second set of land use issues on the Nov. 3d ballot is in referenda on eleven proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. Among them are Proposition 9, which will constitutionalize the Texas Open Beaches Act, and Proposition 11, which is an anti-Kelo prohibition on economic development takings. I'll have more on these after they pass; I don't think I'm going out on a limb in predicting that all eleven will pass by large margins.
Are there any land use issues in your state or local elections this year? We'd love to hear in the comments. As they say, vote early and vote often!
UPDATE: Results--Annise Parker 31%, Gene Locke 26%, Peter Brown 23%, and Roy Morales 20%. There will be a runoff between Parker and Locke on Dec. 12. Although it would have been interesting to have architect/planner/form-based code advocate Brown in the runoff, we will still have to see what Parker and Locke say about the hot issues of development and regulation in the Unzoned City
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