Sanity Prevails in Texas

After The Onion reported that Texas was building a wall around itself to keep out the job-hungry Americans, the Texas legislature effectively did the same thing by passing a smart-growth bill designed to destroy the Texas economy so that it would no longer have jobs attracting people from the rest of the country. Fortunately, Governor Rick Perry vetoed the bill.

The bill “would promote a one-size-fits-all approach to land use and planning that would not work across a state as large and diverse as Texas,” said Perry. “Local governments can already adopt ‘smart growth’ policies based on the desires of the community without a state-led effort that endorses such planning.”

Actually, what makes Texas work so well is that counties, for the most part, have no zoning authority. This means if some city such as Austin decides to adopt a smart-growth plan, developers can simply go outside the city limits and build for the market instead of what planners want.

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20 thoughts on “Sanity Prevails in Texas

  1. hkelly1

    As usual, full of misinformation.

    I took a quick glance at the city websites of four random cities in Texas: Austin, Plano, Allen, and Sugar Land. Each and every single one of them has some sort of planning map, comprehensive plan, use map, zoning code with use regulations, height and lot size regulations, etc.

    In each case, the codes mandate single-use sprawl. That’s right, MANDATE. They are not “free market” codes – they are actually very particular about what can get built where. The AP needs to stop referring to use-based codes as non-planned, because they are very much planned (usually in the mid-20th Century) and very much about curbing choice and desire into one type of development.

    I could go on and do a detailed analysis if I had all day, but no one is paying me to produce “research”.

  2. TexanOkie

    I live in a small Texas town (pop. 17,000) on the fringes of Austin and we just adopted an optional SmartCode (mandated in old town). We’ve actually had more project submittals since adopting it in February than we have had in the last year. And yes, they’re infill projects in Old Town and two new community plans.

  3. bennett

    As a Texas resident I can say that there is some truth to what O’Toole says. Texas is an interesting place. A libertarian paradise in some sorts. The rich do very well in this state and the poor are kicked to the curb.

    O’Toole is correct, for the most part counties do not have zoning authority. Texas, for the most part, also has no quality public open space. We have Big Bend, Enchanted Rock, and thats about it. Here in Austin people take pride in our greenbelts. That’s because these people have never been anywhere else to recreate. There is no forest service, no BLM, and the state parks are a joke.

    Austin also has the worst traffic congestion per capita in the country despite our upteen highways and toll roads. Many Texas cities, Dallas and Houston in particular, have realized that the way they have let growth happen unfettered has screwed their cities up and in the last 10 years or so have adopted smart growth and new urbanist type policies to try and reverse the damage. Dallas has had tremendous success in decreasing CO2 and Ozone emissions within the city. Houston growth management policies are often “form based” and structured in a way kin to smart growth principals.

    As for developers going outside Austin because the city has adopted smart growth policies, GET REAL! In the last years the downtown skyline has changed dramatically. 4 new buildings, all of which are taller tan the rest, are ALL CONDOS. Developers are chomping at the bit to build higher density residential and mixed use anywhere they can in ATX. When will all of you antiplanners realize that suburban, SF, sprawling development is not market driven but what is allowed by old development ordinances that need updating. The private sector want to build high density, mixed use stuff, but can’t, because ironically, all the antiplanners are out there telling local governments that’s not what the people want. As usual around here the pot keeps calling the kettle black.

  4. RJ

    The private sector want to build high density, mixed use stuff,…

    Sure, builders want to build high density. More rabbit hutches on the same patch of real estate. Profitable!

  5. Dan

    Yes, I’m fascinated by the lone star land use fetish. I respect TO and this is not a dig, but there are many, many people who will not live there, for numerous reasons. So the land is cheap as the urban elite go to a couple cities there and don’t need to bid up rents too much. The urban elite can’t find many amenities they want, so they go elsewhere. The urban elite are a big driver of Ricardian rent. I lived briefly in Dallas and spoke there this past March, and there’s some stuff there, but not a lot to do.

    DS

  6. Dan

    No, just the 5 or 6 things I call ‘fetishes’ that are focused on here, laser-like.

    But let’s rejoice over the devastating refutation. Truly high-energy.

    OnT: I’m not sure the state can handle a WA State-type Office for that function anyway. For implied reasons stated above.

    DS

  7. ws

    While lacking a true urbanist zoning code, Houston has/had plenty of pro-sprawl regulations in its comp plans:

    http://www.planetizen.com/node/109

    No zoning to promote urbanism, but plenty of codes to promote auto-dependency. Hardly a market reaction or “libertarian” paradise.

    But that would be too honest for ROT to address these fine points. Deception is his game. What’s funny is many hardcore planners are not in favor of the zoning laws of the past and want to get rid of many zoning regs in favor of a code based system that does not ban certain zoning, but makes it possible for other types developments to be built.

    I will state that overly restrictive zoning laws are not my cup of tea – and actually promote sprawl in the first place.

  8. bennett

    WS,

    Houston has a lot of ad hoc planning and growth management. Some is pro-sprawl other stuff is not.

    http://www.epa.gov/dced/noaa_epa_techasst.htm

    As for hardcore planners wanting to change the outdated regulations for new ones that will be outdated in four decades, C’est la vie. Planning aint perfect and I don’t know any planner who claims it is. The solutions of yesterday are the problems of today. The solutions of today are the problems of tomorrow. High density, transect oriented, mixed use developments and regulations will undoubtedly fail in some instances, be planned poorly in some instances and create some new foreseen and unforeseen problems. I personally am willing to accept this fate of progression as opposed to abolishing government planning, doing nothing, just letting “the market” handle it, or supporting the status quo.

  9. bennett

    “What’s funny is many hardcore planners are not in favor of the zoning laws of the past and want to get rid of many zoning regs in favor of a code based system that does not ban certain zoning, but makes it possible for other types developments to be built.”

    This is where crafty planning come in. The reason for this is that it is easier to get buy in from local development stakeholders if you don’t abolish the old system. If they want to do things the old way they can, and in the beginning they love to hear that. What you do is make the new review process so much easier and faster for the “other types of development” that no developer in their right mind would build anything under the old system basically making it obsolete. I’ve seen this work in several places, possibly even the town that TexanOkie is referring to.

  10. Dan

    What you do is make the new review process so much easier and faster for the “other types of development” that no developer in their right mind would build anything under the old system basically making it obsolete

    Me too, and I did this in one of my old places. It’s called ‘flexibility’. But you can’t have dinosaur Euclidan zoning and you need wording in your Comp Plan (and enabling legislation helps too). This place just approved a pretty nice development that I paved the way for when I was there, and the developer got most of what they wanted (save for a longer process I think) as did the town except for the few, loud ‘we think everything should be a 1-acre lot’ types that nonetheless professed to want to have their folks live out their lives next to them.

    We didn’t call it ‘Smart Growth’ or ‘New Urbanism’ or ‘Compact Development’ or ‘Bob’ when we worked on it, because such labels would have been a death knell.

    [/soapbox]

    DS

  11. Mike

    “We didn’t call it ‘Smart Growth’ or ‘New Urbanism’ or ‘Compact Development’ or ‘Bob’ when we worked on it, because such labels would have been a death knell.”

    How typically leftist. Can’t call it what it is because the public sees through the euphemistic label; must instead deceive and misdirect and hope the regulations can ram through before any citizens notice.

    Boy, it sure would be nice for people to be able to buy a slab of property and know they can do just about anything they good and well please with it, what with owning it and all.

  12. Dan

    How typically leftist.

    How typical this low-wattage statement is from you. I’m a financial conservative and I know how to get things done. Those were more roofs than the business community thought they’d get in their wildest prayers, because the dim-bulb NIMBYs and some property rightists were in the way. Yes, some so-called ‘property rights’ adherents were in the way and contributed to the delay – delay meaning carrying the paper for the loans on the private property came out of the private developer’s private pocket, BTPW. And the community will get some private homes to privately age in private place, what they publicly asked for.

    When you grow up and try to get things done in a realm beyond a basement, burger fryer or a cube, let us know how long your puerile, naive worldview lasts (or how long your string of failures lasts).

    DS

  13. Mike

    He can’t, Frank. That’s all he has. His arguments don’t hold water, so he is reduced to attacking a straw man he characterizes as representing me (or various other persons here). He is transparent to anyone with a glimmer of intelligence, so I am not concerned about anyone important taking him seriously.

  14. Andy Stahl

    There is no forest service, no BLM, and the state parks are a joke. — Bennett

    The Forest Service manages five national forests in Texas — Angelina, Caddo-LBJ, Davy Crockett, Sabine, and Sam Houston.

  15. bennett

    Andy,

    I spoke to soon. I should have said “to speak of.” The amount of quality public open space in TX is a joke compared to the rest of the western states, that is the point I’m trying to make. Texas is a great and awful place all at the same time, and it’s not just Austin that’s weird.

  16. Dan

    Real Estate economists, when not humming beatles’ songs, are always thinking about capitalization effects. This article offers some distinctive insights for rural areas. We all know that standard localized amenities such as low crime, nice climate (think of LA versus Houston), clean air are reflected in home prices. You do not have to be Adam Smith to anticipate that those homes in nicer cities and located within nice neighborhoods within those cities will sell for a price premium. [emphases added]

    Like I say, over and over, amenities. So does everyone else save the ideologues who have a wish for their fantasies to be true.

    DS

  17. mmmarvel

    Ya know, as someone who lived in the Portland metro area most of my life (over 50 years) and now living in Houston, I think that I’d be a pretty good judge of a comparison of Houston to ‘smart growth’ Portland. First, allow me to acknowledge that different folks like different living arraignments. Second, allow me to tell you that Oregon (and the Portland area in particular) has become horrible with the amount of government regulation as to what you can do to land, even if you own the land, even if you owned it prior to one of their numerous land use laws. And finally, I’ll admit, I don’t like living in an apartment (aka a condo), or living in an urban setting, or taking ‘mass transit’.

    That said, I love Houston. Yes, it’s auto centric and that works for me just fine. It’s funny, the folks here complain about congestion, but they have no idea. Portland is SO MUCH MORE congested (by design) than Houston that it’s literally day and night. Did I mention that homes down here are fantastically affordable compared to Oregon (pick just about any place in Oregon). Cost of living is much less too.

    If you like ‘smart growth’ and you like urban living, then maybe Houston isn’t the place for you. Although they do have ‘urban living’ areas here – complete with light rail and ‘lofts’. It doesn’t appear to be a hugely popular option here.

    Bottom line, I don’t like ‘smart growth’, I don’t like what it’s done to Oregon. I am quite happy in Houston and feel that planners do far more harm than good.

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