Developing Houston: Land-Use Regulation in the “Unzoned City” and its Outcomes

Report by Alexius Marcano, Staff Researcher, Matthew Festa, Kinder Fellow; Professor, South Texas College of Law Houston, Kyle Shelton, Director of Strategic Partnerships
September 2017

Kinder Institute for Urban Research   (Houston)

Houston is recognized nationally for its unique approach to land-use regulation and lack of formal zoning. The city possesses a number of tools that are or can be used to regulate and shape development in lieu of zoning. The tools that exist in Houston are similar to those found in peer cities such as Dallas and Los Angeles. And in all three cities there are similar development patterns, especially in residential development. While much of Houston’s existing land-use rules allow development to function similarly to how it functions in these other cities, Houston’s regulations struggle to offer predictability to both developers and residents. Because many of its regulations are one-size-fits-all, the city is unable to easily tailor plans to the needs of specific business areas or neighborhoods. This report lays out the existing elements of Houston’s land development system and highlights several areas where it could be improved to better serve the city, residents, businesses and developers.