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lilbigjanet

Downtown with zoning?

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Has anyone ever thought about what Downtown's skyline would've looked like if Houston had developed traditionally. Would Transco still have been built? or what the Uptown boom would've looked like localized downtown? Just curious. 

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Major eye roll to the comment above mine.

It's difficult to say what our skyline would look like if we had zoning. Dallas and Atlanta have extended skylines and patches of high density development even with zoning. I think we would still have the American General Center, Uptown, and basically every other high rise cluster we have now. The only buildings I could think of that might have had difficulty getting off the ground might be the Huntington, Ashby (as if it hasn't already), and maybe a few random commercial buildings in predominantly low density neighborhoods (the white building on shepherd with the cross work parking garage it sits on).

Greenway could still have been possible as zones can be re-zoned.

It's a tough question, but my answer is probably the same architecture, maybe more buildings focused on Downtown? Who knows...

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I think the random high density buildings in some neighborhoods is still preferable to a dense, collected downtown with miles of sprawl. That's what I absolutely hated about Tampa...

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Why has Downtown developed so vertically without zoning while Midtown in large part has not?

 

Blocks are the same size. Streets are constructed just as well. One would assume the same quality utilities are present. The geology should be similar. Why build vertically in Downtown and not in Midtown?

Edited by Sparrow

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Interesting question.  The closest analogue, I suppose, is Dallas.  So ... is the distribution of high-rises (etc.) in Dallas so different that we can attribute it to zoning?  To me, that seems a stretch, but I'm willing to hear arguments to the contrary.

 

As a child of Houston from the 50s-60s-70s, perhaps I have a different perspective.  In my early years, downtown was the place to go for shopping, movies, buying out-of-town newspapers and the like.  That changed after the big demographic move to the newly developing suburbs.  Downtown and the central city became perceived as a place to avoid.  I remember my dad, in the 60s, stating (almost with a tone of pride) that he hadn't been downtown for "x" many years.  

 

I remember visiting downtown Dallas in 1970 and perhaps it was just as sad then as downtown Houston was.  I'm a child of the newly developing suburbia and it was a great place to grow up.  But ... I think its also good to have a central core that is vibrant, as well.

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Despite Houston and Dallas being younger than old line cities in the East Coast, all American downtowns in large cities were deteriorating. Houston and Dallas were no exception.

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I agree with Montrose.  Along with us looking a lot like Dallas and Atlanta in having several high rise commercial areas in a zoned city, I'd add LA and Denver just off the top of my head.  

 

Greenway Plaza WAS a neighborhood of fairly nice, Wally-and-the-Beav single family homes, of similar size and quality to whatever remains of Afton Oaks's original stock.  Century Development bought up the whole shootin' match, complete with the occasional holdout - so, yeah, zoning just wouldn't have been a thing for them.  

 

Regarding Midtown not going high rise:  Offhand, I think the Pierce Elevated did a lot to keep that from happening.  It may not physically interrupt the streets running north - south, but it sure is one giant psychological dividing line.  Also, keep in mind that Houston of the early '60s was about the size of Austin now.

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I agree with Montrose.  Along with us looking a lot like Dallas and Atlanta in having several high rise commercial areas in a zoned city, I'd add LA and Denver just off the top of my head.  

 

Greenway Plaza WAS a neighborhood of fairly nice, Wally-and-the-Beav single family homes, of similar size and quality to whatever remains of Afton Oaks's original stock.  Century Development bought up the whole shootin' match, complete with the occasional holdout - so, yeah, zoning just wouldn't have been a thing for them.  

 

Regarding Midtown not going high rise:  Offhand, I think the Pierce Elevated did a lot to keep that from happening.  It may not physically interrupt the streets running north - south, but it sure is one giant psychological dividing line.  Also, keep in mind that Houston of the early '60s was about the size of Austin now.

 

Greenway Plaza, then "Lamar Weslayan" (or Weslayan Lamar?), didn't become Greenway Plaza on accident. I think I may have mentioned this in the high-speed rail thread, but here it is again (see the Houston Today PDF for the source on this): Greenway Plaza's developers were essentially able to blackmail the neighborhood into giving up. The neighborhood had already been reduced by US-59, but the subdivision was protected only with deeds that prevented commercial growth, lasting about 15 years (a time that was coming up soon and about to expire). After that, houses could be converted to businesses or business lots like others in Houston. 

 

They were able to sweeten the deal by buying the houses at market value, as well.

 

In other cities, the whole process of trying to buy out a neighborhood for a new commercial development wouldn't have been worth it, because they wouldn't have the leverage regarding the deeds.

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Deed restrictions have been Houston's Plan A for land use restrictions for the last 100 years, give or take.  While I haven't looked at what we'll call the Lamar Weslayan restrictions in particular, most well drafted sets I've seen included provisions for renewal.  That's how they get around the thing that confuses the living dickens out of law students called the "Rule Against Perpetuities," which prevents someone from clamping down a permanent restriction on land use.

 

Put differently, deed restrictions are how River Oaks has maintained its character for much longer than Lamar Weslayan was there.

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Regarding Midtown not going high rise:  Offhand, I think the Pierce Elevated did a lot to keep that from happening.  It may not physically interrupt the streets running north - south, but it sure is one giant psychological dividing line.  Also, keep in mind that Houston of the early '60s was about the size of Austin now.

 

 

Today, I think the Greyhound station is as big an impediment to growth in the area as the freeway. I've head from many folks that they do not feel safe around there.

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yep, take out pierce elevated,  you still have greyhound, you still have that other bus station (El Expreso), you still have all the homeless that congregate around St Johns and St Josephs. 

 

whether rationally or irrationally those should be barriers or not, they are.

 

In fact, of the two 'barriers' the pierce elevated is the most irrational of the two. Why are people so afraid of walking under an elevated freeway again?

 

You'd think it would be in the Midtown TIRZ best interests to beautify the area under there and light it up to bring more business from the downtown side of the freeway.

 

as to the question of the thread, I think the major differences between Houston with zoning and without would be less about residential and commercial overlap, but residential and industrial overlap. the area along buffalo bayou and 225 starting at the valero refinery would probably be very different, but the galleria, greenway, all those places would still exist in much the same state as they are today.

Edited by samagon
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When Ken Schnitzer (Century Development) was assembling the land for Greenway Plaza, I remember reading about the last holdout homeowner.  That fellow sold his place to them for what was at the time, a fabulous price, reported to be  $500K or a bit more.  Not so outrageous these days, but 40+ years ago it was shocking.  

 

I do remember what the houses looked like ... and they were indeed similar to the original stock in Afton Oaks.  I think the house I mentioned was more-or-less where the twin 30-story high-rises are on the SW corner of Richmond and Edloe.

 

In the summer of (maybe) 1971, I had a summer job at the drugstore in the "Greenway Underground", which for a while was a cool place to be, with a movie theatre and various shops.  One of my job duties was to make deliveries and I once delivered Schnitzer's order of Ultra Bright Toothpaste to his office.  GHW Bush (W's dad)  was said to drop in at the drugstore from time to time, but I never saw him.  That was about the time he was in the House of Representatives representing west Houston.  

Edited by ArchFan

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yep, take out pierce elevated,  you still have greyhound, you still have that other bus station (El Expreso), you still have all the homeless that congregate around St Johns and St Josephs. 

 

That may be a decent current evaluation, but it overlooks the timeline.  For roughly 20 years after the Pierce was built the Greyhound station was across from Union Station (the painted sign on an adjacent building was even visible until it was recently torn down for the two block wrap), and Trailways was where the Four Seasons is now (or thereabouts).  El Expreso didn't even exist, at least not there.  Back In The Day the homeless were routinely gathered and locked up.  Also, even though I am perhaps bolder than the average bear, under the Pierce and 59/69 elevated freeways is icky, even for me.  It's dark and there's bird dooky all over the place - that's way too much for the typical delicate flower who gets skeert of poor folks.

Edited by mollusk
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I just worry that as time goes on, and the other development nodes grow, and downtown begins to fill it's empty lot capacity and become more expensive to build in, we will hemorrhage growth opportunities to the nodes instead of seeing complementary growth.  

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