City of Houston Proposes Changes to Chapter 42 – Member Input Requested!

The City of Houston’s Department of Planning and Development has proposed changes to Chapter 42 of the Code of Ordinances, the land development code. Generally, the City regulates land development in Houston and within its extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) through Chapter 42. The City of Houston does not have zoning, but development is governed by codes that address how property can be subdivided. City codes do not address land use.

The City’s proposed changes to Chapter 42 are summarized below. We have also included detailed presentations provided to HAR by the City of Houston, feedback and concerns given by Houston’s Super Neighborhood Alliance and a letter of support from the Greater Houston Builders Association (GHBA). All are below. HAR is welcoming our members to review the City’s plans for Chapter 42 and to provide feedback to the HAR Governmental Affairs Department. Please leave any comments below or email dennis.blanchard@har.com

City of Houston Presentation on Chapter 42 Amendments

Concerns of Houston Super Neighborhood Alliance

Letter of Support from GHBA


Summary of Proposed Changes

Removing the Urban Area Designation:
Chapter 42 has a core set of rules that apply to the City and the Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ). This amendment removes the “Urban Area” designation and establishes optional, city-wide performance standards for single-family residential developments and reduced building lines for commercial, retail and multi-family developments located along major thoroughfares with a planned right-of-way of 80 feet or less.

Optional City-Wide Single Family Performance Standards:
This amendment establishes a minimum lot size of 3,500 square feet in the city and allows for the use of lot size performance standards to reduce the lot size below 3,500 square feet, reduced building lines for certain single-family residential developments and allows single-family residential lots to take access from a shared driveway. The amendment also expands the optional Special Minimum Lot Size Requirement and Special Minimum Building Line Requirement city-wide.

Average Lot Size/Average Lot Width for Single-Family Residential:
Any lot in the city that is less than 3,500 square feet will be required to meet compensating open space requirements or optional lot size performance standards, as applicable. Key points to the amendment are as follows:
• Allowing for lots less than 1,400 square feet if the average area in the subdivision or block face is a minimum of 1,400 square feet, as applicable.
• Allowing for a minimum lot width of 15 feet if the average width in the block face is a minimum of 18-feet.

Shared Driveways:
There are concerns about fire protection, access and turning movements and the adequacy of a shared driveway width, length, geometrics and minimum setbacks adjacent to shared driveways for firefighting purposes. This concern has led to amendments related to the shared driveway provision for single-family residential development inside the city. Key points to the amendment are as follows:

Additional Parking for Certain Single-Family Residential Developments:
The practice of subdividing larger, single-family lots into multiple single-family lots continues throughout many neighborhoods in the city. These new, higher-density, single‐family residential developments typically provide only the minimum number of parking spaces required by code. As a result, there is often a lack of parking in these redeveloping areas. The proposed amendment requires one additional parking space for every six dwelling units for single-family residential developments with six or more dwelling units when they are developed on a shared driveway or 28-foot permanent access easement.

Optional City-Wide Building Line Performance Standards along Certain Major Thoroughfares:
This amendment allows for reduced building lines for commercial, retail and multi-family developments located along major thoroughfares within the city with a planned width of 80 feet or less. The optional performance standards create a more pedestrian-focused development by moving the buildings closer to the public street and moving parking to the side or the rear of the development.

Building Line Encroachments:
This amendment eliminates encroachments into any building line less than ten feet and specifies the type of encroachments allowed into a Chapter 42 building line of ten feet or greater. Key points to the amendment are as follows:
• An encroachment of up to 30 inches is allowed for roof eaves, bay windows, balconies, fireplace
chimneys or decorative features that are cantilevered into the setback line.
• An encroachment of up to 5 feet is allowed for open stairways or wheelchair ramps into the
building setback line.
There is a provision that allows for encroachments into the 3-foot building line along a shared driveway.

Existing Conditions Survey for Single-Family Residential Developments:
This amendment requires certain information be shown in a site survey for each subdivision plat with single‐family residential within the city. This is to assist staff review of site development elements earlier in the development process and identify potential problems that may arise during permitting.

Subdivision Name Requirements for Certain Partial Replats:
Neighborhood residents are concerned that a new replat application with a different subdivision name will remove the property from the deed restrictions. To ensure name continuity, new applications for partial replats of single-family residential subdivisions containing separately filed deed restrictions must be sequentially numbered and refer back to the original subdivision plat name. For example, the first partial replat of “Sunny Land Subdivision” would be named “Sunny Land Subdivision partial replat No. 1.”

Special Minimum Lot Size Requirement:
The amendments to the special minimum lot size requirement expand the provision city-wide and will make it easier for neighborhoods to protect themselves from unwanted redevelopment within the core residential area of their neighborhood. A provision will be added for establishing a “Special Minimum Lot Size Area” that would allow residents, a civic club, or a homeowners association to apply for an area not to exceed 400 lots with a provision to go up to 500 lots if all lots are within the same subdivision plat.

Special Minimum Building Line Requirement:
This amendment expands the provision city-wide and clarifies the ordinance language related to the special minimum building line requirement to make it easier for residents to understand the application requirements and establishment process.

Lift Station Reserve Requirements:

This amendment resolves the conflicts found between Chapter 42 and the PWE Infrastructure Design Manual regarding allowable lift station reserve sizes.

Side Setbacks Adjacent to Single-Family Residential:
The code allows for the construction of buildings on the property line when the construction includes the appropriate fire rated wall. The amendment includes a change to Chapter 10 of the Code of Ordinances requiring a construction repair and maintenance agreement with the abutting property owner when construction is within three feet of a single family residential property line.



Dana Kervin


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  • Clearly these issues are only designed to comingle
    residential with commercial. Houston has been so busy Incorporating and Annexing
    Land, they have completely lost sight of basic Quality of Life Issues. With no zoning or guidelines they have
    permitted businesses to infiltrate communities which invite traffic of both
    foot and vehicle. The Quality of Life issues
    that include environment, physical, recreation, leisure time social belonging
    and mental health has consequences on human happiness and security because
    Houston Leadership pushed personal agendas and growth for business income.

  • I think someone should take these people on a tour of one of these crowded areas. Take at least six cars and have them meet you at a house on the market. Better yet, do it during inclimate weather. There won’t be any place to park for just 6 cars. We’re turning this into apartment living with no room for family and friends to come visit. We still have plenty of land without succumbing to shared driveways and building on lot lines which is only going to exasperate more problems. I see this as a quality of life issue! Maybe we need to look at whose pockets are likely to be lined. There are so many things wrong with these ideas. Common sense?!?!

  • There’s good reason why urban areas have different zoning than rural areas. Compare Manhattan to upstate New York. Houston has no zoning but controls what is built by regulations, and changes to them, as are now being proposed. Building codes are a separate issue. I, too, support a statewide minimum building code that is enforced. If a house is built in Harris County it may be built to City of Houston building codes but no one inspects it to see if it actually meets code, nor is any Certificate of Occupancy issued. If you have ever watched any episode of Holmes on Homes (a Canadian TV production) you can see how sloppy and dangerously completed work can be hidden. But, the dangers are there. That situation lurks in all of our surrounding counties.

    The biggest problem I see with areas like Rice Military is that the City never required the ditches to be piped and the surface above made usable. I consider that a major error. But, change that now. All new developments should require the storm drains to be piped. Then everyone will get to pay a little more in taxes to go back and bring the rest of the area up to par. As to no parking, or insufficient parking, that is a big pain in the neck, but again check out New York City. They control parking and limit when and where you can park. Maybe no parking on the right side of the street on trash pick up days? With today’s electronics we could easily have LED signs that change when you can park as the trash pick up schedules change. You could easily provide half-day parking bans. Area just west of Durham, no parking in the morning. Area east of Durham, no parking in the afternoon. You get the idea.

    Here’s a proposal that should be considered. Houston has the highest number of burglaries in the United States. Way to go Houston!!!! San Antonio and Dallas are close behind. Why not require that entry doors be “hardened” so that they can not be kicked open? That is not expensive to do, particularly on new construction. Why not require all windows on the first floor (including entry doors and sidelites) to be made of Lexan? You can hit it with a sledge hammer and it won’t break. I am sick and tired of seeing stories on the news that the restaurant (or house) had the entry door (windows) smashed and they were burglarized three times in the last six months. Or, worse, there was a home invasion and the home owner was shot and killed. Make it harder to effect entry. What’s the old saying from Einstein about insanity? To paraphrase Einstein, if you keep replacing the door (windows) as you have in the past and you expect different results on break-ins, that is insanity.

    Finally, as to the proposed changes I find it hard to interpret the effect of the proposals. There should be a detailed discussion of the pros and cons and impact of the changes. For example, I don’t know if 3500 feet for a residential building lot makes sense. What is the present standard in The Heights, or Rice Military? We want to provide for continuing development in these areas. They will remain intensive TH development areas for a long time, but eventually they will be torn down and large multi-family buildings will be built. That may be 50 years from now, but it will happen. So, provide a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of a proposed change.

  • If private driveways at least 17′ in depth are provided for each home in the subdivision, this should satisfy the additional parking requirement. I believe that is not currently the case.

  • I live in Rice Military and I think it would be a bad idea to extend Chapter 42 out to Beltway 8. 26 homes per acre under chapter 42 has made Rice Military and other neighborhoods such as Cottage Grove a big disaster. Narrow streets, no parking, Washington Av spillover into the neighborhood makes the quality of life and safety issues a real problem. I see trucks, garbage trucks and emergency vehicles having problems navigating these narrow streets. Why inflict this mess on other neighborhoods further out. The city should have studied the situation before they let this happen to neighborhoods like Rice Military.

  • Sounds like the City of Houston has a mess on its hands. The only recommendation I have is that building codes and zones and land use should be countywide and statewide. All cities and counties should be enforcing the same building codes. There should be a home rule law implemented allowing all counties home rule and these home rule laws should be identical to the laws that all municipalities should have, there should be no distinction between city and county laws and building laws and codes. This is a serious mistake. There should be land use laws for both the cities and counties to restrict construction when needed and to encourage construction when needed.