Houston residential buffering code changes considered by city council

Under the city’s current ordinance, buildings taller than 75 feet only require a distance of 30 to 40 feet from single family homes on larger lots.

picture of apartment building
Florian Martin
FILE: The Market Square Tower apartment building under construction.

The Houston City Council delayed proposed changes on Wednesday to its Residential Buffering Code for newly constructed commercial developments. The proposed changes would provide protection to Houstonians living in residential neighborhoods as it relates to commercial buildings, like high-rises, close to single family homes.

For the last two years, the city has been working with residents and developers to come up with new requirements that allow the city to continue to develop, but also protect its residents. Some have expressed the negative impacts that high-rises and other commercial buildings have on residential neighborhoods.

For example, under the city's current Chapter 42 Residential Buffering Ordinance, buildings taller than 75 feet only require a distance of 30 to 40 feet from single family homes on larger lots. The new proposed changes would allow for a buffer for homes on all single-family residential developments and multi-unit residential developments – which are small multi-family developments with eight or less units on a property.

The city's planning and development director Margaret Wallace Brown said the city wants to make sure new developments do not have a negative impact on nearby families.

"As Houston continues to infill development, as we continue to live closer to each other, more and more people are moving to Houston, we want to make sure that this development does not cause problems to the existing residents," she said.

The proposed changes would also require mid-rise buildings taller than 65 feet to have a 15 feet buffer between residential developments. Other changes that would go into effect if approved would be garage screening and lighting standards for commercial parking garages, light fixtures outside commercial garages, and dumpster screening standards that are adjacent to streets and residential properties.

The agenda item was tagged by council members Sallie Alcorn, Mike Knox, Michael Kubosh and David Robinson – which means council will have to take a vote on it next week.

"There's a language issue that they’re working out, I've talked to the administration and some of the stakeholders," said Alcorn. "I think it's just a small thing they're working out on the garage screening."

Although a vote has been delayed, District C Council member Abbie Kamin says the changes are an important compromise for residents who want to continue to live in the city.

"As we talk about neighborhood protection, as we increase development inside the loop, these are very important," she said.

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