NOTE: Those of you from who aren’t from Houston will probably want to ignore this post. OR, you might to read it and realize how lucky you are to live in another city that likely understands urban planning better than ours. Recently, we’ve had to form an organization called OKRA – An Organized Kooperative for Restaurant Affairs to defend ourselves against the ongoing pressures of City policies. We’ve got some other great ideas planned such as a non-profit bar we plan to operate and seasonal food festivals, but for now we’re focused on resisting increases to minimum parking standards. Please excuse this blog’s temporary political turn as we have yet to finish OKRA’s website, and there is a major Planning Commission Meeting tomorrow. Here is the letter we sent to the City of Houston Planning Commission today; all we request is more time to generate the best possible solution.
December 7, 2011
Dear City of Houston Planning Commission:
Prior to tomorrow’s discussion of the Off-Street Parking Ordinance, those of us at OKRA, an Organized Kooperative on Restaurant Affairs, would like to take an opportunity to encourage the Planning Commission to better investigate the relevant issues surrounding this proposal before voting to pass the ordinance onto the City Council. During last week’s Commission meeting, we found it somewhat ironic that Planning and Development Director Gafrick chose to explain the process to those of us in the audience by using a culinary analogy: “This is kind of how we make sausage here at the City…the Planning Commission tries to give [City] Council their best thoughts and what they think makes sense after receiving public comment”. We happen to know a thing or two about making sausage, and the first lesson one is taught about this process is when you rush the process, all you do is break the casing and make a huge mess.
During the Public Hearing, the Planning Commission asked that we generate solutions, not only criticism addressing the proposed Ordinance. We spent a significant amount of time crafting specific solutions, most of which have been generalized in Commission discussions and not fully considered for incorporation into the ordinance. Specifically, OKRA’s proposal for a three-tiered structure to restaurant and bar parking restrictions was discussed only in the context of free-standing buildings below 2,000 square feet. Unfortunately, this would apply to virtually no available spaces in the City of Houston. Several of our members have been looking for a location that would match those specific requirements for up to three years. They simply do not exist, and this concession towards a tiered approach only amounts to a polite gesture, not an actual consideration of the challenges we face as an industry. Yes, a tiered approach does require more thought, effort, and administration, but the role of municipal government is to pursue courses that best aid local citizens, not to choose what is most convenient for the bureaucratic process. As it stands currently, we find the efforts regarding the Ordinance to be well-intended, but grossly inadequate.
The major problem with the current sausage is consistency, and there’s nothing we find more offensive than mushy sausage. Director Gafrick and others have told us throughout this process that the goal of the Commission and Staff was to find a balanced solution to the problems caused by on-street parking. There is no balance in the current proposal. Our industry only suffers from these proposals, and despite the opportunity to do so, no compromises have been made that would address the concerns of both residents and independent operators.
Metro currently has over $2 billion under construction in transit investment. The fact that increasing minimum parking standards will negatively impact the use of mass transit and urban density represents a glaring contradiction in city planning initiatives, the primary responsibility of the Commission. Additionally, not one person seems willing to discuss the fact that increasing minimum parking standards for bars is going to increase DUI-related fatality rates.
We request that you do better than Oscar Meyer. We feel that our extensive efforts to engage the democratic process that regulates our city is not complete and more consideration of our perspectives need to be undertaken by Planning Commissioners. We may be new to this process, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to make a mean link of sausage if given the opportunity.
OKRA – An Organized Kooperative on Restaurant Affairs