Monday, August 4, 2008

Airport Zoning Ordinance

The city recently released its draft ordinance on airport zoning. The ordinance was mandated by the FAA at the risk of the city losing federal funding.

The ordinance creates three “tiers” around the city’s airports. Building restrictions in the outer tiers are minimal, while in the tiers closest to the airports the ordinance prohibits construction of hospitals, schools, and churches, and requires soundproofing of new homes.

Undoubtedly the ordinance will increase the cost of housing within these tiers. The cost of soundproofing new homes will ultimately be passed on to home buyers. Residential construction on undeveloped land is prohibited, which will reduce the availability of housing.

More significantly, the ordinance prohibits individuals from using their property as they choose. The city will deny a property owner permission to build a house, a church, or a hospital on his land, even if he is willing to tolerate the noise of air traffic. In other words, the city is telling the property owner what is best for him, and using the force of law to impose its dictates.

Violations of the ordinance carry a penalty of $500 per day. Which means, if you choose to build a home that does not meet the soundproofing requirements, you will be fined. You violate nobody’s rights by doing this, but are subjected to the threat of fines.

That the federal government mandates such ordinances is bad enough. That our City Council caves to blackmail is worse. Rather than standing up to the FAA, Council simply goes along. Rather than protect the rights of Houstonians, Council appeases a federal bureaucracy.

For years the city has enacted ordinances that, in other cities, would be a part of a comprehensive zoning plan. This piece-meal approach has allowed the city to slowly grab more control over land use. Airport zoning is just one more example of this.

Fortunately the ordinance is still in the draft phase. Both the city and City Council will hold hearings on the ordinance prior to voting. The first hearing is scheduled for August 21.

© J. Brian Phillips 2008

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