Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have linked Florida communities to flood-ravaged Houston and other Texas towns and cities. The historic storms struck within days of each other, wreaking havoc, taking lives and causing billions of dollars in property damage.
An unexpected difference between what happened to Florida and what happened to Texas was in our approaches to something that seems almost trivial in the face of nature’s fury: zoning and land use. A look at the devastation in Houston, in particular, makes it clear that the zoning choices made in that sprawling major American city set it apart from the cities in Florida pummeled by Irma.
Many people have noted since Harvey hit Houston that the fourth most populous city in the U.S. is the largest without zoning regulations.
The investigative journalists of ProPublica recently published an article that looked at a planned community just outside of Houston. Lakes on Eldridge was an upscale suburban delight featuring waterfalls, a clubhouse and jogging trails.
“This neighborhood was a paradise,” said one of its residents. Unfortunately, the people living in Lakes on Eldridge learned too late that their homes were built inside one of two massive reservoirs. That’s right — inside.
It should be noted that the reservoirs are normally dry. They were built west of Houston decades ago to prevent flooding in the city’s downtown. And the plan worked for many years — until the historic rains of Hurricane Harvey hit.
Thousands of homes inside the reservoirs were heavily damaged by the more than foot of water that poured into the area via rainfall and runoff.
We don’t know if voters or politicians there will reconsider their zoning choices, but we do know that here in Brevard County, zoning helps us organize the community in a way that suits residents and business owners alike.