After months of discussion, the Houston City Council approved an overhaul of the City of Houston’s Off-Street Parking and Loading ordinance – Article VIII of Chapter 26 of the Code of Ordinances – in March 2013.  The changes to the ordinance are the first since the ordinance was first adopted in 1989 and do not apply to existing businesses at their current locations, which are only required to meet the previous ordinance standards.  For new businesses, or new locations for current businesses, the minimum distance between a business and its off-site parking (which can comprise up to 25% of the total self-parking spaces) has been increased from 250 feet to 800 feet and can be increased further to 1,000 if the business provides pedestrian amenities that are sufficient, in the eyes of the City, to mitigate the extended distance.  Options for shared parking have also been increased.  In addition, new commercial, retail and office development are now required to provide bicycle parking, and the ordinance allows for the minimum parking standards to be decreased if the bicycle parking facilities exceed the minimum requirements.  

The biggest change affects the dining and hospitality industry: restaurants and bars are now divided into eight classifications – the previous ordinance had only two groups, bars and restaurants – and each classification has a different minimum parking standard that is based on the gross floor area of the establishment, including outdoor decks, patios and outdoor seating areas in most instances.  The classifications range from take-out restaurants, which are required to have 4 parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of gross floor area, to bars, clubs and lounges (businesses that derive more than 50% of their gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption), which are required to have 14 parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of gross floor area, including outdoor decks and patios.

The new ordinance also requires annual certifications for businesses that utilize parking lease arrangements and for off-site lots used only for valet parking.  The valet-only lots are permitted to use alternate layouts, but valet service must be provided at all times to qualify.

Overall, the new parking ordinance provides greater flexibility for businesses to meet the minimum parking standards of the City of Houston.