Houston creates more places to drink, new jobs with zoning

Houston’s City Council voted Wednesday to expand its entertainment zone across downtown in a move Councilman Robert Gallegos said would help create more job opportunities instead of pandemic business closings.

The city originally created the downtown entertainment zone in 2003. It is defined as a mixed-use area, usually spanning 10 acres or 10 blocks, with high density and special development interests such as tax increment reinvestment zones, according to council agenda documents.

The bylaw changes would expand the current zone to all areas within downtown’s elevated freeways and allow more restaurants to serve alcohol per block and eliminate the need for outward facing signs advertising the sale of alcohol.

Gallegos, whose district includes downtown, said the expansion would help when the city hosts the World Cup in 2026 and also give people who moved into newly built condos and apartments from the city’s Downtown Living Initiative more social options.

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The expansion comes as officials talk about ways to expand downtown’s footprint.

Gallegos, who chairs the city’s Quality of Life Committee, said he met with the downtown management district and said they wanted to create more space on Main Street and make improvements to downtown’s open spaces.

“You associate it with the expansion of the entertainment district, that downtown will be more of a place to go for entertainment,” Gallegos said. “And that’s the bottom line.”

City code dictates that alcohol cannot be sold within 300 feet of a church, school, public hospital, or within 1,000 feet of a school district if they requested an alcohol-free zone. But when an entertainment zone is created, the distance requirement for churches, schools and hospitals goes out the window.

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Officials from the Islamic Da’Wah Center, which is in the current entertainment zone, were the only stakeholders in the area who did not agree with the proposed changes.

Its director, Ameer Abuhalimeh, said the changes will disrupt their operations and with people coming to worship.

Abuhalimeh said there have been problems with vandalism, violence and confrontations, as well as littering and problems with people using the toilet in public at the centre.

“If you see people throwing up and going to the bathroom and being violent, that’s probably a cause or a product of being drunk among many, many other problems,” he said.

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