Galveston’s elected officials are considering banning new duplexes or multifamily homes in single-family residential zoned districts and local historic districts such as the East End, Silk Stocking and Lost Bayou.

The provision is one of many proposed changes in the land-use development regulations before the city’s planning commission and will eventually go before the city council. Existing duplexes and multifamily homes would be grandfathered in if the ordinance is approved.

Supporters said the ban would help maintain the integrity of Galveston’s oldest homes and preserve the charm of the historic neighborhoods and could help alleviate some of the parking problems, particularly in the East End Historic District.

But opponents argue the proposed ban steps on the private property rights of homeowners and worsened the shortage of affordable housing on the island. Some said the proposal seemed “snobby.”

In some island neighborhoods, tensions about the proposal are high enough that some residents didn’t want to share their opinion publicly.

“These types of land use issues do bring out people that are passionate on one side or the other,” said Councilman Craig Brown, whose district includes Silk Stocking and Lost Bayou historic districts.

The council last passed a major overhaul of the land-use development rules in March 2015. At that time, the council passed a new zoning designation for historic neighborhoods and prohibited future multifamily complexes in the districts, Brown said.

As more changes and revisions are being considered this year, a new proposal would ban future duplexes in the historic districts after residents in the historic district requested the planning department address the issue, city spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said.

The city’s planning commission recommended the change, but the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce in its recent proposal opposed the duplex ban. The debate came up during an April 3 planning commission meeting.

“This would allow more, we don’t need more,” Planning Commission Chairman Bruce Reinhart said. “We’ve got plenty of converted homes already, and I wouldn’t want, and you wouldn’t want, someone to convert a single-family home next to you into a duplex.”

Will Hinson lives in an eight-unit complex near 18th and Church streets. He agreed with rules maintaining the historical integrity of homes and requirements to keep the front of homes historically appropriate, but said he opposed rules prohibiting what property owners can do inside their homes, including creating a duplex.

“As long as you keep the outside slightly original, I don’t think the city should tell people what they can do inside their property,” Hinson said.

David Bowers, a Galveston Realtor and Silk Stocking resident, said he would likely support the ban if it allowed a zoning variance exception. Bowers wasn’t initially aware of the proposal, but said he in theory favored having a provision in city rules that initially bans duplexes and multifamily units in his neighborhood. He might be in favor of giving property owners some ability to apply for one if they can prove they’re doing it in a way that keeps the historic integrity of a house, he said.

“I would be in favor of no more multifamily in the neighborhood unless it went through a specific type of zoning variance,” Bowers said.

The proposal likely will go before the Galveston City Council as early as May or June.

Marissa Barnett: 409-683-5257;

Senior Reporter

(23) comments

Randy Chapman

This should have been done long ago.

David Schuler

If the proposed ordinance allows a variance, don't even bother; it would be worthless words on wasted paper created from trees chopped down for no good reason.

David Schuler

Furthermore, Mr. Bowers comments are extraordinarily self-serving. As a realtor, he would benefit from sales to investors who intend to subdivide the properties. The primary concern among residents is long term upkeep, parking and resident turnover, all of which have nothing at all to do with what the facade looks like when the variance application is processed. And he should know that.

Jeff Patterson

In the Historic Districts the guidelines are the same regardless of what the property is used for...there are many beautiful homes of all types here. I see parking as a huge problem and feel the city should enforce ordinances regarding that. 2 on the street, just like residents and the rest OFF the street. Some of the streets are so congested with cars from multiple duplexes that homeowners can’t find a place to park. This kind of congestion is a real problem for first responders as well. Maceo

Its ridiculous to think duplexes would deter from the "historical" aesthetic of the Historical District. I've seen beautiful duplexes in New Orleans, Chicago, London, and many other places. With proper building requirements, the historic look can be achieved quite easily, and be in keeping with the designs and buildings in the past. Duplexes, indeed, were and are part of historical areas everywhere in the world. We should do all we can to preserve property owner's rights, however, regulations and codes can do wonders in keeping with neighbors' rights as well. A reasonable compromise can easily be achieved if we all come together to solve this problem.

David Schuler

It's naive to believe that widespread conversions to multifamily would maintain the historic nature of the East End. The "look" is not the issue, and pointing to isolated examples in mega-cities is worthless when it comes to cities the size of Galveston.

Ron Shelby

Banning duplex conversion goes directly against creating affordable housing on the island

David Schuler

The term 'affordable housing' is misleading. Any house in Galveston is affordable by someone.

Gary Miller

Rent control might be the solution. Limit rents on duplexes to half of what it was on the property before division. Viola! Affordable housing.

Charlotte O'rourke

Numerous homes in the east end have already been converted, and we lost structural historical integrity in the process.

We currently have favorable tax credit laws at the state and federal level that recover costs for historical property owners making improvements, but this credit is ONLY for INCOME producing property and NOT for SINGLE family occupied homes.

While this helps preserve historical buildings for business purposes (which I endorse) it does nothing for encouraging single family ownership and community integrity and fostering permanent life-long neighborhoods .... which is a real bummer.

When we bought our first home on Postoffice, it was a duplex and we converted it back to a single family home which it still is today.

I am optimistic that our current City Council will develop a responsible, reasonable policy that considers all of the implications of this change.

I also wish we could accomplish this discussion without a big Galveston brouhaha.

But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Charlotte O'rourke

Question - I thought conversion to multi family units was already banned in an HZD as of 2015. LDR. Am I wrong? Why call for a ban again? I admit I’m 😕 puzzled. Someone help me out here and explain it to me?

Jeff Patterson

I think the wording “duplex” was not defined as such in the language of the LDR’s

Mike Box

Charlotte: The way the article is written it almost sounds like conversions were banned in 2015 and now we're banning them again but very quietly adding the option to apply for a variance, which in plain English sounds like "OK, we went too far the first time so while the ordinance looks really tough you can actually do whatever you want to do but you have to come ask first and if we like you we'll let you do it". I really hope I'm wrong because a lot of (in my opinion) inappropriate stuff happens in Galveston when we have the option to just ignore the rules on the books.

Charlotte O'rourke

Thanks for explaining. The word multi family is defined in the LDR and prohibited in a HZD.

A duplex is a type of multi family dwelling by definition. Not sure why the topic would be opened again unless the goal is to widen what can be built and not to ban what is already prohibited.

David Collins

Charlotte, I think you had it right the first time. When the HZD was redefined as R3 the wording on multi-family was broken out more specifically, and the term 'duplex' was left out of the definition. It has been included as one of the ministerial corrections Planning has done in the LDR changes.

Charlotte O'rourke

Thanks for explanations. Let me see if I have this correct.

Currently, the LDR uses a standard definition of a multifamily dwelling and these multifamily dwellings (including duplexes) are banned in an HZD.

Due to confusing terminology, an HZD is going to be renamed to an R-3, and multifamily dwellings terminology is being redefined in a nonstandard way to exclude duplexes .... which would allow duplexes in an R3 (HZD).

Sounds confusing, CONVOLUTED, and unnecessary. Why can’t the city just leave the multifamily definition as is - if it doesn’t want to allow duplexes in R3/HZD? Why separate terms into multifamily and duplex, use multifamily in a nonstandard way, and then call for a ban on duplexes?

Obviously, I need to tune into the discussions if I want to understand the discourse.

MarissaBarnett Staff
Marissa Barnett

Hi all,

I'm the reporter who wrote this story and just wanted to clarify something that I think I didn't spell out well enough in the article.

Per the zoning department:

In the 2015 zoning changes, new multi-family units were prohibited in historic districts (at that time the zoning for historic districts was changed to R3, now, as of the last council meeting, it will be zoned historic zoning district.) Multi-family in the city's zoning parlance means three or more units in a property so duplexes were not included. New properties seeking to exist with three or more units in the historic districts are currently not allowed by zoning codes.

"Duplex" has not historically been a Galveston zoning term, instead duplexes were zoned as single family with dwelling unit attached. That was confusing so the city is now creating a designation "Duplex," meaning two units in a property.

During this process, the zoning department received comments that (new) duplexes should also be banned in historic districts. The zoning department agreed and is now proposing that provision be adopted by city council. The city council will still need to vote on this before it is placed in the LDR. SO as of now, new two-unit properties are technically allowed in the historic district, but this could soon change.

Thanks for reading!

MarissaBarnett Staff
Marissa Barnett

Should also add for clarity: the new proposal prohibiting duplexes in historic districts does not include any sort of special variance to allow a duplex under certain conditions. It is an outright ban.

Melody Oelze

Thanks Marissa! So does this mean that future conversion or construction of a garage apartment would be banned since it would create a 2-unit/duplex situation?

MarissaBarnett Staff
Marissa Barnett

Good question, Melody. I'm not sure on whether new garage apartments would be permitted. There's a proposal out there regarding additional "dwelling units" as I think they're called in the zoning rules, but I don't know the details well enough to say right now. I'll find out and get that published. Thanks!

Charlotte O'rourke

Marissa, thank you for clarifying. Can you or the city tell us where to find the current version of LDR the city is working from and the proposed changes.

I have this posted version (looks old) from planning department but not sure it is up to date as in this July and my October 2015 version of LDR, my District was called an HZD and not an R-3. I understood a duplex would have been included in multifamily by that past definition so I’m trying to follow the flow of changes and when changes were made.

A web link posted by the city with the most up to date info would sure be beneficial in following this complex issue.

I could compare what currently exists to what is being proposed. I commend staff and boards on working through these issues as just thinking about it makes my head hurt.


MarissaBarnett Staff
Marissa Barnett

Hi Charlotte,

Sure, in this link you'll find some of the proposed revisions, as well as the planning and other groups recommendations/comments on the rules. I think it's the most readable version of the proposed changes. The city compiled it to cross reference with the Chamber of Commerce committee's recommendations and the planning commission has been going through it line-by-line in meetings.

The city's planning staff has spent a lot of time on these revisions. I can't speak for them, but they've acknowledged in meetings and conversation that the changes are intended to correct some of the outdated language you're referring to with multi-family and other definitions.

Also can't speak to a web link by the city, but the newspaper will try to keep readers up-to-date on the changes as they come about. Thanks for following and getting involved in the discussion!

Charlotte O'rourke

I also wanted to commend you on your article and for explaining that the city was actually treating duplexes as single family attached even though the definition of multifamily could have included duplexes and duplexes are normally considered multi family by a normal definition .... the city did not use it that way.

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