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.