Although OKRA is currently known for its Original Charity Saloon, the founders of the Organized Kooperative on Restaurant Affairs originally organized to fight proposed changes to City of Houston requirements for the number of off-street parking spaces bars and restaurants are required to provide. OKRA's efforts pushed back the Planning Commission's initial efforts, but the new regulations have resurfaced. The proposed changes would require bars to provide 40% more (from 10 to 14 per 1,000 sq ft) parking spaces and restaurants to provide 20% more spaces (from 8 to 10 per 1,0000 sq ft) than the current regulations. OKRA sees these changes as a threat to future new restaurant owners who are likely to struggle to raise the funds necessary to afford the additional parking.
The Houston City Council will hold its first hearing on these changes at a meeting today at 1:30 p.m., which begins the process of debating and potentially modifying them before Council votes for or against approval. OKRA held a meeting last night at Heights cafe Antidote to meet with community members and explain its position.
Heugel and other OKRA leaders, including Poison Girl co-owners Scott Repass and Dawn Callaway and Grand Prize co-owners Brad Moore and Ryan Rouse discussed OKRA's counter proposal. While the Planning Commission has carved out an exemption for "freestanding" bars and restaurants that are smaller than 2,000 sq ft, Heugel says such spaces don't exist. Even newly opened coffee shop Blacksmith is bigger. Therefore, OKRA recommends that the size be increased to 4,5000 sq ft and that the "free standing" language be removed.
Heugel also explained the ramifications if the proposed changes become law. He said that neither Uchi, Underbelly nor Oxheart would have sufficient parking based on the new regulations. Local resident David Leftwich added that the New York Times cited those three restaurants as a reason to visit Houston, which makes him think that the city should be enacting regulations that make it easier, rather than more difficult, for such restaurants to open. Heugel provided another example by noting that if someone purchased Middle Eastern restaurant La Fendee with the intention to convert it into a bar all of the houses between it and Heugel's bar Anvil would need to be torn down to provide adequate parking.
Ultimately, Heugel said that he would like to see Houston develop a more comprehensive plan for managing development rather than the "quicker fix" that's represented by these changes. Houston will likely never have zoning, but Mayor Annise Parker and the City Council need to decide whether they want to advocate regulations that will help small, independently owned business or stifle their development. It's a story that bears watching.
· Summary of Proposed Chapter 26 Amendments [City of Houston]
· Event Invite and OKRA Letter to Council [Facebook]
· The 46 Places to Go in 2013 [NYT]
· Help Combat the City's Proposed Parking Increases Today at City Hall [Eating Our Words]
· OKRA [Official Site]
· All OKRA Coverage on Eater Houston [EHOU]