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Thread: Pamela Heights: an enclave with no zoning

  1. #1
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Pamela Heights: an enclave with no zoning

    There's any number of titles I had for this thread:

    Pamela Heights: a little bit of Houston in Austin
    Pamela Heights: libertarian paradise
    Pamela Heights: worst neighborhood ever

    Anyhow, were is this place? It's an isolated grid of streets, with the prerequisite developer's daughters names, located in unincorporated Travis County, Texas.

    The area is surrounded by leafy planned communities and industrial parks. Pamela Heights itself, though, is the least planned area one can ever imagine: a checkerboard of cheap houses and mobile homes, most of which have Appalachian-style collections of various implements, vehicles and other assorted items most of us would call "junk" scattered about; auto mechanics and body shops; storage yards; construction firms and contractors, used car lots, equipment and parts storage yards, vehicle impound lots, welders; and, oddly enough, beauty salons. Really, on roads that might see a couple hundred vehicle trips a day, I wonder how used car lots and beauty salons ever attract any customers, or even make their presence known to the world beyond this enclave.

    This area has no zoning whatsoever. None. The porta-potty business you'll see? It's next to a site-built house. All of these non-residential uses have residential neighbors; not just across the street or the lot to the back, but next door.

    Want to convince your libertarian friends of the need for zoning or some form of land use control? Show them this thread, and ask if they'd want to move there.










    This business is tucked in at the far corner of the subdivision, where there's almost no traffic. How do they get customers?






    Nice front yard fence










    This auto impound yard is across the street from the house in the next image.




    And this trailer is next door to that house.


    Next door to the trailer


    Next door to that ...


    Next door to that ...




    Home occupation, Pamela Heights style.










    The ultimate snout house. It's ALL garage up front, baby!


















    Just what are they trying to protect with that concertina wire? There's a lot of houses in the area with razor and concertina wire surrounding them.


    See the comments for the last photo.


    And again with the barbed wire.


    Neighboring lot.










    There is a lit neon "OPEN" sign in one of the windows of this house.
















    Another beauty salon on a street with almost no traffic. Go figure.
    Google Streetview












    Home sweet home, and of course a barbed wire fence.




















    Across from the welder.


    When you see it ...
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    I am very surprised about all the fencing. Do they not have any law enforcement also?

    Shaking my head.
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

  3. #3
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Queen B View post
    I am very surprised about all the fencing. Do they not have any law enforcement also?

    Shaking my head.
    Not that it condones the fences, but the Travis County Sheriff's Dept. is notoriously slow in response time, especially in areas closer and/or surrounded by incorporated municipalities.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    It actually reminds me of land use the Caribbean, except for the XXX store of course. While it may not look as pretty there is a certain charm about it. I'm turned off by the amount of auto-orientated business/looks however.

  5. #5
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    So...is this an actual incorporated muni. or just an "urban" area of unincorporated Travis County?

    Looking at Goggle maps of the place and the Streetview, it certainly is a worst case scenario from the land planning standpoint.

    But people live there and actually build new houses, so it must be attractive to a certain set of people with disposable incomes/ability to move if they choose.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  6. #6
    Cyburbian kalimotxo's avatar
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    Wow, what an awful place. This doesn't remind me of Appalachia so much as a lot of unincorporated areas I've seen visiting remote military sub-installations in eastern NC and rural Georgia. Oftentimes I'd be driving through one of these planning nightmares and see a hand-scrawled sign in a front yard saying "No Zoning!!!" or "Just say no to zoning!" ... and it all made sense.
    Process and dismissal. Shelter and location. Everybody wants somewhere.

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    It's like the place is engaged in an "ugliest front yard" contest.

  8. #8
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Dan, you are probably lucky you weren't shot at while taking those pictures.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    Dan, you are probably lucky you weren't shot at while taking those pictures.
    When I was driving around, I didn't get the friendly waves that I got in the small towns I visited last weekend. Instead, I got stares and glares, as if I was an obvious outsider. (The demographics appeared to be 50% working class Anglo, 50% Hispanic.)
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Dan,

    Thanks for the pictures and glad you made it out safely. Does this area have code enforcement? If so, how do they know what codes to enforce or do they turn a blind eye to the area? That is a good example of mixed use gone bad, I seriously doubt any type of new zoning regulations (form based or Euclidian) would clean that area up. To your knowledge, are there any plans to adopt any form of regulation to better intergrate the uses?

  11. #11
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    <Bump>

    Libertarian paradise indeed!

    This "neighborhood" just boggles the mind! How much neighbor interaction or neighborhood cohesion takes place there you wonder? The built environment suggests......none. Most people surround themselves with fences, walls, and barbed wire by the looks of it. I bet there is a high ratio of gun owners represented though.

    Wow. just wow

    I wonder if this is how the Citadel community would look after two years?
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Spectacular.

    For other depressing examples of American urbanism, check out out Bombay Beach, CA. Vinton TX and some of the outlying (and sometimes unwatered and unpowered) outer burbs of El Paso too.

    Some randomly googled Bombay Beach photos:

    http://www.panoramio.com/photo/20929...=kh.google.com
    http://www.panoramio.com/photo/1457?...=kh.google.com

    There are some scary places in America.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 30 Jan 2013 at 5:18 PM.

  13. #13
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Another followup: this house with the "open" sign ...



    ... is a "lingerie and modeling studio", or so it calls itself. From the Google reviews:

    "Been a few times at their new location up north. Nice classy place, not seedy like the rest of them. Girls are super hot and super "nice" if you know what I mean."

    Sounds like it could be the best little ...



    Nice neighborhood, huh? It gets me thinking about areas with no land use control whatsoever - no zoning, no deed restrictions, no nothing. My guess with Pamela Heights: it started off as a remote residential development, but with I-35 nearby, and a growing city that eventually surrounded it, it became an attractive location for semi-industrial and vehicular-oriented businesses. However, land prices remain low, and there's still many vacant lots, so scraping off site-built homes for industrial uses isn't economically viable. For a certain kind of person, such an area is attractive; they can surround their house with barbed wire fencing to keep in their kids and keep out the liberals, and collect junked cars or scrap metal to their heart's content without worrying about Big Government coming after them.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  14. #14
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post

    I wonder if this is how the Citadel community would look after two years?
    Wow. That place is crazy - I would not want my kids anywhere near The Citadel. They don't want government intrusion yet the require all residents to be proficient with rifles and handguns? I hope it turns out Pamela Heights - however I think the people that choose to live like this wouldn't care.
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    Wow. That place is crazy - I would not want my kids anywhere near The Citadel. They don't want government intrusion yet the require all residents to be proficient with rifles and handguns? I hope it turns out Pamela Heights - however I think the people that choose to live like this wouldn't care.
    It seems to me that this design can be improved upon: unit type mixing within each gated subdivision? no large surface parking lots? extensive commons? dense town center instead of, say, a strip mall? no Wal Mart? and where's the shooting range? The walling off different clusters from one another within the walled community is a nice touch though.

    I wonder whether Citadel Idaho will try to form a special relationship with Ave Maria, FL/DominoPizzaTown, the Catholic new town of faith being developed in FL.. liberty and faith.. who can argue with that?

    http://www.artsjournal.com/aesthetic...a_florida.html

  16. #16
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    It actually reminds me of some of the interior neighborhoods in the first town I worked for in Salt Lake County, and of a part of the northern extremity of Salt Lake proper, locally known as "Swede Town".
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    I thought "mixed use" was supposed to be a good thing, so what's wrong with a junk yard, a whorehouse, and a portapotty business plunked down amongst residential dwelling units? Since Pamela Heights seems to be missing bars with killer sound systems and outdoor patios as well as restaurants specializing in deep-fried everything, it can't be all bad ... Sheesh, it even has affordable housing!
    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. -- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    I thought "mixed use" was supposed to be a good thing,
    I'm kind of with Linda on this one, up to a point, but it also looks like there are any number of environmental hazards in the area, plus the people who live there just don't seem that nice. Maybe it would be nicer if they weren't all armed to the hilt and probably cooking drugs too.

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    Ok, I might not fully understand the intricacies of 'unincorporated' or 'incorporated' when it comes to local governments' responsibilities in the US.

    But I was wondering:

    Despite having no zoning provisions and as such no assessment in term of use and development... Is there still any applicable regulations (even if they are ignored)?

    Local By-laws for unsightly land? or nuisances
    Environment Protection or Public Health and Wellbeing? for amenities, dust, noise, hazardous materials, wastewater...
    Does Building Code still applies? for fence, setbacks, overlooking, private open space, stormwater management...

    And who does manages the public assets of such places... or is it free for all to encroach on easements and road reserve?

    These land must be pretty cheap indeed. From the pictures, I am amazed people actually invest in their dwelling while they will never get the financial return, it is just a 'western' slum.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by maplefanta View post
    Ok, I might not fully understand the intricacies of 'unincorporated' or 'incorporated' when it comes to local governments' responsibilities in the US.

    But I was wondering:

    Despite having no zoning provisions and as such no assessment in term of use and development... Is there still any applicable regulations (even if they are ignored)?

    Local By-laws for unsightly land? or nuisances
    Environment Protection or Public Health and Wellbeing? for amenities, dust, noise, hazardous materials, wastewater...
    Does Building Code still applies? for fence, setbacks, overlooking, private open space, stormwater management...

    And who does manages the public assets of such places... or is it free for all to encroach on easements and road reserve?

    These land must be pretty cheap indeed. From the pictures, I am amazed people actually invest in their dwelling while they will never get the financial return, it is just a 'western' slum.
    Once you get out of an incorporated city in Texas, the regulations become very hands-off. In fact it is illegal for a county to have zoning in Texas, except for the coastal counties (minimal zoning for hurricanes). A county may have limited subdivision authority but when an unincorporated area is within a large urban county (like Travis County is) enforcement on many of the rules are minimal. Counties don't even have the power to enact or enforce building codes in Texas. Cities, depending on their population size, have an extra-territorial jurisdiction and CAN enforce their building codes, but not their zoning codes. It is still very much like the wild wild west outside of established cities in Texas.

  21. #21
    I love this. So many reasons for zoning, haha.

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    So why is this bad exactly?

    There are many industrial businesses in the Northeast sharing a rear property with parallel residential streets. In fact, one of my high school freinds has a plumbing business with his brother that they run out of their backyard shed with 4 vans parked in the driveway.

    A better example in my mechanic robert:

    A google streetview look of Streetcar suburb New Jersey:

    http://goo.gl/maps/EQFuM

    another nearby street:

    http://goo.gl/maps/sX7yz

    or another:

    http://goo.gl/maps/hgzeS

    My point is that we have too much restriction on land uses that us planners have become jaded to different uses as neighbors. Trust me, a nightclub or a welding shop can be a much better next-door neighbor than the pot dealer that lives across from me. In fact, the nightclub at the corner has invested in very good sound insulation and only throws really loud shows on weekend nights. Welders don't operate at 3 am - and honestly, for kids a welding shop is probably a really cool thing to see and explore instead of the Garden State Plaza.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by imagineverything View post
    So why is this bad exactly?

    There are many industrial businesses in the Northeast sharing a rear property with parallel residential streets. In fact, one of my high school freinds has a plumbing business with his brother that they run out of their backyard shed with 4 vans parked in the driveway.

    A better example in my mechanic robert:

    A google streetview look of Streetcar suburb New Jersey:

    http://goo.gl/maps/EQFuM

    another nearby street:

    http://goo.gl/maps/sX7yz

    or another:

    http://goo.gl/maps/hgzeS

    My point is that we have too much restriction on land uses that us planners have become jaded to different uses as neighbors. Trust me, a nightclub or a welding shop can be a much better next-door neighbor than the pot dealer that lives across from me. In fact, the nightclub at the corner has invested in very good sound insulation and only throws really loud shows on weekend nights. Welders don't operate at 3 am - and honestly, for kids a welding shop is probably a really cool thing to see and explore instead of the Garden State Plaza.
    I was only being half-facetious in my reply above. Mostly, I was poking fun at advocates of "mixed use" who seem to be clueless about what "mixed use" really means in virtually any older city or decent sized village in the the country, and especially in the Northeast. Too many planners only think of respectable suburban style "mixed use" -- boutiques, day spas, beauty salons, bookstores, etc.-- without realizing that "mixed use" in real urban areas includes lots of different businesses that might offend sensibilities of the easily offended. I'm sure that portapotty place in Pamela Heights is a decent neighbor: neat, orderly site and business hours 8-4/5, maybe 8-12 on Saturdays. The site looks to be a better neighbor than some of the residences with the dead cars and other junk taking up space or the homes surrounded by chain-link and razor wire (that I find bizarre, indeed. I get the chain link but razor wire?).

    I lived in an old, turn-of-the 20th-century working class neighborhood in Buffalo for 20+ years, and businesses/industrial sites sitting cheek-to-jowl with residential sites was pretty much the norm. Mostly, the non-residential businesses were no problem. However, I did have issues with the loud music emanating from a bar catty-corner to the house as well as the sometimes bad behavior of its patrons (ie, street fights at 3 am). Both of my houses since then have been in strictly residential areas -- by choice.

    Some people enjoy living in mixed use neighborhoods -- or think they would if they actually did -- I suppose, but I'm not one of them. I think that in many cities, most people who live in those kinds of neighborhoods do so because they can't afford better.
    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. -- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Midori's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by maplefanta View post
    Ok, I might not fully understand the intricacies of 'unincorporated' or 'incorporated' when it comes to local governments' responsibilities in the US.

    But I was wondering:

    Despite having no zoning provisions and as such no assessment in term of use and development... Is there still any applicable regulations (even if they are ignored)?

    Local By-laws for unsightly land? or nuisances
    Environment Protection or Public Health and Wellbeing? for amenities, dust, noise, hazardous materials, wastewater...
    Does Building Code still applies? for fence, setbacks, overlooking, private open space, stormwater management...

    And who does manages the public assets of such places... or is it free for all to encroach on easements and road reserve?

    These land must be pretty cheap indeed. From the pictures, I am amazed people actually invest in their dwelling while they will never get the financial return, it is just a 'western' slum.
    Dunno about TX, but in my state, some counties have subdivision regulations and building codes but no zoning. That keeps the lot sizes and road frontages in check (in theory) and addresses health and safety issues, but doesn't control use separation.

    In some of my towns, at least, the general ordinances about nuisance (overgrown lots, junk cars on lawns, etc.) may be on the books, but the town is too small to have a police department to enforce them, or even a municipal court to impose fines for code violations. They are thus under the county sheriff's protection, but the sheriff has no authority to enforce local ordinances. Counties may have nuisance ordinances, but let's be honest: they have a lot of area to cover and more important things to worry about than cars on blocks.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    That neighbourhood does look crushingly ugly, unfirendly and unwalkable. I'm not sure to what extent we can attribute all of that simply to the lakc of zoning but ok, point taken.

    Some of the most beautiful inhabited places in the world were built without the benefit of any modern, detailed "planning" or "zoning".

    My be the problem is that people now have the sense of decorum and civility of rabid boar.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

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