Houston Buildings Will Never Be Taller Than 75 Floors, and There's an Obscure Reason Why
There's an obscure reason why downtown Houston's buildings aren't taller, and a good chance they never will be. It has nothing to do with the will for bigger buildings and everything to do with air traffic.
When a new building is planned for construction, airports take notice. If a proposed building seems tall enough to interfere with air traffic in any way, the airport will typically request input from the Federal Aviation Administration .
The FAA can't alter designs or halt construction, according to FAA spokesperson Tony Molinaro . But it can make an analysis of how any new building would affect airplanes taking off or landing at any given airport.
They then turn over that analysis to the airport, which can ask developers to change their blueprints.
This three-way tug-of-war between the FAA , airports and builders is currently playing out over the construction of Amazon's HQ2 campus in Arlington, Virginia — where regulators say plans for a Helix building are 13 feet too tall for incoming flights to Washington Reagan National Airport , according to Drew Wilder of NBC Washington.
In Houston , the question was settled decades ago when the 75-story JPMorgan Chase Tower (originally named the Texas Commerce Tower ) was constructed in 1981.
The building was supposed to be 80 stories, but an FAA analysis at the time determined that any structure over 75 stories was "hazardous to air navigation," according to the Hines company, which owns the tower.
That finding was sent to the city of Houston (which owns the airport), which told the builder to cap the tower at 75 stories.
Planes landing at Hobby Airport typically fly less than a mile from downtown. Here are two typical final descent paths into Hobby Airport :
You can see how close the aircraft get to downtown. Aircraft typically fly past downtown near 2,000 feet and sometimes even lower.
The Chase Tower stands at 1,049 feet. While details of how the FAA made their determination weren't available, you can imagine thousand-foot-plus buildings having the potential to disrupt or obscure sight lines for incoming air traffic.
When Houston acquired what is now Hobby Airport in the 1930s, they probably didn't consider how its proximity to downtown would affect development decades later. You can't future-proof everything, after all.
So, the next time you see a new building going up in downtown, you can rest assured that it won't be any taller than 75 stories — not as long as the airport has something to say.
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