HOUSTON -- The city council finally gave the nod to zoning this week by creating a commission to bring some order to the city's mixed-up neighborhoods.

The vote marked the first step toward ending 30 years of hodgepodge development that has long been the trademark of Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city and the largest without zoning laws.

Zoning proponents once were in the minority here, but there were no negative words uttered as the council debated a few minor details. Spectators, many wearing pins with the letter "Z," cheered after the unanimous vote.

"I feel great, I really do," said Councilman Jim Greenwood, who offered the ordinance with Mayor Kathy Whitmire.

The ordinance changes the Planning Commission to the Planning and Zoning Commission. It will devise some immediate ways to help neighborhoods while developing a comprehensive zoning ordinance.

"This is really only the beginning, but I think it is a good beginning because we have a united statement from council that we want to have a unique system of zoning specifically designed for Houston with specific protection for residential neighborhoods," Whitmire said.

Zoning has long been resisted in Houston, especially during the boom period from 1970 to 1982 when the population increased by 33 percent to 1.6 million.

Harry Reed, a planning commissioner, said that the lack of zoning back then made it easier to buy land, build and make money. The oil bust in the 1980s finally shed some light on the effects of unregulated growth.

"We've got apartments on the prairies. We have shopping malls where they shouldn't be," Reed said.

There also are appliance stores and motor repair shops stashed between homes, and some office buildings tower over neighborhoods.

Opponents claim it is just too late to zone an already developed city.

But Greenwood said 20 percent of the city is vacant land and 20 percent is underdeveloped. Zoning, he said, would protect those areas from the unchecked development of the rest of the city.

"We're primarily talking about businesses intruding on residential areas," Greenwood said.