HOUSTON -- Houston voters this week rejected a proposed zoning measure, stubbornly resisting the latest effort by neighborhood groups to end Houston's status as the only major U.S. city without land-use regulations.
With all the ballots counted, zoning failed by 86,060 votes to 79,063.
It was the third defeat for zoning in a Houston referendum since the end of World War II. Zoning was rejected by higher margins in 1948 and 1962 votes.
The vote differed sharply from surveys that showed most voters favoring zoning.
The zoning defeat also came despite a landslide reelection win by pro-zoning Mayor Robert Lanier.
Anti-zoning activist Barry Klein said the vote demonstrated that "Houstonians in their heart want freedom. They don't want regulation."
But zoning supporters vowed to keep pressing the fight to protect neighborhoods.
The zoning referendum was the most hotly contested ballot issue in Houston this year, with both sides bombarding television and radio with campaign ads.
The drive for zoning was led by outgoing city councilman Jim Greenwood and homeowner associations concerned about the intrusion into their neighborhoods of such businesses as bars, liquor stores and adult entertainment parlors.
Zoning opponents, including small-business groups, said, however, that the measure was a slap at Houston's free enterprise heritage and would raise taxes and stunt growth in the nation's fourth-most populous city. They are estimated to have outspent zoning advocates by 4 to 1 during the campaign.
Zoning traditionally has been resisted in Houston, where in previous voting it was assailed by foes as being communistic and anti-American.
The most recent push for zoning derived from the oil price bust of the mid-1980s in this energy center. As foreclosures swept Houston neighborhoods, many residents were outraged as some homes were converted into restaurants, bars and car repair businesses.
The zoning ordinance rejected earlier this week took more than two years to write and was passed in September by the city council, pending voter approval.
Political analysts said pro-zoning forces were hurt by low voter turnout. About 21 percent of Houston's 777,100 registered voters cast ballots, election officials said.
Turnout was dampened by the lack of a serious mayoral challenger to Lanier, who faced only three token opponents.