How Houston’s Historic Districts Could Still Shrink

Yesterday Swamplot reported that planning director Marlene Gafrick had signaled to city council that 5 of the 7 historic districts being “reconsidered” had not met the threshold that would have triggered dissolving them (the return of surveys representing owners of 51 percent of the properties in a district). The survey processes in the 2 remaining districts, Norhill and First Montrose Commons, are a little behind the others: Neighborhood meetings required by the revised preservation ordinance have been scheduled, but owners there haven’t received their survey forms yet.

But even if those last 2 districts don’t make the 51 percent cut either, the process spelled out by the new ordinance won’t come to an immediate halt. Once the votes have been tallied for all 7 districts, Gafrick will be required to send a report to city council recommending one of 3 options for each of them. For Heights East, Heights West, Heights South, Boulevard Oaks, and Avondale West, the first option — dissolving the district entirely — is out. But Gafrick can still recommend adjusting the boundaries of a districteven if the returned surveys didn’t reach the 51 percent threshold. (Her third option: recommend city council do nothing — and keep the district as it is.)


In an email to Swamplot today, planning department public affairs director Suzy Hartgrove says Gafrick plans to look carefully at where the surveys came from: “What we are in the middle of now is really evaluating the data received, mapping it and coming up with that recommendation,” she writes. Since those surveys will likely become available to anyone making an open-records request, locating concentrations of owners who want out of their districts sounds like a good idea. Though the ordinance allows Gafrick to come to her own conclusions, she won’t be making the final decision, Hartgrove notes:

Ultimately, it is [up to] the Mayor and Council to make the decision. They don’t have to take our recommendation. I don’t have the date of when these items will go to Council.

Note: Last November, Swamplot reported that it appeared the city had received enough signatures (from owners of 10 percent of the properties) to trigger the “reconsideration” provisions specified by the revised preservation ordinance in 8 districts. How did that number drop to 7? A source in the mayor’s office tells Swamplot that after the signatures were verified, the Westmoreland petition no longer made the cut.

27 Comment

  • More than 50% of the owners of Avondale West voted against the designation, in each the petitions and in the ballots. But the City agreed on a method to not count certain votes if owners had several properties in a row. 25% of Avondale is owned by 2 owners. As a result, the new method brought Avondale just shy of 51%. Worse, of the “contributing” buildings in Avondale West, which are the buildings the new restrictions most affect, 20 owners voted against historic designation, and only 5 were for it.

  • Such a scam…

  • Norhill residents have gotten their surveys. I got mine on Monday. I think a lot of people plan of saying they didn’t get one (I have read this plan on some message boards, at least) in order to mess with the process. While I want my district to stay historic (it has been for 2 decades and I bought here because of that), I am so dismayed by how the City handled this. By trying to ram-rod it through, they actually put the districts in more jeopardy. With many things, I am “live and learn” but in a City which destroys its history daily, we don’t have the time to learn from their mistakes.

  • It seems that if signatures of owners who have several adjoining properties can only count as one when going toward historic designation that the same criteria should be used to undo the designation. This was in the original ordinance for historic designation; it’s not a new method.

  • Molly, just because it was that way the first time doesn’t mean it was right that time either. This method set up a scenerio where somone who ownes 50 square feet has the same vote as someone who has 50,000 sq.ft. One man one vote is great in a republic but that is not the way it does, or should, work with personal investment. I own one share of GM but my vote does not, and shouldn’t, count the same as Warren Buffett’s.

  • A neighborhood is more than a sum of personal investments.

  • John, don’t give me that BULL***! Are you seriously telling me that if you owned 50% of something you would think it fair that someone who only owned 5% could tell you what to do with it? Honestly? These aren’t rules that were there when the property was bought, these rules were just imposed by fiat, so there wasn’t even informed consent. These people just had their rights stripped from them, and your willingness to accept, and even condone, that kind of thing reminds me of so many bad beginnings from the past that I fear for our future if your perspective is previlant.

  • If you put your properties in LLC’s, then they each will count as individual votes. After emailing the Planning Department for a month if this was the case, and not getting an answer, I asked Annise Parker in person on Dec. 8th, and she confirmed it. I then put all my properties in separate LLC’s. The city told me a week ago that they had to have been in LLC’s as of December 7th. So they waited a mnth to answer me, until it was too late, and I just dropped thousands on a bunch of LLC and deed refilings.

  • In the interests of full disclosure, perhaps Dana or Cody could point out that the former — excuse me, one of the former’s LLCs — recently sold the latter a property in one of the aforementioned historical districts.

  • Dana,

    That whole thing stinks. Do you have access to that info as written? I mean, did the city point to where it’s officially detailed in an official city document that the LLC has to be in effect so many days prior yada yada yada?

    Or was it just a convenient excuse for mz mayor and her cronies? I think I would push it to the limit.

  • Ms. Mayor and her cronies? In reference to historic preservation? Cronies? Really?

  • Ordinance 451 defines a Swamplot reconsideration petition to undelete the posts in this thread that just went *poof.* 51% of the registered users must respond “no” in the next ten minutes or the posts will automatically be reactivated.

  • A source in the mayor’s office tells Swamplot that after the signatures were verified, the Westmoreland petition no longer made the cut.

    I guess not. It would be embarrassing to have the mayor’s neighbors snub her.

    I really think someone should take a closer look at this. Maybe an independent verification of the signatures?

    The whole thing stinks. Why bother with “reconsideration” if the mayor and city council can and will do whatever they want in the end with no option for homeowners except to sue the city? Which of course they assume no one will. Of late, it seems more are. Suing the city that is.

  • Dana and Cody
    The Historic Preservation Ordinance as written in 1995 included the
    “contiguous properties” one signature, as does the current amended version. You, or your attorney, should have read the ordinance and you would know this.
    One large property owner could not determine the neighborhood. Works both ways!

  • From Behunin:
    Dana and Cody
    The Historic Preservation Ordinance as written in 1995 included the
    “contiguous properties” one signature, as does the current amended version. You, or your attorney, should have read the ordinance and you would know this.
    One large property owner could not determine the neighborhood. Works both ways!

    As I recall the city, which wrote the 1995 ordinance, applied a different standard in Fourth Ward, which included a national historic district known as Freedmans Town, when it began its “gentrification” along with Houston Renaissance. Just thems who have the most gold makes the rules, thems who had the most land got the most votes. And with that dirty trick, the TIRZ was created. Not once but twice. The Antone family said “NO” the second time. So they drew an imaginary line down West Dallas and included a new Trammel Crow apartement complex in the proposed district. Which I suspect even John Cornyn took a moment to roar over. I guess anything over 6 months old was “blighted” to the city and to Houston Renaissance.

    I guess it depends on which method, or dirty trick, gives the city and the insiders at City Hall the better advantage?

    Hypocrisy seems to go hand-in-hand with the hubris at City Hall.

  • What we really need is “term limits” in the Planning Department.

  • Remember Ms. Parker was one of the developers of the ordinance.

  • What happened to “Annise’s” comment? I believe it was comment 12, posted shortly after mine?

  • That’s what kilray meant! I knew I had read “her” comment but couldn’t remember which thread.

    So it WAS a spoof. Thought so. Couldn’t see her taking the time to post. She may have someone on staff who reads these blogs but I doubt very much that she actually does.

  • Wasn’t sure if it was a mayor poseur or not, as the person held true to the propaganda line, but Dave and I were having fun shredding it before it all vanished in a cloud of not-so-historic smoke.

    Hey Swamplot, did you determine the account to be a fake, or do we need a certificate of appropriateness to address the mayor?

  • MM@ #15,

    Do you know, or rather, can you say who (name) was behind Houston Renaissance?

    Is that non profit still around? Looking quickly I didn’t find anything on it.

    I was here in town back then but there must not have been a big hoopla over it on TV.



    It did sound like something she’d say didn’t it?


    And behind Julio Laguarta and severl others was Bob Lanier. The Attorney General’s Office could never prove any “wrongdoing” but Houston Renaissance/Houston Housing Finance Corporation did have to agree to provide a certain percentage of the land for affordable housing. Which they did not intend to do. Despite public funding being involved, no public disclosure was ever made by either controller during the period the Attorney General’s Office looked into the matter. Those two controllers were Sylvia Garcia and Annise Parker. And despite her comment here, she did nothing to preserve anything in Freedmen’s Town while a city councilmember. According to another former city councilmember, Michael Yarborough, Houston Renaissance spent $24.5 plus million in public funding including federal loans to purchase $6.5 million in land. Where the rest of the $24.5 million went, no one knows. Or at least no one said.

    Both the Houston Chronicle and Houston Press did extensive coverage on the matter.

    It was and is one of the biggest scams as well as one of the biggest scandals at City Hall. And like most of the rest, was swept under the rug most likely by all the interested parties threatening to “rat” on the other if it wasn’t covered up.


    This was Sylvia Garcia’s “audit” which consisted apparently of whatever Houston Housing Finance Corporation “voluntarily” disclosed. There was, in fact, no audit. Clearly stated in fact. Houston Housing Finance Corporation apparently played games with both Sylvia Garcia and the Attorney General’s Office. Telling Sylvia Garcia they were a state agency, telling the Attorney General’s Office they were a city agency. And therefore they did not have to show them the books. In other words, no one ever saw the books. Supposedly her “audit” of Houston Renaissance was turned over to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Which apparently ignored the matter. Bunch of crooks protecting a bunch of crooks.

    They used intimidation to get what they wanted. They even tried to intimidate the Attorney General’s Office. According to one story run by the Houston Chronicle, Houston Renaissance hired a law firm, using public funding of course to do so, to “lobby” incoming Attorney General John Cornyn to “quash” the complaint. Which probably more than anything else guaranteed the complaint would be pursued.

    The stories in the Houston Chronicle including the story about the law firm being hired were by James Robinson. They appear to have been removed from the Houston Chronicle archives.

  • MM,
    Thanks for that. I admit that I had done a little searching in the county clerk’s records before I posted #21 but was not positive of my deductions at the time.

    Houston Renaissance was listed multiple times in the county records but actually finding his name was a bit of a challenge.


    I wonder if there is such a thing as an honest politician?

    Sylvia’s gone but for how long? Next up…Mz Mayor.
    And like returning 209K was ‘really’ going to help the city budget!!

  • From Dana Thorpe:
    …So they waited a mnth to answer me, until it was too late, and I just dropped thousands on a bunch of LLC and deed refilings…

    Dana Thorpe:
    i’m not saying that it doesn’t suck to be out $$Ks, but i can not imagine why you wouldn’t have consulted a lawyer ASAP if you really thought the stakes were that high…

  • They all walked a very thin line of the law in Fourth Ward. And still do.

    There are a lot of stories still in the archives of The Houston Chronicle and the Houston Press. Try searching for “Houston Renaissance Fourth Ward” and you should be able to pull up quite a bit.

    The city probably used the $209,000 to pay for the audit they didn’t conduct.

    Bunch of crooks protecting a bunch of crooks.

  • Then again, I’m a cheapskate trying to save a few pennies any way I can cause I can.