The Woods Back Off: Freeland Bungalow Free To Be Sold Again

And it’s . . . off! The building designer who had planned to demolish a 1920 bungalow in the newly designated Freeland Historic District and build two 4-story townhomes in its place has now backed out of the deal completely. In a letter to neighborhood residents, Jack Preston Wood and his wife, Samantha Wood, say they’ve canceled their purchase contract for 536 Granberry, in the soppy southern reaches of the Heights.

What made them change their minds? Maybe . . . the gentle encouragement of their would-be neighbors?

We received mean spirited mail, emails, blogs, and visits to our business website all because we were planning on tearing down a house in very poor condition and replacing it with a new compatible home.

The Woods say that after the city historical commission rejected their demolition and construction plans in mid-March, they abandoned the double-townhouse idea and decided instead to replace the bungalow with a new 2800-sq.-ft. 1-1/2-story bungalow. But the neighbors kept at it:

Even though we had sent a response that we were not going to build our original plans and we were working on new plans the neighborhood still held a protest and plastered Freeland with signs. As we watched the news clip on the protest we began to realize that any new home, no matter how compatible, would not be accepted because the Freeland mantra was to remain an “intact” neighborhood. . . .

About three weeks into the six weeks, we realized that we had become the “Poster Child” to deter and slowdown development in the area.

Lots more fun in the full text of the Woods’ letter, reprinted — along with a neighbor’s response — below:

***

Oh yes, this is worth reading in full. All bolding in the original:

May 5, 2009
Re: 536 Granberry Street

To the Freeland Residents:

Preston and I have cancelled our contract to purchase 536 Granberry.  We will not be building either of the homes we designed for our family ….the 31/2 Story Town homes or the 1 1/2 story Bungalow.

I would like to replay our side of the last six weeks:

About 6 weeks ago, just following the March 12th meeting with the HAHC we decided to scrap our plans to build one of the two 3 1/2 story homes we had originally designed for the lot.  Our original plans showed 2 homes on the lot but we were only planning on building our home initially.  However, we decided because of the neighborhood opposition and our own desire to enjoy the full yard that we would only build one home on the lot.  We then began our design of a 11/2 story bungalow, a home that we felt would meet with neighborhood acceptance.  We sent a lengthy email responding to the emails we had received.  Our email stated that we would not be building the taller structures but that we were designing a single 11/2 story home for 536 Granberry. We also contacted Thomas McWhorter with HAHC and informed him that we wanted to meet with Mr. Pace, a preservation office for the HAHC and himself to get their input on our new plans.  Following our meeting with the HAHC Officers we had planned to meet with the neighborhood to gain approval of our compromise.  Mr. Pace had been out of town when I called but we never heard back from him to confirm a meeting or to respond to our phone call.

Even though we had sent a response that we were not going to build our original plans and we were working on new plans the neighborhood still held a protest and plastered Freeland with signs.  As we watched the news clip on the protest we began to realize that any new home, no matter how compatible, would not be accepted because the Freeland mantra was to remain an “intact” neighborhood.

The neighborhood response ramped up and an article and blog appeared in the Houston Press.  The Houston Press did not attempt to contact us; so preservationists and neighbors became “hyped” on inaccurate information.  We were then contacted by the Chronicle for another article.  We were able to again clearly state that we were not going to be building the 31/2-story town homes and that we were either going to build our new 11/2 story bungalow design or not purchase the lot.  All of this information appeared in the article.

Another protest occurred, a second article in the Houston Chronicle, and a petition has been circulating. However, the most disappointing element of the neighborhood campaign has been some of the hateful and threatening emails that we have received.  We definitely have experienced an attempt at character assassination. A lot of incorrect and exaggerated information, “spin” has been printed and spread through the community. We received mean spirited mail, emails, blogs, and visits to our business website all because we were planning on tearing down a house in very poor condition and replacing it with a new compatible home.

About three weeks into the six weeks, we realized that we had become the “Poster Child” to deter and slowdown development in the area.  We too came to the conclusion just as many of the emails stated that we were not welcome…..people who build McMansions are not welcome.  Well, a 2800 SF 11/2 story home is bigger than a 1400 SF existing bungalow but hardly a mansion.  We also understand that one of the driving forces behind preservation of existing homes is the desire to control rising property taxes.  Many Heights residents are concerned that increasing property values spurred by new construction increases taxes, however a loss in lot value of $100,000 should also be a concern.

We decided to cancel our contract so we visited with our attorney.  He advised us to not discuss our plans or pursue any approval of the smaller house until we had cancelled our contract with the seller.  The cancellation of our contract with Mr. Moore was completed last Friday.

We just gave you the news you wanted….. but please read on.  We would like to share with you the due diligence process that we exercised during our feasibility period of our contract on Granberry.  We feel that it helps pinpoint problems and offers some suggestions that may reduce the need to negatively combat potential future buyers.  The greatest problem lies in an inability to educate potential buyers to the new ordinances and historic status of the neighborhood. Please read our process and its results.

Freeland became a historic neighborhood in September of 2008, yet as late as February 19, 2009 any information regarding the historic designation did not come up in public records at the Courthouse.  There should be some sort of recordation that apprises possible buyers of this status.

We made our offer for 536 Granberry on November 11, 2009.  The property was also being marketed as a lot.  We received, within 15 days, our title commitment on the property.  The Schedule B of the title report that divulges such information only had information on the original Deed of Record and Chapter 42.  The three very important ordinances that could greatly affect a buyer were not present in our title commitment. These ordinances are as follows;

1. Ordinance 2003-149 an ordinance that sets a building line at 19′

2. Ordinance 2007-1016 an ordinance that sets minimum lot size.

3. Historic Designation?

We, however, as part of our expanded due diligence also went to the Courthouse to pull any existing public records.  We were able to pull the two Ordinances 2003-149 and 2007-1016, but nothing came up in regards to the historic designation.

Because we were aware that several Heights neighborhoods were working on Historic Designation we also went to a website that we knew published a list of the current Historic Neighborhoods….the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance or GHPA.  The GHPA had what we thought to be accurate information but it did not include Freeland as a Historic District.  We performed this check in January.  I just checked (5/05/2009) and Freeland is still not listed as one of the Historic Districts.  Come on…..get the information to the public! The GHPA is helping with the latest Freeland Petition but if the GHPA just maintained and updated their website with current and accurate information they would be of greater service to the historic districts. They have let us all down.

The penalty for demolishing a landmark building or a structure in a historic district is the suspension of a building permit for that particular property for 5 years…that is a steep penalty.  The public must have easy access to recorded historic data.

Another suggestion instead of working in a negative way why not make readily available in the form of a campaign the tax advantages of renovation of the existing, along with website instruction on how to fill out the paperwork to qualify for these perks.

Sadly, the biggest problem is not us but Ordinance 238, 239, and 250 (90 to 180 days – do what you want) that forces neighbors to become vigilantes (I can say this because of the mail we received).  The current ordinance is only pitting neighbor against neighbor.

Another cold truth in regards to maintaining the status of an “intact” neighborhood is the economics of keeping homes like 536 Granberry that are in very poor condition from being torn down. Unfortunately, we would venture to say that most future buyers of 536 Granberry like us will have to wrestle with the economics of price they can pay for the existing structure, the cost to renovate, and the value at the end.  We understand “economics” when weighed against “cause” can be a dirty word, but for the family footing the bill it has to be considered.  An honest evaluation – the existing home at 536 Granberry has not been maintained for many years by the current owner and is very poor structural condition.  The existing building sills are decomposed and the house is sitting on the ground.

We received a letter from a current homeowner in Freeland who also is a bungalow remodeler challenging us to renovate 536 Granberry.  He also shared with us that he too had made an offer on 536 Granberry prior to our contract but was unable to reach an acceptable offer.  We do not know the amount of his offer but what is understandable is that he had a certain price that he could pay and still justify renovating….at the end of the day our contract price for 536 Granberry did not make renovation feasibly possible.

A little information about your perceived enemy:

We too live in an old renovated structure.  Seven years ago we bought and renovated an old warehouse into our offices and residence.  A part of our building was built in the early 1900′s and half was added in the 1970′s. We have loved every part of it.  The residence part of our warehouse was filmed and aired on HGTV’s Rezoned two years ago.  Rezoned was a weekly cable TV program that showcased commercial buildings where the owner/occupant had successfully converted the buildings to another use rather than demolition.

We love architecture both historical and new.  We love one story warehouses and 4 story town homes with views of downtown….we love urban living.

We own a Design Firm designing single family and multi-family homes from the suburbs to the inner city and we have done this for 28 years.

We were drawn to the big lot on the bayou with a great view of downtown and we had a different vision. When we drove the neighborhood of two streets, Granberry and Frazier we saw that many of the existing homes had not been renovated and many were not even being maintained.  Although, the homes may have all been built around the same historical time period many were not the architecturally significant homes of the early 1900s.  The two streets are surrounded by icehouses, restaurants, and bars. Connected to, along the side, and at the back of Granberry is a specialty lumber company and    vacant lots. (The lumber company and vacant lots are logistically a part of Freeland but are not included in the historic district)  As I stated earlier, the property at 536 Granberry was being marketed at a lot and from all information gathered we did not find the “historical designation”.  We did not see Freeland as a historical neighborhood but as two streets in transition.

Where we probably differ is in our perception of historical…we don’t believe that just being “old” warrants preservation especially if the structure is not sound.  Some old homes of the early 1900′s were “tract housing:” for that period in history and they were not architecturally significant.  The National Register has two classifications, contributing and non-contributing. Contributing is determined by the degree of architectural significance. Since there are not a lot of true historical properties in Houston, the city has added an additional class designated “potentially contributing” to help qualify neighborhoods as historical.  We feel you still have to uphold some standards of architectural significance not just be “old” to be classified as historical.  We also were under the impression that the term” potentially contributing” meant that those homes had to be rehabilitated to improve their architectural integrity.

So, we may differ on our view of Freeland as an architecturally rich neighborhood, but we do respect the designation given to the neighborhood and appreciate the resident’s passion. We don’t agree with the Freeland mantra that the existing homes must stay “intact” to the exclusion of “new compatible” homes. With the historic designation, a certain responsibility of the homeowners to maintain their historic homes must be a requirement?  If the home at 536 Granberry continues to sit and decay, then our new compatible home may not have been the enemy after all.

It has been an interesting 6 weeks.  We have sat mum for most of that time and we needed to respond.  We truly hope that our frustrations and suggestions will not be taken lightly, but instead will open the door for some positive changes.

Preston and Samantha Wood

Freeland resident Jean Taylor, an organizer of the protests, sends the Woods this reply:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Wood,

Thank you for informing us of your cancellation of the contract on 536 Granberry.  I’m sorry to hear that you received hateful and threatening emails as that was never the intention of the residents of Freeland Historic District.  Unfortunately we are unable to control what others (or even some of us) write, especially on public blogs.  You must understand that you were dealing with the quality of life and property values of the residents.

Although you did state in an earlier email that you would build only one 2-story home, until any such plans were submitted to Randy Pace, or even a meeting held with him to discuss this option, we had to go on the assumption that nothing was changed from your original plan.  Too many others have made such promises in other areas and when the time came, the original plans were put into affect.

I was not aware that Freeland Historic District is not listed on the Greater Houston Alliance’s web site but it certainly is on the City of Houston’s website where most would go to check for accurate information.  It is not the responsibility of Freeland HD or any other historic district to have to supply information such as tax advantages or renovation etc., although that was mentioned to you by Freeland residents.  That is a responsibility of the City of Houston and is plainly posted on the city’s web site and is always available through Randy Pace’s office.  His contact information is also given on the City of Houston web site.  Having all of the information on one site such as the one for the City of Houston is much preferable than several that may or may not be updated on a timely basis.

It is true that the City’s historic ordinances are lacking.  Many of us have been working on trying to strengthen them but at the end of the day it is the City Council and Mayor who make those decisions.  They have heard our concerns.  Maybe it would be helpful if others, such as yourself, would also contact the council and Mayor with your suggestions for improving these ordinances.

It is a shame that you only saw our neighborhood as run down “tract houses”.  You mentioned the lumber yard and vacant lots as not being included in the historic designation.  That is because that property was never platted as Freeland Addition. It is true that we are surrounded by icehouses, restaurants, and bars.  You say it as if it makes the neighborhood less desirable.  Considering the low opinion you have of our homes and area, it is probably for the best that you have decided to build elsewhere.

Regards,

Jean Taylor

Photo: Swamplot inbox

44 Comment

  • Nasty people are nasty people. And nasty people make nasty neighbors.

    You can add Freeland to the list of Neighborhoods from Hell – so far there are four. Southampton and Boulevard Oaks and Old Sixth Ward and now Freeland.

    First Colony has arrived inside the Loop. Next they will be telling people what kind of plants they may plant and where they must, as opposed to may, plant them, what kind of front door they must have, what colors of paint they may use.

    In the case of Old Sixth Ward and Freeland of course that might help because most of the existing homes are not kept up. And are in many cases eyesores. But historical structures just the same. So much for “historic neighborhoods.”

    It’s a shame all these “historic-minded” advocates weren’t so “historic-minded” when homes in Freedmans Town/Fourth Ward were being demolished. You do have to wonder how much “racial demographics” has to do with the “historic” designation and the protection of the city when a developer attempts to demolish homes in an “historic district.” The city did nothing to stop the demolition of several homes in Freedmans Town/Fourth Ward. Despite it having an “historic” designation. The advocates did nothing either. To save the homes or save the architectural elements, including rare woods, in many of the homes.

    It really does leave a bad taste in the mouth as well as a distrust for both advocates and city officials who apply different standards to different neighborhoods. Usually on the basis of how much a developer has paid to buy City Hall. Once again you have a developer who didn’t know you had to buy City Hall in order to do business in Houston.

  • If most of the houses in the Old Sixth Ward are as dumpy as Matt says, then most of us must live in a slum — a lot of what’s in my neighborhood isn’t nearly as well cared for as the OSW houses. Eek.

  • That whole “I’m demolishing the house to build my dream house.” line is really getting old.

  • I would have to agree with the Wood’s that Freeland is primarily an early 20th Century tract home development of little architectural importance or significance.
    Jean Taylor comes across as a defensive little dictator. Newsflash Jeannie, being surrounded by icehouses is not a plus. If it were,you’d see them in better neighborhoods.

    I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Just because it is old and run down doesn’t mean it is worth saving. That includes the “wards” as well as the tonier neighborhoods.

    If something can be re-habbed in an economically feasible way, that’s terrific.
    But a dump is a dump is a dump.

  • Maybe this is a harsh comment but I have a suspicion that this will now become a waiting game … waiting to see how far the Freeland HD is willing to let a property decompose into the ground before being able to admit that it is past saving.

  • Making a virtue of necessity: housing bubble over; no way to make a buck out of this deal. Blame neighbors and punt.

  • Yup, I have to admit that I have a hard time finding any kindred spirit feelings for this neighborhood. The only thing constant in life is change. Some people just refuse to accept facts. Who would want to live around neighbors like that? Properties in desirable areas are going to increase in value no matter what. Expecting and insisting on a governmental entity to create one land use restriction after another in order to cater to one or another constituency goes against some of the basic Houston, TX ideals. However, that seems to be the way recent administrations think it’s supposed to work. It’s my marble game. If you contribute to my campaign, I’ll let you play. Riiiight.

  • JT,
    Your characterization of this being an early form of tract home actually applies pretty much to all of the various areas of the the Heights.

  • The Woods should come build in Midtown. We’d love to have them!

  • KJB34–I agree with you on most of the Heights are just old tract homes. I don’t know what is so appealing about a generic wood clad house. 20 years from now all those ticky tacky 1970s US Home faux Spanish ranchettes will be all the rage and if anyone can find a one owner unremodelled number complete with cheesy wrought iron, avocado and gold color schemes and extra long multi color shag carpeting, call in the Historic Preservation Society!

  • I would say in the last several years the resurgence in ranch home renovations Oak Forest and Meyerland area to name a few would show what the next level historic homes are.

  • Hooray for Freeland, and Old Sixth Ward, and Southampton. Those who refuse to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. May the windows of all those who decry preservation be surrounded by 3-story, half-finished, 17-foot wide slab homes.

  • I really wish people understand that historic preservation doesn’t mean saving an old building and keeping it in it’s current state.

    Many old historic buildings are demolished and completely replaced in kind but modernized.

    For example, buy a bungalow, flattened it, then build a new bungalow with all of the modern features built in!

    Many historic districts actually allow complete demolition of historic structures to be replaced with a new “old looking” structure. The popular term in Houston of faux this and faux that is the standard norm for most historic districts. It isn’t critical that the original structure is there, but the character it gave the neighborhood is evident in the new structure. That’s why don’t get the crazy neighbors that stopped the Woods. The Woods have a history of respecting an old neighborhood even through brand new structures.

  • What I would like to know is why the neighbors have not gone after the current owner for the rundown condition of the crummy bungalow? From what I have seen walking my dog on their street with their signs and having read the above letter detailing the threats and such, the neighbors deserve for this house to sit and rot for another 20 years.

    I just hope they do not start complaining that Onion Creek isn’t historical enough.

    Blowhards. . . .

  • “tearing down a house in very poor condition and replacing it with a new compatible home.”

    Let’s see, take down one bungalow, put up two non-bungalows…how is this compatible?

  • kjb434, agree that preserving the character of a historic area doesn’t preclude new construction. I suspect that the neighborhood would not have gotten so riled up if the proposed replacement hadn’t been a three-story, to the lot-line structure that’s reshaped unprotected areas of the Heights.

    Builders, buyers, developers need to think about the appropiateness of their structure’s siting. Purchase a property to put a high-rise in the middle of a neighborhood; expect resistance. Purchase to put a out-of-scale home in a neighborhood that cares enough to declare itself a historic area; expect resistance. There’s so much developable land in Houston, I don’t understand why so many builders choose the hard route. There’s room for all.

    It is ironic the Woods speak of their preservation minded-ness, bragging about their home being an older renovated structure. Yet proposed a structure completely out of scale. Odd. Where there is a contradiction, only one thing can be true.

    The thing this property has working against it is the odd shape of the lot. Any neighborhood appropriate structure will likely end up with a a big back yard. A plus for some, but a negative for developers and buyers who only look at square foots… It will be interesting to see what happens next.

  • Houston has the most idiotic historic preservation law in the land, as it consists of suggestions that cannot be enforced. The inevitable end pits neighbor against developer in a media-based war. I can only assume people like Bob Perry are laughing till they pee their pants.

  • DMc,

    The market dictates that dense housing should be built there. If the bungalow as is was renovated or replaced with a like structure, it would cost beyond what a home owner would be willing to pay for so little home. It just the reality.

    The Wood’s backed off their original plan and presented alternatives. The problem is that the profit margin shrank to the point it wasn’t worth doing the project. The whole point of renovating a home you aren’t going to live in is to make money, the neighborhood saw to it that it wouldn’t happen.

    The Wood’s are going to be ok. They’ll chose a property they can develop for profit which is the drive for the business. The Freeland Historic District will likely just keep deteriorating.

  • As long as we in the Heights have to “defend” our protections that we work so hard to achieve, it will remain an adversarial process. Unfortunately, when we get protections, be it lot size, building line or historic, if we do not protest variance requests, those requests will be approved. But let’s be grownups about it. Name calling is counterproductive and takes an already difficult process and makes it an ugly one. Fight for what you believe in, with integrity and respect for those that are also fighting for what they believe in, even if you are diametrically opposed. If you prevail, please, do it gracefully and realize that somebody has lost and remember what that feels like. If you do not prevail, appeal if you can, but please do so with integrity and respect. Then, let it go.

  • “As long as we in the Heights have to “defend” our protections that we work so hard to achieve…”

    Protections which will mean nothing if a developer has bought the mayor and city council and wants to build. Lest we all forget, the homeowners in Southampton protested three developments. The mayor only blocked one. Says all that needs to be said.

  • Hmmm….

    Post 15
    Post 19

    …..compatible?

  • Yep, Matt, sadly true. With the E. 26th St. property that the owner requested a variance for last year, we were “encouraged” to compromise by the planning committee. We compromised (albeit against our will)when we had to accept 3000 sf as the minimum lot size when over 80% of the homes currently stand on 6000 sf or more. Why should we compromise below that. So yes, when threatened, we will come out in force, with all we can and fight anybody that wants a variance on these protections. Otherwise they mean NOTHING.

    And further KJB who wrote, “The market dictates that dense housing should be built there. If the bungalow as is was renovated or replaced with a like structure, it would cost beyond what a home owner would be willing to pay for so little home. It just the reality” I would suggest that developers stop looking at the Heights as profit centers. It is out of your range.

  • I think they are DP?

    Post 15 is the opinion. Post 19 is to me a plea that we all have our opinions and trashing the other side is worthless and petty.

    Some opinions win and some don’t. Life has winners and losers. Being sore anyone of these is sick.

  • I am shocked at the close-mindedness of residents of the Freeland area. I live in the Heights and we had a house similar to that one behind our home. We have had to chase out prostitutes and dealers and we have seen some things we’d rather not. A home sitting in disrepair – after the hoopla is over – will only become in worse shape and attract undesirables and drifters which really isn’t good for any neighborhood unless you like prostitutes in your backyard. It sounds like the Freeland residents just wanted to make a point. Following in the footsteps of other “historic” neighborhoods. Find something more useful to do with your time. Hey, how about all you passionate neighbors get together and beautify your properties????!

  • Oh KJB, defending EMME. That made me smile.

  • I don’t buy into the “market demands density” argument. I *do* believe that developers demand density. During times of overreaching demand developers (especially spec-builders) function as market-makers as much as market-followers.

    Bungalows continue to sell at a very healthy square-foot premium over the refridgerator box houses. That wouldn’t occur if the demand didn’t exist. Don’t think demand for bungalows exists? Try shopping the market for them…

  • hummmm so kjb434 thinks building a totally modernized sort of replica is as good as original, in terms of historic value.

    Given that logic, going to to Epcot Center is just as good as going to Europe. Actually better — food I recognize and everyone speaks English!

  • The point was if the original structure is so dilapidated and beyond repair, what is wrong with building a new structure in keeping with other homes in the neighborhood?

    As long as no one dares to put an English Tudor or Italianate villa etc….in the midst of these Sears Home Kits, everyone should be happy.

  • Finness,

    JT is right. Most major historic districts have a couple of cases of complete rebuilds were very little was salvageable from the original building.

    Being from Louisiana, I’ve seen this in New Orleans and a couple of lucky plantation homes that happened to get an owner that rebuilt the house. Restoration wasn’t an option.

    In then end, the age of the building isn’t the important aspect, it’s the continuity of the neighborhood. That’s the point of a historic district and those that choose to live within them.

    DMc,
    The market works for the dense townhomes and the bungalows. Either a lot of money for the one bungalow (for restored or just for land value) or less money for three or six town homes on the same lot. I really would like a bungalow in the Heights area, but a restored one is way out of my price range. A fixer-uppers is still a little high and I’ll have to invest a sum of money in it. The market is telling me it’s too expensive. A patio home or town home is my choice (unless I rent)if I want to buy in the area. Even then I couldn’t afford the Heights. I’m just to the west in Cottage Grove where the market demands a slightly lower price. If people are willing to buy it, then the market exists.

  • kjb: I worded that poorly. Yes, both dense and undense markets exist. Houston has a lot of un(der)developed land. There is plenty of room to have both. But they don’t have to be next door to each other! ;-)

    As you point out NOLA is a great example of a place you will find a lot of new construction interspersed with historic buildings. But they fit in terms of scale and size. Often it’s tough to look down a block in Uptown and pick out the new-builds. I can’t say that about the Heights.

    NOLA also has a much more hostile-to-developer environment. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

  • There are very few dwellings that are beyond repair, it’s just that Houston is a place to make a quick buck. It’s often cheaper to level something than to lovingly restore it. Cheap = Houston!

    I am renovating a house right now that has been vacant for 4 years. It has a hole in the roof from Hurricane Ike and water damage. But, the shell is wonderful and the inspection went very well because the foundation was solid and the materials and craftsmanship from the 1920s far outshines those of today.

  • Somebody told me once on this very board that low priced homes have no place next to $300,000 homes. To that I reply, then don’t put the $300,000 homes there. DUH!!!

    Bottomline, Heights residents will always disdain developers because developers aren’t in anyway concerned with the wellbeing of the neighborhood beyond the sale, period. It is simply about profit. It’s like puppy mills vs. responsible breeders. Puppy mill owners do nothing to maintain the health of their breeder dogs. They care nothing about their suffering, they only want the profit from their puppies. Developers are the puppy mills of home building.

  • DMc and doofus,

    I understand the wanting renovations versus just plain tear down and build townhomes or McMansion, but don’t just blame the developer. All those homes that are torn down had owners too. The owners are just as guilty for selling it as developer got for buying and tearing it down.

    I would argue that the strict rules that exist in New Orleans would be just as hostile to existing owners looking to sell as to the developers.

    Another comment I heard from a man in his late 80s that lives in the Heights is that developers are tearing down spec homes to build new ones. Everything that changes remains the same.

  • These old ladies have nothing better to do than defend these rat infested ugly cookie cutter bungalows. Just look at the house! You have got to be kidding me.

    They will resort to disgusting tactics such as illegally placing mailouts in your mailbox and trespassing on private property. Who are the real criminals here?

    -Bags

  • I might think I broke my own rule, but I am sure I could rationalize my behavior, but I have a headache.

  • Regulation always cuts both ways. Regardless of form or action it will help some at the expense of others. Nature of the beast. That is why regulation must be specific, concise, clear, and stable. None of which apply to Houston’s patchwork of poorly constructed ordinances. On that I agree with the Woods.

    You can’t legislate taste or style. Why would you want to? The Heights if full of differing architectural styles. But some of the egregious examples of out-of-place buildings in the Heights surpass poor taste and style. They adversely impact neighboring properties’ utility and use because of their out of scale size. In my opinion the Woods’ first proposal rose (three stories!) to that level.

    How to define the difference? I donno. If I did I’d be running for city council.

  • The one thing I truly like about Houston regulation in this topic (Chapter 42) is that the public actually has some input.

    As mentioned somewhere up in these postings that a developer can just apply for a variance to have its way in a restricted neighborhood. The thing is that the variance has to be advertised publicly and the neighborhood can challenge it. If enough of the neighborhood shows up to speak at the Planning Commisioner’s meeting to speak against the variance, there is a good chance it won’t be granted if the neighbhorhoods objection is reasonable.

    Someone will probably say that developers in general usually get their way with a variance. Well yes, but most of these variances are for very minor things. Remember, anything that is done that is not specifically called out in the development code has to go through variance.

    The flip side is that cities that have some form of zoning board or strict planning board usually allow little or no public input. It also allows developers a path to influence decisions. The tight the regulation the more likely the lobbying to avoid it. Just like at the federal level, the more you regulate a business, the more they’ll lobby the law makers. In Houston, the Planning Commissioners must submit conflicts of interest prior to meetings and stand out on the case they have conflicts on. On top of that the meetings are shown live and taped for re-show for all the public to see.

    The mayor and city council can’t intervene on this level. The mayor and city council can have meetings with developers ahead about future projects, but it still doesn’t guarantee the planning commission will bow to them. I’ve seen developers of all sizes shot down on various variances and they have great political ties.

    On top of all this, the Planning Commission often does lean towards compromises. Existing residents need to understand that passionate and emotional pleas are worthless. They’ve heard all this before and those pleas are factual objects to the variance.

  • In Galveston, you routinely see houses nearly twice this age in far worse shape restored. Sometimes after partial collapse, often after a significant fire. Frequently a sympathetic addition is added to the back.

  • KJB wrote, “The mayor and city council can’t intervene on this level. The mayor and city council can have meetings with developers ahead about future projects, but it still doesn’t guarantee the planning commission will bow to them.”
    Former Councilmember Adrian Garcia spoke for the neighborhood at the variance hearing for the E. 26th street variance request. Is this different than what you mean?

  • I wonder if anyone has considered what Dallas has used for 20 years?
    A Conservation District is a zoning tool used to help communities protect certain characteristics in their neighborhood. Conservation Districts have existed in the city of Dallas since 1988. These districts exist primarily in East Dallas and Oak Cliff.(which are areas primarily developed before 1940) They concentrate on protecting such things as architecture styles, densities of the area, heights of structures, and setback guidelines. The process to become a conservation district typically takes 12 – 18 months from the initial authorizing of a study until the adoption by the city council.

    These districts are similar to and often compared with historic districts. While exhibiting comparable characteristics, the two are quite different. Historic Districts look to preserve the original structure exactly as when it was first built. They also attempt to preserve original materials, colors, styles, and other elements of the original structure. Conservation districts wish to maintain certain standards of an area.

    The biggest difference between historic and conservation districts is the evaluation process of alterations made to structures within the area. For historic districts, it is necessary to have alterations reviewed by city staff members, neighborhood taskforces, and finally the Landmark Commission. This process can take 4 – 6 weeks. For conservation districts, alterations are reviewed by city staff members only. This can take as little as 1 day or up to a month depending on the work to be done.

  • If he spoke at the Planning Commission meeting as representative for the neighborhood, then there is nothing wrong. It’s not the backroom dealing kind of meeting. The public is there and it’s on the record. Mr. Garcia was actually acting on the behalf of a lot of constituents. Since he was my council member of Cottage Grove, his staff assisted the local civic club at planning commission meetings also. To me, that’s public service going right.

    I was really referring to developers going to elected officials early on and trying to get preliminary agreements to be able to do things. Then the elected official trying to influence the Planning Commission in a close door meeting ahead of the variance process. Our system is, for the lack of a better word, convoluted which makes it actually harder for developers to rig an outcome without public knowledge and record. Trust me, co-workers and I had several projects where developers try to push the envelope and get by without doing what is required and in all cases get shot down. We always warn them ahead of time, but they always think different.

  • People like Jean Taylor make me want to puke. She reminds me of the kind of busy-body HOA lunatics that terrorize suburban neighborhoods. Why these preservation fanatics think that having neighborhoods frozen in time is somehow “wonderful” is beyond me. Maybe Freeland should ban air conditioning, cable tv, internet service, cars built after 1940,and asbestos-free building materials so that the neighborhood can be truly “authentic”.

  • Maybe Jean Taylor should move to First Colony and find out what “standards” are really all about. I suspect at one point she lived in First Colony. And is now intent on “colonizing” the Inner Loop.