This Draft of Changes to the Preservation Ordinance Is Different, Somehow

Note: Planning and development weighs in. See update below.

Tonight’s 6:30 meeting at the George R. Brown is the only public meeting scheduled to discuss the latest round of proposed changes to Houston’s preservation ordinance, dubbed the “final draft” in some documents. The planning department came out with this revised set of proposed amendments last week, but figuring out what’s in them isn’t so easy. The department hasn’t created any summaries of the new proposal — thought it did for the last round — and it hasn’t specified what’s different from the earlier proposed amendments either. Even more fun: The new amendments have only been released as image scans, making text searching — and what should be the simple task of comparing one set of amendments to the other — a not-so-simple task.

So what’s in the latest round of proposed changes? Swamplot outlined the new proposed method for existing historic districts to “reconsider” — and possibly shed — their historic designation last week. But since then, the department has only released a presentation given by the planning director. Working from that, here’s the best summary of the rest of the provisions we can piece together:


Update, 9/24: P&D public affairs manager Suzy Hartgrove writes in with a few clarifications:

The “cards” will actually be paper ballots.

You make it sound like we will only have one meeting in the proposed district and then move onto the balloting process. We will come out as many times as necessary to help the residents understand the process and the ordinance.

After the ballots are returned, we will map the results and will issue a recommendation to HAHC which could include a revision to the boundary that would reflect the core support of 60% for the proposed district.

New construction in a historic district will need to conform to a design guideline based on elements of contributing structures of homes within the district. (Flooding is not part of the ordinance and I don’t understand what the flooding comment means on that one post.)

Demolition of non contributing structures in a historic district does not need a Certificate of Appropriateness but a demolition of a contributing structure will. Specific criteria are being proposed so the Commission will be able to make an informed decision on whether to grant a CoA for a historic building demolition.

68 Comment

  • Doesn’t seem too ridiculous. Appears a little easier than enacting a deed restriction though.

  • It certainly sucks the architectural life out of areas like the Heights though. We can all look forward to a Stepford future of identical looking structures if this goes through. Begone variety!

  • This will be a boon for areas that are able to repel the Historic District status. It will stagnant some areas in the short term while immediately diverting moneyed interests into others in their adjacency. These boundaries will make for interesting architecture.

  • @jimbo– are you joking? Do you live anywhere near the heights? I live on a block of original houses in the Woodland Heights and not one house looks like the others. If people don’t like bungalows enough to build one, then why would they even want to live in the heights? I mean, unless they are constructing some sort of mirror on their property line, they are going to be spending lots of time looking at bungalows, and not the exterior of their own house. In fact, I’d wager that the only time these poor victims of architectural discrimination will even see their exterior (without the earlier mentioned mirror) is when pulling into the driveway. The rest of us, however will have to look at these “archetural” beauties from the front porches of our bungalows apparently not currently in vogue. Maybe the best bet is to move across the street from an architectural style you like…

  • No one remembers that at the August 10th meeting at The United Way, Heights property owners voted and over 60% indicated opposition to the amendment. The City then promised to resurvey and be bound by the results. The “Transition Provisions” ignore that vote and require property owners to scramble and garner 25% property owner support for a resurvey within only 15 days after passage of the amendment. In addition, the Transition Provisions allow the City to ignore the results of a resurvey. Obviously, the radical preservationists own the Mayor and the City Council. They will be held to account for their political arrogance.

  • Look around this city. Look at our historic neighborhoods, many of which have had their historic fabric compromised by demolitions and inappropriate construction. Look at how many structures we’ve lost. Look at our current preservation ordinance, which provides next to no protection for historic buildings.

    Now, tell me: Where are these “radical preservationists”?

  • From Jim:

    Now, tell me: Where are these “radical preservationists”?
    In the Heights, obviously.

    But not along Almeda, because the demolition of a former Minimax goes almost completely without mention in spite of it being more impactful than a dozen production-built bungalows. And they aren’t in 5th Ward or South Union, which were heavily targeted by the Mayor’s demolition program (while non-black neighborhoods got passed over).

  • Mel,

    You are totally confused if you think the heights was made up of a bunch of unique bugalows.

    When the pine forested land for the Heights was clear-cut by Carter and Cooley to make way for the masterplanned Heights development, prepackaged bungalows of only about 4 or 5 designs were utilized throughout the development. Only a few lots were ever built separately. Parts of the heights were showcases for larger homes and the rest were for the burgeoning middle class. In the end, the Heights is just another masterplanned tract home community no different than todays modern suburbs. Back then it was at the edge of Houston (wasn’t even in the city limits).

    Classification of Heights as historic means some people are just being resistant to change. Architecturally, the Heights is mass production quality no different than the much maligned faux Tuscan turrets of today. Back then, no one thought they architecturally beautiful, but now they are prized. By the logic, the faux Tuscan of today will be valued and treasured in 60-70 years.

  • The same can be said about the Model T; however, I wouldn’t look down on one because it can’t compete on the Beltway. Isn’t moving into a neighborhood with a reputation for liking the existing status quo and getting upset about it rather like going to a church and complaining because they talk about religion too much?

  • Just shows you that the current city administration is just as sleazy and opaque as many of the old administrations. The “developer centric” control of Houston just will not go away. Fortunately, Houston isn’t the only place to live.

  • Just one more comment. Someone above, says that today’s “faux Tuscan” homes may be more prized in 60-70 years. I will bet the most of those homes made of OSB and fake stone applied with glue, plastic this that and the other, cement over styrofoam, will not last 60-70 years. Most of them are crap.

  • Based on the quality of construction, much of the faux Tuscan of today isn’t built to last 60-70 years. That’ll increase the allure and romance of the 3 story, 3,500 square foot urban townhouse (with parking for two and a wine refrigerator!)

  • Classification of Heights as historic means some people are just being resistant to change. Architecturally, the Heights is mass production quality no different than the much maligned faux Tuscan turrets of today. Back then, no one thought they architecturally beautiful, but now they are prized.
    So, because they were at one time not considered architecturally significant, they should *never* become architecturally significant? Preservationsists aren’t the only ones resistant to change.

  • Dave McC,

    The point I was making is there is not rule or criteria to what is historical. It’s purely emotionally and herd mentality based.

    I’m not against historically preserving a building, but the world is not going to end because bungalows disappear either.

  • I am in favor of preserving what is left of Houston’s historical neighborhoods, as long as it is done in a reasonably flexible manner. However, anyone involved in preservation knows it is not cheap. If the mayor really wants to encourage preservation, she should look into providing greater economic incentives to do so. We spend so much time talking about sticks, but not much discussing potential carrots….
    Under the current system, a Certificate of Appropriateness nets the property owner a reduction in permit fee costs, along with a 15 year abatement on the city’s portion of the property taxes on the value of the improvements (I believe this is the case for renovations/expansions – not sure about new construction).
    Unfortunately, the city’s portion of the property taxes is not that great, so the benefit doesn’t really balance out the increased costs of preservation vs. demolition. If the mayor could get the other taxing entities to participate in this program, perhaps the incentive would become large enough to change the math enough to make preservation a more attractive proposition.

  • Homes built with wood frames, wood shiplap, and wood siding don’t last 60-70 years, either. It takes maintenance, and lots of it!

    The other bit of good news about modern building materials, methods, and code enforcement is that they are VASTLY improved in quality from post-war mid-century equivalents.

  • After Sue Lovell told the gathered Heights residents, at the last public meeting, that they would absolutely get to re-vote because of the overwhelming show of opposition, I knew they had something up their sleeve. Why is it that a re-petition is too onerous for approving this revision, but it’s what needs to be done to oppose it? And within 15 day timelimt to boot! Hypocracy anyone?

    Just a comment on modern buildings, froma builders perspective: todays houses, with modern material and techniques, have the POTENTIAL to be the best ever built in the country. It’s all about the maintenance. In Houston in partcular it’s the foundation that fails, not the structure. Slab on grade foundations, especially post tension slabs, are only meant to last 50 years or less where pier and beam foundations will last forever if maintained. There is bad/cheap material out the, no doubt, but when compared to the material used in older house what we have today is vastly superior. Now when you talk about CRAFTSMANSHIP it’s a different story.

  • I was at the meeting last night and the preservation activists were there in force. It was troubling to hear them complain about any re-petition process as being unfair to them. Consider that it was their bait and switch tactics that were used to subvert the will of the neighborhood in the first place, and now they don’t want a fair vote. Many of the preservationists sputtered and spit venomous dialog about their neighbors’ homes. I have concluded that I do not like them. I hope City Council feels the same way.

  • I’d dispute that craftsmanship is declining. The human willingness to slack off, cut corners, improvise unnecessarily, and to do really dumb things is a constant. That goes for developers, general contractors, subcontractors, city inspectors, and everyone else in the process.

    It is utterly astounding to me that there aren’t more house fires, given what DIYers and unlicensed electricians working under the table have amateurishly done with electrical systems.

  • @Mel, yes thanks I live smack bang in the middle of the Heights and whilst I would agree that there is bad architecture here, some of my favorite homes in the neighborhood are contemporary in style. A couple of good examples would be the home on the corner of Arlington and 8th and the home at 612 E 8 1/2. These homes would most likely be barred under the new ordinance. Instead a faux historic pseudo bungalow would apparently be preferred.

    The Heights has only become known as just a bastion of bungalow preservers in the last handful of years. Before that it was also a neighborhood where imagination and variety were celebrated. Of course, imagination will still be allowed, it will now just be limited to paint color.

  • All Houston neighborhoods are affected because of new language in the ordinance that invokes immediate historic designation as soon as an application is made with only 10% homeowner signatures. The effect will be to make neighborhoods into a museum exhibits where homeowners cannot change their homes without government permission.

    It will take at least six months for the process to return the neighborhood to normal and those same 10% activists can do it again one year later. This will happen.

    City Council Members, do the right thing and vote this DOWN.

  • And, Ms. Hartgrove still hasn’t explained why the appearance of a structure is any business of the City of Houston. Life safety, utility connections, yes. Appearance, no.

  • SCD wrote: Why is it that a re-petition is too onerous for approving this revision, but it’s what needs to be done to oppose it? And within 15 day timelimt to boot!”

    I do not unerstand your statements in relation to the post above. I may have missed something. Please explain. Thanks.

  • The point I was making is there is not rule or criteria to what is historical. It’s purely emotionally and herd mentality based.
    Age and architectural form have *something* to do with it. It’s not purely emotional/herd mentality.

    I just find it ironic that many against preservation accuse the preservationists of being against change; while simultaneously arguing for keeping the development rules in their current state. Isn’t keeping status quo also resistance to change? ;-)

  • Well played, Dave!

  • I’m sure that there are modifications to development rules that people that are against this proposed ordinance would be amenable to. For instance, I would like to see more leniency with respect to the application of energy codes when applied to the renovation of existing buildings.

  • Here’s what they’re planning to do. The key is that the neighborhood has to petition to OPT OUT.

    1.Heights South scrambles for 25% signatures for reconsideration in 15 days – success!

    2.Cards are mailed out to all owners of record in Heights South

    3.Most cards are returned – perhaps 60% vote for removing historic district status

    4.OOOPS! Guess what! The 60% voting to opt out are less than 50% of all recorded owners

    5.The recommendation to City Council is to leave the neighborhood status unchanged because less than half of the neighborhood voted to get out

    There is no language in the new ordinance or the Transition Provisions about how the Director of the Planning and Development Department must interpret the vote.

    Heights South – Welcome to Historic District Status!

  • now that the wal-mart fun is over can we finally start referring to the heights as surburban again and drop the “urban” charade?

    i can understand the allure of living in a suburban neighborhood near the city, but i can’t imagine younger generations will look favorably at this area at all and will be demo’ing the whole thing once the boomers are out. there’s a reason townhomes are in vogue, you get more for your money, updated efficiencies and pay much less in property taxes per sq. ft.

    i just think its funny that for all this talk, these ordinances will only affect one area of the entire city. when i think bungalows i think small-town america, certainly nothing i would want to preserve in a city i’d like to see grow.

  • Now the Freeland fight is heating up. There was piece on ch. 13 tonight.

    What’s next? Stop the Freeland Condos on facebook?

  • @jimbo– you are wrong. New structures must be in keeping, not identical. Check out the menagerie of acceptable new construction linked on the Woodland Heights bulletin board. Some of the homes are contemporary, and I dare say what a bungalow or 4 square built today should look like when built under yesterdays principles with today’s aesthetic.

  • Anyone that votes for ‘historic preservation’ in the Heights better be prepared for a $75K hit on the lot value of their property.

    If the City wanted to institute this ordinance — they should have done it 15 years ago. Presently there is just to much variability on every block.

  • Mike, based on what? Why do you think property values will go down? The other side of this argument claims the opposite will happen.

  • Why does Suzy Hartgrove get special consideration here to add to your article? Are you going to allow someone from the opposition to have equal time/space? I’m sure we can get Bill Baldwin, or someone else, to contribute equally valid analysis of your work. So far I would call Swamplot only mildly biased toward the preservationists, but if you continue to allow one sided comments like this to be added to your articles you’ll soon be as reliable as the Chronicle in my book.

  • Joel, you obviously aren’t part of the “younger” generation. As a part of the mid-upper end, I can attest that the allure of townhomes wanes around the time the first child starts walking. Its a pain to haul everything up and down the stairs and keep a kid from tumbling down. Heights and the close in ‘burbs like Oak Forest, Garden Oaks, Braes Heights, Westbury are appealing to many because they are closer in-town. I’m surprised no one has figured out how to clean up Sharpstown yet. No one wants to spend alot of time in their car.

  • Those of us with property in an historic district have already voted on and approved a certain set of rules. The proper way to handle this would be to offer the new “teethier” rules to each of the historic districts, and future applicants, as an optional upgrade. If the districts wish to apply for the upgrade and put it to a vote, then that would be their choice. The current approach of trying to ram it down our throats will only serve to damage trust and participation.

  • Property values will go down because one of the drivers of property values in the neighborhood is the fact that a property owner can redevelop their property relatively unrestricted. The studies used by the pro new ordinance folks to argue that values will rise are based on neighborhoods that were given this level of restriction whilst they were at the bottom of their value cycle. This happened in the Heights in the mid to late 80s. To apply those studies to the Heights now is not realistic.

  • @mike walker wrote: “Heights better be prepared for a $75K hit on the lot value of their property”
    Your comment infers the improvements,or structure, is worthless?
    @jimbo wrote: “drivers of property values in the neighborhood is the fact that a property owner can redevelop their property relatively unrestricted”.
    So has the property values in the Woodlands, with heavy restrictions, decreased over the years?

  • Norhill Joe,

    Property values in the Woodlands while not stagnant haven’t escalated anywhere near the level of properties in the loop in gentrifying neighborhoods. Heavy land uses controls with constant supply being added (Woodlands) will keep land values fairly steady with moderate increases and decreases occurring. Heavy land use controls with little to no increase in supply create escalated property values (see San Francisco). The Heights lack of land use controls along with the market desire for more homes per block than currently exists drives the property values up. The preservation ordinance will limit supply, but also limit the kind of home that can exist on a lot. If homes are limited to bungalows and modified bungalows, the value of the land won’t increase since there won’t be an opportunity to redevelop the properties in to a higher priced home.

  • kjb434,
    Thanks for your input regarding restrictions and how it might affect propert values. One of your comments leads me to another question. Specifically your comment: “Heavy land use controls with little to no increase in supply create escalated property values (see San Francisco)” So would property ( land and improvements, not just “land value”) value increase in a Historic district with the new ordinance and minimum lot size restrictions? The supply of homes in a historical district is very limited and unlikely to increase with the new ordinance requiring 60% approval by mail.

  • Norhill Joe,

    To me, they would only increase if more than a bungalow could be built on the property. The current lot size restrictions just means that a developer has to build one large expensive house versus 4 or six townhomes as a cheaper selling price. The historic ordinance would potentially limit would could be built. The lack of supply, to me, wouldn’t apply since you can easily move to an adjacent neighborhood without restrictions and develop it relatively easily. To some extent, this has occurred in the Heights. Shady Acres, Cottage Grove, Norhill areas have seen an explosion of townhomes with little restrictions. Land values for undeveloped land (or with an existing old cottage) is several times what the home is worth in those areas even in today’s economy. A lot size restriction would only force buyers on the upper end of the housing price spectrum to purchase with the intent on bulldozing and building a large home. See West U and the current lot sized restricted portion of the Heights. This demand will plummet with the historic preservation status and land prices will not go up and may initially decline before leveling off. The ordinance will kill the only demand the neighborhood could fill.

  • kjb434,
    If I understand your explanation correctly you are assuming there is only a demand for larger homes 2000+ SF and/or townhomes. There are some people who do not want a large house and do not care to walk up and down 3 flights of stairs in a townhome. These are the people who would be interested in a smaller cottage/ bungalow. There are plenty of buyers for the smaller homes in my neighborhood which is a Historical District and has lot size restrictions. There was no plummet in demand or decline of property value when these two restrictions were applied.

  • Norhill Joe,
    My t cents: what will drive property values down in the Historic Districts will be the fact that builders/developers will no longer be in the market, and with todays tough financing guidlines it will be close to impossible for house values to climb without new inventory to increase the comps. Builders/Developers are the driving force behind ALL of the value increases in the inner loop over the last 20 years. Without them bidding for property the buyer pool will be reduced by 3/4 at least. The remaining 1/4 of real buyers will almost all need a mortgage to afford to purchase and the way the appraisal system works today there is no room for one house on a block to be worth more than another, even with significant improvement. And you have very little chance of influencing an appraiser with the current regulations. Prices will necessarily stagnate, and almost certainly drop because of people rushing to sell at the top of the market flooding the available pool. We are actually seeing this already. When this passes look for a huge increase in available listings and over time a corresponding drop in asking price in the competition for buyers.
    I estimate a 25% drop in vlaue before it levels off, then there will probably be a 10% rise as profit seekers come in, after which there will probably ne a steady increase, but nowhere near what it has been over the last 20 years nor what it would be if there was no Historic District.

  • SCD, I sympathize with your cause, but you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

  • @SCD: Swamplot asked Suzy Hartgrove to comment on a post claiming to summarize a presentation delivered by her department that described a long and complicated ordinance that was also produced by her department. Since city council will be voting on it, we thought readers would appreciate clarifications about the actual content of the ordinance from the department that wrote it. If Bill Baldwin were to write a similarly complex ordinance and get it up before city council we’d likely ask him for similar help as well.

    Anyone is free to comment publicly on Swamplot — as long as you stay within some rather obvious guidelines — or to send us emails on any topic. If we think the information is worthy of adding to a post, we’ll do it.

    But please be clear: Swamplot isn’t interested in carefully balancing “both sides” of any issue. That’s never been our game to play, and it isn’t our readers’ either. We hope and expect all comments we receive will be “one-sided” as well.

  • @SCD,
    Not sure I am understanding your explanation of of builder’s influence/appraisal system/market being flooded relationship. Also, how did you come up with an estimate of a 25% drop in value due to a historical designation? In what neighborhood has this occured in Houston? I checked Westmoreland and that area has seen a 100% plus increase in price/sq ft since its designation in 1997. My little hood shows a 50% increase in price/sq ft since it’s designation in 2000. These two areas have very few new homes added during those time periods. Might it be explained by location, location, location rather than due to builders?

  • Gus: Thanks for the comment and clairification. you should make that the comment of the day.

    NorhilJoe: Norhill, Westmorland, Cortland Place et al are all different than the Historic Heights, and I’m specifically talking about the Historic Heights and areas to be named later. Norhill was relatively untouched by builders because of the deed restrictions already in place, and the other areas are small, expensive, exclusive and preserved enough that the people buying into those markets know what they are getting into and want to be there. The Heights is 10X larger than all other Districts combined (City’s number, not mine) and is already significantly redeveloped with a history of new construction. My estimate is nothing more than my feeling after being a builder/developer/designer in the Heights for 17 years. I have seen inventory rise and prices start to fall over the last 6 months which backs up what I’m anticipating.

  • Why do we need our property values to go up? I for one and am happy for my tax bill to stagnate. Call me crazy, but paying an increased tax bill every year so as to protect the right of a certain developer to build $800K houses on my street seems, well, crazy.

  • SCD writes: “My estimate is nothing more than my feeling after being a builder/developer/designer in the Heights for 17 years. I have seen inventory rise and prices start to fall over the last 6 months which backs up what I’m anticipating.”

    I respond: do you mean to tell me that actual people may have a chance to buy the houses in my neighborhood, without having to engage in a bidding war with a developer? What wonderful news!

  • Mel,

    I second you comment about the stagnation of property values. I’m happy with my home and where my neighborhood is going. With no intent to sell in the near future, a steady value is nice to have.

    Only if I bought purely from an investment angle should I want property values to continue to rise.

  • Mel and kjb434, thank you for clarifying your agenda regarding historical designation. Apparently preserving history has very little to do with your motivation, and keeping property values low is much more important. Also, thank you for conceeding that historical district status will stagnate property values, and the neighborhood in general.

    Those seeking to preserve our property rights are not so self-serving. We want the neighborhood to continue to grow and attract more good neighbors. I hope you guys move to the 6th Ward. Good riddance.

  • OutfieldDan, you must be new around here to think that I’m at all against property rights and for this ordinance. People on here often get frustrated with me because I’m EXTREMELY property rights oriented. Personally, if the demand existed for all the bungalows to be demolished and new construction to go in its place, then so be it. The existing home owners sold it and the new property owners have the right to build something different on their property.

    Having a steady home value isn’t a bad thing, but if the market says my value is much higher I can’t really argue with it. HCAD is another story….I’m just looking for a silver lining in a economic slow down.

  • Point taken, kjb434. I used your post to forward the argument that Heights preservationists really don’t care that much about history. Their true agenda is to prevent new neighbors from moving in by making it less attractive to live here. This debate has exposed them as hypocrites.

    One comment made by a preservationist at one of the Geo R Brown public meetings was that he recently went to Europe to view history, and therefore history has value. Comparing Rome, the Vatican, the Louvre, etc. to 1910 Heights tract home housing is laughable. As a matter of fact, the recently built modern Victorian near Halbert Park is more historical than the dilapidated bungalows that were there before. The same is true about the Pumpkin home that was recently featured on a Heights Home Tour. The HAHC would forbid both of these structures.

  • I was lucky to run into Sue Lovell and she indicated a few changes to the Historic Ordinance:
    She said “the Historic Ordinance will be altered to eliminate the potential contributing properties. The properties will be either Contributing, or Noncontributing.”

    This means that Noncontributing properties, can be torn ed down, no permit is required from the Historic Commission. They may add something to make sure the floors etc., don’t end up in a land fill, but instead salvaged.

    She also said, “that they plan on changing the 15 days to 30 days for signatures for a recount .”

    She said “they are not going to do anything with the height, except nothing can be taller than the highest structure in the Historic District.”

  • Something was mentioned about Billy Baldwin’s position on the topic. I couldn’t say, but when he listed this property in the Freeland Historic District he took the very limited space for the write up, the space where you give it your best “pitch” & highlight the things most likely to help sell the property, to say the following:

    “…in the Historic Freeland District – soon to be a Protected Historic District – where ”No means No” with regards to demolitions and inappropriate new construction or renovations.”

  • @outfielddan, thank you for taking my comments out of context and oversimplifying a complex issue into small sound bites which seemingly support your anti-preservation agenda. In the meantime, I’ll continue to point out the flaws in the opposition’s arguments. Carry on. And, please feel free to construe this as sarcasm.

  • Mel, sorry, but my comments about you and the historic preservation activists are accurate. I resent your friends unethical attempt to force your agenda on my neighborhood. I resent Sue Lovell’s strategy and Annise Parker’s complicity.

    It’s true that history is not your purpose. You don’t want the Heights to continue to progress and you are trying to keep new neighbors who might want to build a nicer home than you own out of the neighborhood.

    I hope Houston is getting sick of it all. I hope City Council sees through your deceipt.

  • Hmmm, prices in historic districts up 50% since 1997. In Timbergrove Manor east of TC Jester, prices are up 150% or more in that time frame, with no historic designation and light deed restrictions. I’m not happy about the taxes, but it does show that historic designation isn’t that big a help.

  • This, in spite of that Timbergrove is heavily impacted by floodplain development restrictions and higher insurance premiums.

  • You know, instead of speculating about what will happen if historic districts are protected, here’s a wild & crazy idea: look at what *has* happened in places with serious preservation ordinances for historic districts (something that’s not even on the table in Houston). I’ve lived in one before. The net: high quality of life, high appreciation of home value, and because there was a strict but very clear process for reviewing new development, a really thriving neighborhood that had some of the city’s most exciting contemporary development along main streets while preserving the amazing Victorian homes around the corner.

    It can be done, thought I don’t see it happening here.

  • Funny the extent to which some comments line up with the fliers that builders-pretending-to-be-my-neighbors have been leaving on my porch. Kudos to the few regular contributors who still bother to point out the persistent illogic of the misinformation campaign. Such as:
    (2) Historic districts undermine architectural diversity – Protecting some of the last remaining pockets of intact historic Houston neighborhoods somehow decreases the city’s architectural diversity?
    (5) The “radical preservationists own” the mayor and city council – The tired talk-radio adjective aside, it’s sad that anyone thinks it’s extremist to oppose rapacious builders and those homebuyers who would destroy our city’s heritage and unique neighborhoods to serve their individual interests. To further suggest that the historic preservation community has the money necessary to “own” politicians strains credulity. Many past administrations demonstrate that “owning” politicians is the special purview of the builders/developers. It’s those interests that are resistant to change.
    (5) “They will be held accountable” – Again, really? When you’re walking down the street, and see a builder squeezing a giant box into a denuded lot surrounded by lots containing bungalows and trees, your first thought is to shake your fist at the bungalow owners and curse THEIR “arrogance”?
    (8) “Classification of Heights as historic means some people are just being resistant to change.” Or maybe it has something to do with the Heights’ having a lot of old houses and buildings? Sure, let’s continue to destroy our historic neighborhoods and show the world how progressive we are!
    (18) “sputtered and spit … about their neighbors’ homes” – Does it really surprise anyone that someone who has chosen to live in a small home in a tree-lined historic neighborhood doesn’t like to see a giant box with some columns built next door, or even down the block? Or that propping up the market for new constructions is not considered especially neighborly in an historic neighborhood?
    (20) Suggestion that historic preservation is a recent trend in the Heights – So wrong, and so disrespectful to those people and groups who have worked hard over the decades to preserve so many of the neighborhood’s original structures. What’s recent is the notion that such structures will make quaint scenery at the feet of a big new house.
    (Etc.) I get the position of the builders and new-construction buyers – they have a significant vested interest in creating/perpetuating a market for new constructions in historic neighborhoods and are acting in their self-interest. But Houston has only a few somewhat intact historic neighborhoods left, and so this isn’t just about you, or just about someone’s not wanting an ugly house built next door – it’s about an important part of our city’s heritage and whether future generations of Houstonians and visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy it as we have.

  • I suppose that what I understand the least about all this is how the goals of preservation mesh with a neighborhood as mixed as the Heights. It was a streetcar suburb built out with tract housing, but Houston has lots of those; they aren’t scarce. Many such neighborhoods have not been impacted by a proliferation new development; their architectural integrity is intact.

    If you want to preserve a historic neighborhood that is intact enough for someone to be able to reflect on the values and circumstances of yesteryear, we need to have a serious discussion about 2nd Ward and Magnolia Park.

    If, on the other hand, we’re talking about advancing some dubious viewpoint about preserving the low density of a transitioning neighborhood under the flag, ‘quality of life’, then perhaps the Heights should be considered as a viable test case. But let’s not mistake it for historical preservation. That ship has sailed.

  • The area bordered by, approximately, White Oak, 11th, Oxford and Heights is virtually all new build, virtually all 2-story, virtually all built with 3-ft lateral setbacks, and, frankly, the area looks great. A lot better than what was there before.
    90% of what the preservationists want is to maintain (roughly) the density of the block they live on. There is already a mechanism to do this, by getting your neighbors to voluntarily agree to minimum lot size and minimum building line restrictions. If your neighbors don’t want to sign up for these relatively mild restrictions, then it’s kind of a jerk move to impose far more draconian restrictions on them (and yourself) via a preservation ordinance.

  • @angostura, that’s pretty much what I’ve thought for some time. The so called preservationists can’t convince their neighbors to agree to limitations, so they get the City to stand beside them like a big mean cop to force compliance. “Do what I want, or the City will beat you senseless on my behalf”.

  • @outfielddan, are you insane? Why don’t you scroll up and read my comments, and then read those of yours which I can only assume are in response to mine as you keep mentioning my name. See if you can follow along and bridge the intellectual gaps between my posts and yours. I sure can’t.

  • Also,from Outfielddan:
    Mel, sorry, but my comments about you and the historic preservation activists are accurate.

    From me: Nope. They aren’t. You are insane.

    I resent your friends unethical attempt to force your agenda on my neighborhood.

    From me: Huh? Who are my friends? Where is YOUR neighborhood. What if I live there too, wouldn’t that make it OUR neighborhood? Also, what is my agenda?

    I resent Sue Lovell’s strategy and Annise Parker’s complicity.

    Me: what fabulous news. Please tell me more.

    It’s true that history is not your purpose. You don’t want the Heights to continue to progress and you are trying to keep new neighbors who might want to build a nicer home than you own out of the neighborhood.

    Me: huh? Based on what, exactly do you draw this conclusion?

    I hope Houston is getting sick of it all. I hope City Council sees through your deceipt.

    Me: what deceit? Again, are you insane?

  • Ross and Angostura, I think you hit the nail on the head.

    One vocal group will get to tell everybody who didn’t agree with them what they can and can’t do and the city will get to collect some nice new permit fees in the process.

  • There are more than two sides to this story.
    I am not a builder trying to raze 2 houses to put 3 in their place. I am also not a bungalow owner trying to tell other people what to do with their private property.
    I am a 5th generation Houstonian with roots going back to the early 1900s in the Heights. I have bought a small house on Cortlandt and I am trying to make it my own. I am not adding on, I am just making the current space work for me. I am adding fixtures from my childhood home in River Oaks (slated for demo soon) and otherwise making it mine.
    As the house stands it is REALLY ugly. It has vinyl siding up half-way, then Hardiplank. It has a purple porch. There is no way to tell what it looked like originally, even with the sheetrock gone. We think maybe in the 30s or so, two houses were stuck together to make the house.
    Nevertheless, I have had to go through the whole Historic Rigamarole to get permitting. I can’t put my front door where I want it because it will change the amount of “FENESTRATIONS” in the front of the house.

    I want to reiterate some points from my prior post, a month or so ago.

    Calling the Heights a historic district does not make it historic. The rich history of the neighborhood makes it historic. Neighborhoods change over time, and though changes are part of the fabric of our lives and our city. I expect Bayou Bend to look the exact same in 20 or 40 years. It is a museum. I expect my neighborhood to change. I am not living in a museum.

    My biggest opposition to the proposed changes to the historic district is the divisiveness it has caused in my neighborhood.

    My biggest fear is that we will end up with no protection at all for the cool old homes. I think a waiting period for demolitions is a good idea. I want to keep the character of our neighborhood without being told where to put my front door.

    There is a difference between respecting history and being corseted by it. I love the Heights because it is heterogeneous. There is much less of the materialism and inflexibility that is seen in other neighborhoods. I love that someone wants to put a giant disco ball over their driveway.

    I am sorry that things have gotten so out of hand with this process. I am not posting this to protect “builder’s rights”. I am not posting this against “bungalow owners”.

    I feel that the way the adopting of the South Heights Historic District and the changes in the 90 day waiting period went down this year has left a pretty sour taste in my mouth.
    I hope to GOD I don’t have to go before that committee again. Except, I want to add a carport to my GODAWFUL cinderblock garage, and I’m not sure how to make all of that get passed by them.
    Please look at my prior post under

    Can’t wait till this thing is decided one way or another. I’m sick of seeing ASHBYHIGHRISesque signs in yards, my own included!

    PS I have not gotten any “builder masquerading as friend” letters but did get a lovely letter from the YELLOW side asking me to make sure I was for this new amendment to prevent ASHBYHIGHRISE from happening to our neighborhood. SCARY!!!! Seriously folks, that damned highrise has been on the burner for years now and hasn’t been built but those yellow signs all over that neighborhood are an eyesore!

  • I appreciate both sides of this debate but I think a key question the preservationists have not answered is why it is not possible to compromise here. If there is a contributing historic structure with historic integrity, great, let’s MANDATE that it be preserved (no referendum) and provide sufficient financial incentives to do so to offset the costs. If there are non-contributing structures or historic ones that have been altered so much as to lose their integrity, let’s allow them to redevelop, densify, and change. In other words, a strong property-by-property approach as opposed to a blanket district approach. To argue that the preservation ordinance should be extended to non-historic properties is a stretch that will greatly increase the administrative burden and costs of enforcing the ordinance. It also lends creedence to the argument that the preservationists are not primarily motivated by preservation, but by other more dubious motives. In fact, it might even be less effective at preservation than the approach outlined above if districts routinely get disapproved by property owners. So preservationists, please explain why strengthening preservation of only actually historic structures (and not putting restrictions on newer or severely altered structures) would not be a valid compromise that serves to fully protect our valuable historic resources but also preserves the architectural diversity and vibrancy that makes Houston Houston? Would anyone support such an approach and why isn’t it a part of the official debate?