From the Inbox:
Final Draft of Proposed Amendments to Historic Preservation Ordinance Released
After a two-month process involving public input from stakeholders, I have released the final draft of proposed amendments to the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance and a specified process for transitioning the existing historic districts to the stronger protections offered by the proposed amendments. I envision the transition process to beginning following passage of the amended ordinance. To view the proposed amendments, transition process and other information, please visit www.houstontx.gov/planning/HistoricPres/hist_pres_amend.html.
I appreciate the engagement of City Council and other stakeholders. The new draft incorporates the concerns I heard from you, as well as the many suggestions offered at the series of town hall meetings during the last two months. It is a good compromise that reflects the needs of the preservation community while still protecting private property rights.
Public Hearing on Proposed Historic Preservation Amendments
The City of Houston Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on the proposed amendments Thursday, September 23, 2010, 6:30 p.m. in the General Assembly room on the third floor of the George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida de Las Americas, Houston, TX 77010.
Speakers will be allowed one minute to make their comments at the public hearing. If someone cannot attend the meetings, but would like to comment, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail your comments to Historic Preservation, City of Houston, Planning and Development Department, P.O. Box 1562 , Houston, Texas 77251-1562 by Wednesday, September 22, 2010.
To view the proposed amendments and other information about the process, please visit www.houstontx.gov/planning/HistoricPres/hist_pres_amend.html.
For a map and directions to the George R. Brown Convention Center, please go to www.houstonconventionctr.com/Home/MapsParking.aspx.
Some street parking may be available or attendees can park in the Hilton/George R. Brown Convention Center parking garage located on Polk Street, subject to availability. Attendees can submit their parking stub for validation (from that garage only).
As expected, the revised law will close a loophole that allowed property owners to demolish the structures on their land even when a city commission disapproved of their plans.
However, the city also is raising the bar on neighborhoods that wish to receive the historic designation, reducing the size of areas that can qualify and requiring the approval of far more property owners to achieve the distinction. Existing districts will have to reapply, a change that has rankled some preservation advocates.
Under the new proposal, historic districts could be no larger than 400 properties, and 60 percent of property owners in the proposed area must return ballots mailed by the city showing they want the designation, said Marlene Gafrick, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development.
If the amendments pass City Council, which is expected to take up the matter next month, then all 16 existing districts and three that are pending must petition the city for reconsideration of their historic status within 15 days. The revisions to the ordinance propose no threshold for how many in a given area must approve of the historic designation for it to remain so, Gafrick said.
The department will mail ballots to property owners and evaluate whether the entire area previously covered by the designation should remain historic, be reduced or if the district should be eliminated.
I don’t care for that last change, and I expect the existing protected districts won’t either. It seems wrong to me that this could allow for the un-protecting of districts that went through quite a bit of trouble to comply with the ordinances we now have. Why not just give them the option to remain as they are, with no changes to the rules? Then if they want to apply for designation under the stricter rules, they can pursue that. I don’t see the need to make them petition for reconsideration, especially on such a short time frame.
I’m sure that will be brought up at the hearing. According to the story, the realtors and the builders have not taken a position on the revisions, while Houstonians for Responsible Growth, who represent developers, say they like them. I’m not sure that a preservation ordinance that gets the support of those groups while being opposed by neighborhood groups is worth having, but we’ll see what happens.