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The preservation ordinance is a work in progress

That’s the tl;dr version of this.

Sue Lovell

Sue Lovell

In October 2010, an emotional Sue Lovell, then a city council­woman, lauded the passage of a strengthened historic preservation ordinance for Houston after a long, complex and divisive battle she and Mayor Annise Parker had led.

In recent months, however, Lovell has appeared before the commissions tasked with implementing the ordinance to lobby on behalf of builders and homeowners seeking to remodel historic homes.

What changed?

Not her support for preservation or for the ordinance, Lovell said. What has shifted, she and others said, is the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission’s interpretation of the rules.

“I fought for this ordinance,” the former councilwoman said, “and I’m going to continue to fight to improve this ordinance.”

[...]

Parker said the ordinance is working well but acknowledged she has concerns with the law’s implementation, saying she sank a lot of political capital into the fight and wants it to work.

“The disconnect is not with the staff, it’s with the architectural and historical commission, which wants to substitute its judgment, on occasion, for that of the staff,” she said. “There are a couple activist commissioners over there who are hijacking the process.”

Historical Commission Chairman Maverick Welsh said the commission’s interpretations shift naturally as members leave and as city staff turn over, but he pointed to the overall approval rate as evidence of the body’s sound decisions.

“There’s this misconception that we’re this unreasonable bunch of preservationist people, but I think the data supports that we’re reasonable,” Welsh said. “I’ve gotten a lot of pushback from neighborhoods saying we’re too lenient and I’m getting pushback from developers saying we should approve everything. Somewhere in there is a balance, and I think that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”

The path forward, Parker said, is to better educate the historical commission’s members and to tweak language in the ordinance to clarify its intent.

Creating objective standards for something that is inherently subjective is hard. You’re not going to get it right the first time. Hopefully, you create a good foundation that you can work with later. See what works, see what doesn’t, learn from experience, and keep refining. It’s an ongoing process, and it will never be truly finished.

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2 Comments

  1. Eastender says:

    The deal with Sue Lovell that has been glossed over is that she is a paid lobbyist for Creole Construction and others. Her positions on this issue are not based on some altruistic desire to improve things or some concern with what is wrong, her positions are the positions of the highest bidder.

  2. Ross says:

    @Eastender, that doesn’t change the fact that the HAHC is full of rude, condescending, self righteous jerks who act capriciously and without any predictability, interjecting their personal beliefs over the written text of the ordinance. I am tired of seeing my tax dollars wasted by these obnoxious buy bodies when homeowners have to appeal to the Planning Commission to get approvals that should have been granted by the HAHC.

    And, while we are at it, let’s get rid of the clause in the ordinance that says changes to structures have to be reversible. No one is ever going to remove one of the additions and convert a 3,000 sq ft house back to a 1200 sq ft house. Without that clause, we might see an end to the horrifically ugly camel backs, with well integrated additions that pay homage to the original design.

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