January 09, 2007
YouTubing the Old Sixth Ward

This is very clever.

Leaders of one of Houston's oldest neighborhoods, developed long before cars, paved roads or utility poles became part of the urban landscape, are using 21st century technology in their struggle to preserve a dwindling number of Victorian-era houses.

A series of YouTube.com videos features homeowner testimonials about the need to preserve the character of the area just west of downtown, which is listed on federal and local historic registries.

Posting the videos was an act of "creative desperation" after activists waited almost a year for city officials to help them create land-use regulations through the neighborhood's Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, or TIRZ, said Larissa Lindsay, president of the Old Sixth Ward Neighborhood Association.

"We keep having hurdles to jump, yet even when we met them, it was never enough," Lindsay wrote in an e-mail. "I thought that having our history and voices on the Internet was one more way of talking about our neighborhood, along with documenting our history."

Here's a link to all four videos, and here are individual links: Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three, and Volume Four. There's also a website for the group.

Her campaign is meeting resistance from the Sixth Ward Property Owners Association, which says it supports preservation but fears that restrictions on development would cause builders to shun the neighborhood and allow blight to creep in.

"They're taking away our private property rights without even talking to us," said Janice Jamail-Garvis, a Realtor who heads the property owners group.


In 2003, when Old Sixth Ward leaders first tried to develop rules to encourage preservation, then-city planning director Bob Litke advised them to wait because a stronger preservation ordinance that would apply to the whole city was in the offing, Lindsay recalled.

But that effort died in a City Council committee in the face of opposition from developers and others. And while some homes in the neighborhood qualify for protection through an ordinance passed in 2005 to protect city landmarks, Lindsay said, landmark designation is not a practical way to protect the entire neighborhood.

City officials say they support protection of the historic homes. But the proposed land-use controls raise questions of citywide concern, said Robert Fiederlein, a special assistant to Mayor Bill White who works on TIRZ-related issues.

If such a measure were adopted, it technically would be a zoning ordinance, making the Old Sixth Ward the second of Houston's 22 reinvestment zones to adopt zoning. The first was in St. George Place, formerly known as Lamar Terrace, a neighborhood west of the Galleria where Houston's first TIRZ was created.

State law gives any TIRZ created by petition authority to enact a zoning ordinance, subject to City Council approval. Seven TIRZ's were created by petition, and White is concerned about the implications of having zoning in scattered pockets of the city, Fiederlein said.

"We're looking very hard at their request," he said. "We have not said no, and we have not said yes."

More than 60 percent of Old Sixth Ward property owners signed a petition supporting the land use controls, Lindsay said. But Jamail-Garvis said most property owners in the TIRZ, which is larger than the city-designated historic district, oppose what Lindsay wants to do.

Reinvestment zones use funds generated by increased property values to support neighborhood improvements. Using TIRZ funds to enhance the Old Sixth Ward would provide incentives to preserve the old houses, a better approach than land use regulations, Jamail-Garvis said.

Ah, yes, remember St. George Place? You just knew they'd be a bunch of troublemakers with their zoning exception, right?

I don't know enough about this issue to have an opinion on which approach is best to help keep the Old Sixth Ward true to its heritage. I just hope that between the two sides they succeed, because there ain't a whole lot else like the Old Sixth anywhere else in Houston.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 09, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston

The SWPO's are property rights people - members of their group have been against the historic preservation ordinanance, the Protected Landmark ordinance, etc. One of their leaders, Maria Isabel is who tore down the Valentine house because preservation "wasn't her bag". They are trying to force others to renovate and make their house "cute" when there are other factors at play - personal economics, other projects, or simply that the house has a history of never being particularily "cute" because it was WWII housing where every bit of space was used to fulfill a housing shortage.

The houses are very durible, the need of cosmetic repairs can wait - history has shown they will happen. Demolition or permanent alterations is forever.

AND as for Garvis' comment that the TIRZ doesn't communicate with her - a flat out lie. We have met with CM Garcia as the moderator on more than one occasion. She is upset that her 16% percentage of support should take precedence, and it doesn't. They are against this no matter how it is achieved.

Posted by: Larissa Lindsay on January 9, 2007 11:09 AM

It's no accident that "swpo" doesn't include the word OLD in it's name.

Mrs. Garvis' property lies outside the area in question, which I don't see mentioned in the article. One wonders what her opposition is all about.

Posted by: OSW resident on January 9, 2007 2:54 PM