April 17, 2007
Ban on demolition in Old Sixth Ward could be permanent

The moratorium on demolitions in the Old Sixth Ward may be made permanent.

City officials have proposed a permanent ban on demolitions of historical buildings in part of the Old Sixth Ward -- a proposal that would be the most restrictive historic preservation rule in Houston's history.

In a memo notifying affected property owners of an April 26 meeting, the city's Planning and Development Department provided new details of a plan Mayor Bill White announced earlier this year to protect Victorian-era homes in the neighborhood west of downtown.

The document says that if support among neighborhood property owners is sufficient, demolition or inappropriate alteration of historical buildings within a "protected historic district" would be prohibited unless an economic hardship could be demonstrated.

On March 7, the City Council approved a six-month ban on demolitions in the neighborhood to give the city time to develop a permanent preservation plan. The Planning Department memo is the first indication that the city wants to make this provision permanent.

A map attached to the memo shows the boundaries of the proposed protected district, which would be slightly smaller than the existing Old Sixth Ward Historic District. When he announced in January his plans to protect the neighborhood, White said he wanted to focus on the area that had the heaviest concentration of historical structures.


The town hall meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the United Way office, 50 Waugh. City officials also have asked property owners within the proposed district to return a card indicating whether they support the district by May 4.

The memo is here (PDF). The devil will be in the details on this one - what's a "protected historic district"? what's a "historical building" (we may have a definition for commercial properties, but what about houses)? what's an "inappropriate alteration"? and on and on. First, we need to establish that the Old Sixth really does want this, and then we'll see what happens.

UPDATE: See comments from Larissa Lindsay for answers to my questions. Thanks, Larissa!

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 17, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston

To answer your questions:
1) A "Protected Historic District" is similar to a "Protected Landmark", only it protects the entire fabric of the neighborhood.
2) When the Old Sixth Ward Historic Distrcit was first created, an inventory of the entire distrcit was completed. Homes are designated as Contributing, Potentially Contributing, and Non-Contributing. A building constructed in 1960 would not be considered contributing, and as such would not be required to get a Certificate of Appropriateness for alterations or demolition.
3) The regulations would be the same as with a Protected Landmark, that being you must get a Certificate of Appropriateness for alterations from the Houston Archeological and Historical Commission (HAHC). One thing that is different here is the creation of a "Pattern Book". Phase one of this book was created a number of years ago laying out the various styles of historic homes in the neighborhood. It has been posted on our website for about two years. The second part of that is laying out the architecture for what is compatible construction and alterations and what is not. What will fit into the fabric of the neighborhood in terms of mass, style, materials, density, heights, etc.
4) Is there support. We believe so. This is the FOURTH time residents have been polled about preservation, and each time there has been majority support. Most recently, residents within a proposed protected area (NOT the entire area) were asked to sign on to a "concept memo" stating whether they want protections in place. 67% were in support, 16% were opposed. I am happy to share the details.

The Old Sixth Ward Neighborhood Association has no concerns about the latest polling, it is simply one more opportunity to show the City of Houston that we have the support, and our neighborhood beleives we should be protected so it will be around for future generations to enjoy.

Posted by: Larissa Lindsay on April 17, 2007 8:07 AM