The Texas Supreme Court has upheld Houston’s ordinance regulating the preservation of historic districts, after residents argued it was an illegal zoning measure.
Two homeowners in the Heights challenged the law, arguing that it constituted zoning and therefore required a ballot measure approved by voters to take effect. Houston, the largest city in the country without zoning, requires voter approval to implement it.
Supreme Court justices declined on Friday to back that argument, though, affirming lower court rulings that the ordinance is not extensive enough to be considered a zoning regulation, and it does not regulate how people use properties.
“In sum, the Ordinance does not regulate the purposes for which land can be used, lacks geographic comprehensiveness, impacts each site differently in order to preserve and ensure the historic character of building exteriors, and does not adopt the enforcement and penalty provisions characteristic of a zoning ordinance,” Justice J. Brett Busby wrote in the opinion.
Houston adopted the ordinance in 1995, allowing the city to establish historic districts and requiring owners there to get approval to modify, redevelop or raze properties. If a city board declined a property owner’s application, though, the owner could wait 90 days and get a waiver to proceed with the desired changes, a gaping loophole that rendered the ordinance toothless.
The city revamped the ordinance in 2010 under then-Mayor Annise Parker, ending the waivers and making the regulations more enforceable. It allows only for modifications that are compatible with the area’s architecture, as defined by the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission. Some backers of the ordinance since have argued the board does not uniformly apply its rules.
The lawsuit over this was filed in 2012. I confess, I had not given it a moment’s thought since then. For those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, now you know how it turned out.