Meet the new historical districts

Not so different from the old historical districts.

After months of petition drives and acrimonious public testimony over the protection of old Houston neighborhoods, the only change to the six historic district maps headed to the City Council on Wednesday is the removal of a single address from a Montrose-area district.

The council could end a divisive civic discussion that dates to last summer by approving a planning department report that concludes there is not sufficient support in any of the neighborhoods to repeal the historic designation rules that govern what property owners may do to the exteriors of their homes.


Prior to the reforms, homeowners denied city permission to demolish or alter their homes could disregard the city’s disapproval after three months and proceed with their plans. The council adopted a “no-means-no” ordinance in October that makes decisions by the city’s Archaeological and Historic Commission permanently binding. The amended ordinance also gives homeowners greater flexibility on additions and the use of materials.

In updating the ordinance, the council granted an escape clause giving neighborhoods a one-time shot to opt out of historic status altogether. Residents of six neighborhoods took up the cause, but in none could they muster the 51 percent support for repeal needed to have historic designation lifted from their homes. All of the districts are inside Loop 610.

“It’s been a very divisive issue out in the community. I think we do need to bring some closure to this,” said Council Member Ed Gonzalez, whose District H encompasses three of the districts.

I’m not so sure this is a closed issue just yet. The people who were on the losing side of this were not happy with the way the opt-out vote was conducted, since a failure to participate was counted as a vote for maintaining historic status. Getting 50% plus one of all homeowners rather than of all voters is a much higher wall to climb. I could see this all being re-litigated in a Mayoral election this fall, if a credible opponent to Mayor Parker comes forward. If not, then I’d say historic preservation has probably been put to bed for awhile. But one way or another, perhaps when Weingarten makes its next move with the Alabama Theater, this will pop up again.

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