Ordinance With Teeth

Houston City Council could vote on amendments that would strengthen the ordinance on historic preservation later this morning. It was passed in 1995, but has been criticized by preservationists for favoring developers. Pat Hernandez has more.

Fifteen years after city council passed the preservation ordinance, Houston is now home to fifteen historic districts. A task force was commissioned to look for ways to strengthen the existing ordinance to offer even more protection for Houston's history.

"Lots of people give lip service to wanting to keep our history, but the key is to have a preservation ordinance that actually makes that happen."

Ramona Davis is executive director of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance. She says preservation is another economic tool for developing the city and adding more teeth to the city's ordinance would help protect historic resources.

"Otherwise, we have what we call "generica" — everything looks alike. But we have to keep our history so that we actually have an identity as Houston. There's always a challenge in Houston, preservation is an uphill battle in people's interests in wanting to keep the history of this city intact."

Under the current ordinance, applicants denied permits by the Houston Archaeological and Historic Commission face a 90-day waiver, after which they're free to move forward with demolition plans, regardless of the Commission's initial denial of the application.  David Bush with the Alliance, says the changes are meant to discourage developers from sitting on projects, waiting out their 90-day waiver and moving forward with demolition.

"In preservation, only protections are local protections. There's no state law that would protect local properties. The national law doesn't protect the local properties, it's got to be locally enacted."

Yesterday, council heard from dozens of homeowners living in historic districts, regarding possible changes. Not everybody favored the stronger amendments.

Male speaker: "I urge you to vote no for this ordinance. I think it puts too much power in the hands of a single individual. We voted for the original ordinance, we should get the original ordinance. I don't see what is so complicated about that."

Female speaker: "This uncertainty as to what can be built and the additional fees that would be required as plans go back and forth from architect to planning commission make purchasing properties that are literally across the street from ours, more attractive than ours because our side of the street is a protected district, and the other side of the street is not."

Male speaker: "There's already a mechanism to protect the integrity and character of my neighborhood, it is called deed restrictions. What I can do to my home under my deed restrictions, I would not be allowed to do under this proposed ordinance."

Council's vote on the temporary 90-day waiver has been postponed before, but if passed later today, the change would apply to all new applications for demolitions, relocations and new construction within Houston's fifteen historic districts.

Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...