Tougher Regulations for Historic Districts

People living in Houston's historic districts will now have to follow stricter rules about what they can do to their property. The City Council passed an ordinance to crack down on demolition and development in historic neighborhoods. Laurie Johnson reports.

After literally months of meetings, negotiations, arguments and compromises — Houston's historic district ordinance goes into effect immediately. It was one of Mayor Annise Parker's pet projects. As she puts it, it gives teeth to Houston's preservation rules.

"The old ordinance says you wait 90 days, you get to do whatever the heck you wanted. The new ordinance says no, you have to play by the rules."

And the rules are you can't demolish a structure, rebuild, or add new construction without approval from Houston's Historical Commission.

Houston Councilmember Mike Sullivan represents the opposition to the tougher restrictions. He says he was born in the Heights and bought his first home in Montrose, so he understands why preservationists want these protections.

"I do know what y'all are fighting for and I do respect it. It's just that, philosophically, my private property rights concerns trump protecting the the rights of others with respect to this ordinance."

Sullivan's position is the minority one — only three councilmembers opposed the ordinace. The remaining twelve voted for it.

People who live in one of the city's 16 historic districts can petition for their neighborhood to be exempted from the new law. The petition must be signed by ten percent of  property owners before the city will resurvey the area. After that, 67 percent of owners would have to agree to remove the historic designation.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...