After years of discussion and months of fairly contentious meetings, the Heights Historic Guidelines saga continues this week as homeowners and the city attempt – again — to collaboratively eliminate subjectivity from development trends in the Heights.
Tomorrow, Sept. 28 at 6 p.m., the city and residents will gather at The United Way (50 Waugh Dr.) for the final community workshop on design guidelines for the Houston Heights East, West and South historic districts. Stretching from 20th Street to the north and 4th Street to the south, these districts also extend west to Ashland Street and Oxford to the east in some areas, and if owners want to make structural changes to their homes, they must gain approval from a board of commissioners appointed by the city of Houston — an arduous task which has been the basis of many a horror story.
Following a meeting June 20 at the Historic Heights Fire Station that brought mixed reactions, the city’s Planning and Development Department hoped to send a draft to the HAHC by June 30. That date came and went, however, after a meeting with Mayor Turner sent the city back to the drawing board.
At the June meeting, a large portion of concern and confusion stemmed from the amount of space a home can take up on a lot. As initially written, the Guidelines said homes on a 5,000 square-foot lot could only be 2,300 square feet. The problem arises when those 2,300 square feet include garage space, which is usually unfinished and unlivable. There were also concerns about ceiling heights and side and rear setbacks to homes, and Project Manager Steph McDougal and her staff appeared to consider those requests.
“I am in the process of sorting through these requests and will be making a recommendation for the additional analyses we could reasonably accomplish, which will satisfy as many of these requests as possible,” McDougal said after the meeting.
Following some internal evaluations, the city released a revised set of guidelines in early August, which is now available to peruse online and will officially be presented at the workshop. However, there still remain several aspects of the newest draft that are less than satisfactory. Among concerns still expressed from homeowners in the wake of the city’s newly-minted guidebook for new construction and adding to existing properties are the Floor Area Ratio, which some continue to see as inadequate despite an increase in exclusion for detached garages from 250 to 400 feet, as well as continued frustration with where additions to an existing structure can begin.
Additionally, some have expressed frustration on social media about one of the key restrictions in the draft Design Guidelines, which allows for a maximum floor height of just 30 inches — far too low in some residents’ estimation, especially in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Following Thursday’s proceedings, which gives residents another chance for input, a final draft could be presented to HAHC in October, before being sent to the Quality of Life Committee and, eventually the City Council and Turner’s desk.
Final emailed comments are due Oct. 6 to McDougal at email@example.com.