Back in 2014, The Leader forced the city’s hand in removing the subjectivity from building codes in the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance, and the long saga may finally be on its way to the beginning of a resolution.
Over the last several months, the city of Houston has conducted several community workshops in efforts to gain feedback from homeowners in the Freeland, Houston Heights East, Houston Heights West, Houston Heights South, Norhill, and Woodland Heights Historic Districts. The city’s Planning & Development Department will present findings and recommendations for the Historic Districts Design Guidelines Project on March 30 from 6-8 p.m. at the Heights Theater.
Consultants from Winter & Company, who are developing the design guidelines, will present a “Strategy Paper,” which contains the results of the consultants’ extensive data analysis and the community input that has shaped their recommendations. The City of Houston currently has 22 historic districts, and its Historic Preservation Ordinance is written broadly to apply to all of them. Design guidelines will be districtspecific and illustrate how the ordinance applies to a single historic district. The project is the first to create design guidelines for existing historic districts.
A long road
Nore and Co. have trekked to the various historic districts for meetings in both September and December to garner feedback from residents, all the while poring over hard data from each of the historic districts to gain as complete a demographic picture of each area as possible.
“As we’ve been able to refine our understanding of what they want, we’ve been able to refine our questions as well,” Project Manager Steph McDougal said.
The City received 871 responses to its recent Compatible Design Survey, which was mailed to the owners of 3,486 properties. The 25 percent target response rate showcased the eagerness from Heights residents, as about 33 percent of the properties in every historic district are not currently owner-occupied.
“That’s a really good response rate because it’s difficult to get everyone aware and make sure they had every opportunity to participate,” McDougal said. “When we got the data back, you see visually how the citizens have responded more positively, and as the scenarios became larger, you began to see a shift. That’s higher than what they normally get, but (20-25 percent) is what they shoot for, and we were pleased to come in at the high end of that range.”
A lone ranger
Based on feedback from the compatible design survey, McDougal said the city and its consultants gained a clear vision and saw a clear tipping point established on most topics in all areas – except in the special case of Houston Heights South.
“The opinions were split pretty evenly on just about every topic, and I think a part of that is because of the way that portion of the Heights developed,” she said.
Being closer to I-10, Houston Heights south consists of more of a mix of commercial and mixed use property (especially closer to the highway), and is slightly newer in terms of construction than some of the folks in Houston Heights East or West.
“We really saw a non-clear opinion about things in Houston Heights South,” she reiterated. “This data leads us to the recommendations Nore and Co. will make in the Strategy Papers and how we deal with things.”
What’s to come
Where the community has given a clearer direction, McDougal said Nore and Co. will present recommendations for standards they believe should be adopted, which would be prescriptive or more of a requirement. With regards to Houston Heights South where there’s no clear consensus, McDougal said the guidelines presented will likely be slightly more fluid.
“It’s more appropriate to make those guidelines a little more flexible. We’re using the data of what people have told us to respond,” she said.
Copies of the Strategy Paper will be available for review beginning March 16. The Strategy Paper will be online at houstontx.gov/planning/HistoricPres/DesignGuidelines-Heights.html and at the Heights Library reference desk for two weeks prior to and one week following the March 30 meeting.