The Houston Heights neighborhoods deemed “historic” by the city now have something no other historic neighborhood in this city has: A draft document detailing design guidelines for officials to use when deciding home alteration or construction permits.
By a vote of 8-2 in favor, the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission sent the guidelines up the chain to the city’s Quality of Life Committee. The QLC will discuss the guidelines at 10 a.m. on June 28 at the City Hall Annex. If approved, the measure will go before the full city council for possible approval.
After an hour of discussions and a few last-minute votes on proposed changes to the draft, the moment came for the commission to vote on the measure. Even that was a stop-and-start process as Chairperson Minnette Boesel juggled final commissioner comments while trying to solicit a motion for the vote.
Commissioner David Bucek made that motion with Edie Archer offering a second.
It has been a long and laborious process to reach the Thursday, June 14 vote – and that meeting was no different. What was to be a quick review of changes made to the document and an up-or-down vote became a 75-minute discussion of eave heights and more wording changes.
Commissioner Sue Lovell tried to interject the removal of the floor area ratio in favor of an existing building code regarding lot usage, but her motion failed to pick up a second vote after a brief discussion. Lovell indicated the issue may arise as the draft guidelines move up the city’s chain of decision-makers.
“I’m concerned that we’re going to run up against this (as a) zoning issue. I was looking for an alternative to using the z word,” Lovell said.
The discussion brought up an interesting point about the singular nature of Historic Heights guidelines, as articulated by Bucek.
“Houston is its own test case as the largest city without zoning,” he said. “(The guideline draft) is very lenient compared to what is allowed in other states. But it came from the homeowners. This data-driven process is really driving what the homeowners feel is appropriate.
“We’ve leaned toward predictability which is something the folks have asked for,” Bucek said. “We have over 20 historic districts and the only times we’re at battle is in the Heights. All the other districts seem to submit projects without so much back-and-forth consternation.”
Commissioner John Cosgrove did initiate a discussion to include one-story attached garages in the floor area ratio exemption, which passed 7-3 as the final of nearly 40 alterations to the guidelines since they were made public earlier this year.
City of Houston housing staff added a “rehashing of verbiage as to what authority the commission would have regarding the design guidelines,” according to staff member Matt Kriegel. The new statement, gleaned from information already in the draft design guidelines, provides a synopsis of what the guidelines are all about:
“The Historic Preservation ordinance or guidelines do not require property owners to make changes to their buildings. Together, these tools regulate what changes can be made, and how, in order to preserve the overall character of a historic district. This document contains both measurable standards and qualitative guidelines. The standards apply to the construction of additions and new buildings. These requirements must be met to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness. Measurable standards refer to a minimum or maximum dimensions or range and how to take those measurements. The qualitative guidelines encompass the more aesthetic elements of design and are taking into account the essence of a particular property and work that is being proposed.”
After Bucek’s motion to pass the draft changes, Boesel said, “Maybe we should have a party tonight.”
“The motion carries. Thank you commissioners, thank you to our communities for all you have done over the last three years,” Boesel said after the up vote. “We will be moving this forward to the Quality of Life Committee.”