Heights residents have grappled with arbitrary and subjective development standards in the historic parts of town, and after enough outcry, forced the city to reassess where it stood. For the better part of three years, The Leader has conducted interviews, publicized meetings, and spoke with numerous homeowners in the neighborhood who recounted the horror. Now, residents have another chance to make their voices heard on a set of design guidelines.
On Tuesday, June 20, The City of Houston Planning & Development Department will present its second draft of design guidelines for the three Houston Heights Historic Districts from 6-8 p.m. at the Heights Fire Station. Design guidelines consultants from Winter & Company, along with project manager Steph McDougal, will present the draft design guidelines for Houston Heights East, West and South Historic Districts.
A long road
In 2014, the city finally appeared to hear (and heed) the outcry from homeowners who had spent thousands of dollars attempting to navigate a labyrinth of subjectivity and inconsistency when considering even a simple add-on to their existing property, and conceded to hiring independent consultants Winter and Co. to create design guidelines in efforts to bring clarity to the situation. June 20 will be the 23rd workshop conducted as city officials have worked with various property owners and neighborhood associations to un-muddy the waters through a series public question and answer sessions, presentations and online feedback.
“We’re finally on the cusp of at least being presented with guidelines the community can discuss,” said Houston Heights Association President Bill Baldwin, who has also been on the design guidelines advisory board since citizen efforts began under former mayor Annise Parker.
In March, consultants and homeowners gathered at the Heights Theater for the initial recommendations. For the first step, Baldwin said the jargon and technical aspects – lot coverage, envelope — may have created a schism due to their existing complexity.
“The first presentation was maybe a little over the head of the basic homeowner — it was fairly complicated. I’m looking forward to this meeting, and I’m hoping it will be simpler,” he said. “The matrix is easier to understand if you can figure out what it (floor ratio, lot coverage, envelope) means. I’m hoping it gets continually more clear, concise and simpler for the homeowner to understand. I think we’re getting there and we’ll see progress on clarity. I really want it to be clear.”
All that matters is now
Regardless of how residents are leaning on the guidelines as currently written, or even if this is the first instance they’ve heard of these workshops, Baldwin urged as diverse a group as possible slot out some time June 20 for making their voice heard. After all, the home is often one’s most significant investment, and he said the home of future generations could be at stake.
“There are tons of beautiful, historic pocket neighborhoods throughout our city, and the ordinance/procedure to establish them needs to be homeowner-driven,” he said. “As long as the homeowners are deciding their fate and have input into these guidelines, it’s a productive way for neighborhoods to protect their character.”
Houston’s Heights neighborhoods, he said, have benefitted from several preservation movements. Since Houston is a city with no zoning, he said historic preservation ordinances are the most restrictive with regards to what homeowners can do with their personal home in historic districts. As such. Tuesday’s proceedings carry just as much weight as any effort preceding it according to Baldwin.
“There has to be more input from the ones who are impacted by it,” he said.
“The fact that what you can do with your home is about to radically change in a restrictive way is key. People need to go,” Brie Kelman added.
Copies of the draft design guidelines for Houston Heights Historic Districts are now available for review online at at the City of Houston and at the Heights Library reference desk. Property owners are encouraged to review the draft design guidelines before the meeting.
“They have to continue to stay involved, even though it becomes exhausting and very time consuming,” Baldwin said. “It’s like voting, where maybe 20 percent of the people have commented, but 80 percent are impacted by it — this is their opportunity. You want as much involvement possible with the greatest variety of people you can get.”
A video of the meeting will be posted on the project webpage a few days after the meeting, for those who are unable to attend. Property owners and design professionals may submit their comments or questions through Friday, June 30, to project manager Steph McDougal at firstname.lastname@example.org or Steph McDougal, Planning & Development Department, P.O. Box 1562, Houston TX 77251-1562.
“I applaud the city, and believe the guidelines are the best solution, because they’ll provide clarity, and this is the opportunity for the people in the districts impacted to weigh in. It’s imperative they do so,” Baldwin said.