Loved your article. I would like to make two points:
1. When a government condemns property through eminent domain to make a museum for public use without compensating the owner for the diminution in value, it is unconstitutional. It is an amazement to me why no one has litigated this point. If I had property in the Heights, I would do it.
2. I would like for someone (like you) to locate and publish the names of all of the members of the HAHC, AND the names of all of the elected officials who appointed them. Elected officials are the only ones who have any reason to be concerned about the anger this situation generates.
You have a much stronger spotlight than I do. I hope you use it to have an impact on this unconscionable abuse of government power.
Houston’s historic preservation ordinance was not designed to be “benign, Mr. McElvy. If so, then why have an ordinance at all? The fact is, historic preservation ordinances in Houston and across the country result in neighborhoods and commercial districts with distinct character and significantly increased property values (ehem, Houston’s Heights) that serve a variety of residents and businesses across the economic spectrum.You share one side of the story here — the building-to-lot ratios, the setbacks, and the variations among houses (yes, even those right next door to each other) are what give historic districts their unique and, in many cases, highly desirable character. As such, they fall under the review of the HAHC. You are absolutely correct in that individuals and families should be able to alter their homes to fit their wants and needs. There are wonderful neighborhoods across our city where they can do just that. But if the walkabililty, local business mix, tree-lined streets, local parks, historic architecture, location, and general friendliness of the Heights is what one seeks, then the trade-offs are the historic preservation guidelines that protect these desirable qualities of life. Believe it or not, the preservation ordinance and the design guidelines being developed to better serve and enforce the ordinance are not out to get you or any property owner in the Heights. They have been an extremely effective tool in communities from Maine to California in protecting neighborhoods of character and historic value from the ebbs and flows of real estate and local economies. And Houston’s historic preservation ordinance is no different in its intent or implementation. The quickest way to ruin our beloved Heights is to allow rampant growth and development in the name of growing families and “wants and needs.” If 1800 square feet is too small – or 2,200 or 2,700 sf – then perhaps there is a better neighborhood fit elsewhere in Houston.
I am the project manager for this project, and much of what is in this editorial is completely inaccurate and based on supposition, not the facts. I encourage everyone to come to the meeting on June 20 to find out what the real information is, rather than paying attention to a sensational opinion piece that attempts only to upset people, not to inform. You are also welcome to call me directly at 832-393-6541 or send email to email@example.com.
The title of your article, “Heights homeowners in for a shock” implies that the development of the guidelines for the historic districts has not included feedback from homeowners in these districts. Nothing could be further from the truth. There have been many meetings open to the citizens of these districts, the last major meeting was March 30, 2017 at the Heights Theater.
Notice of the meetings was given to all addresses in the historic districts by U.S. mail.
This meeting was followed by another meeting by the Houston Heights Association on April 10 at the Heights Fire Station.
There were earlier meetings in which surveys were done to solicit citizen opinion on various characteristics of acceptable construction in the historic districts. There was even an on-line survey for those who could not attend any of the meetings. The resulting guidelines are based on the results of these surveys. The proposed guidelines were not based on the preferences of any government entity; they were based on the preferences of the citizens.
From the moment I read the survey, I was concerned that the ultimate result would be smaller homes as you described in your column. I don’t know how much bearing the survey results had on the ultimate design standards, but it was clear that the survey was designed with a smaller structure bias. I agree with all the points made in your column. We definitely need standards for many aspects of housing design to make the HAHC process less arbitrary, but the standards need to be more flexible with respect to the size of the structure, taking into account the market for housing, which like it or not is for larger structures.
I would really like to know who is behind this agenda of smaller structures. What do they gain? What do they really hope to accomplish? Are the guidelines meant to fulfill some architecturally pure aesthetic? Is there an enviro-driven small footprint goal. Do “they” understand how families actually live today or do “they” long for the days of old when large families were crammed into little bungalows or do “they” just want to exert control? I hope The Leader digs a little deeper into the story to help us understand what forces are really at work here. Jonathan – We really like your column. Keep up the good work.