Gilbert Joseph Perez owns Bungalow Revival, a company that does restoration, renovation and interior design of homes, many of which are in protected historic neighborhoods in the Heights. So when he saw an application to demolish three homes in the 1200 block of Yale Street, he was more than a little curious, especially since he was interested in buying one of the houses to use as office space.
“I called my broker and was looking at financing, but the sale was already pending,” Perez said. “A couple of weeks later I was driving by and saw the demo (application) sign. I was like, ‘Wait a second. Isn’t this a historic block?’ ”
The answer is yes according to Dipti Mathur, a planner leader with Houston’s Planning and Development Department. The three structures for which demolition has been proposed are in Houston Heights West, one of three historic districts in the neighborhood.
While members of the mayor-appointed Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission (HAHC) will consider the application at a hearing scheduled for 3 p.m. June 13, Mathur said the Planning and Development Department provides support for the HAHC.
Mathur said homes in the historic district are governed by Chapter 33 of the Houston Code of Ordinances as opposed to Chapter 42, which covers subdivisions, developments and platting. Chapter 33 requirements do not require mailings to nearby neighbors about proposed changes, unlike with Chapter 42.
“The notice is the sign,” said Mathur, who noted that the bar for demolition approval with Chapter 33 is much higher. “There are a number of criteria they have to meet. (The home) has to be beyond repair. Inspectors do site visits.”
HAHC Executive Secretary Margaret Wallace Brown, who also is the interim director of the planning department, said structures are classified as either contributing or non-contributing historic structures and that the city, by design, makes it difficult to demolish a contributing structure.
“We take demolition requests very seriously,” Brown said. “You can always build another structure. But you can never get back (a historic) one. What we are asking is if there is really no alternative.”
The city guidelines state, among many other criteria, that a demolition request will only be granted if the structure has seriously deteriorated to an unusable state and is beyond reasonable repair, and that it would be an unreasonable economic hardship for the applicant to make it usable again.
Realtor Robert Wood, who represents the seller of the homes on Yale, said one of the single-story homes has been vacant for 10 years and the other has been vacant for 50 years. He said the two-story structure has been uninhabited for five years.
“They are in terrible condition,” Wood said. “If they were sitting on any other lot, they’d be torn down.”
Rainey Richardson is an interior designer and Heights resident who desires to build single-family homes on the site if the demolition is permitted. She said new homes would need to have the same look and feel as other homes of the time period.
“As a resident of the Heights, I want it to be something that fits as well,” Richardson said.
Perez said he will be surprised if demolition is approved.
“We can’t remove an original window or a door in the homes we work on,” he said. “It would be totally out of whack for them to be allowed to be torn down.”