By Ed Wolff, 2015 HAR Chair Special Appointee to the Historic Preservation Ordinance
One may ask, what are the benefits of owning a property in a historic district or of historic or of historic preservation in the city of Houston? Historic preservation can help spur revitalization of neighborhoods and potentially result in thousands to millions of dollars of public and private investment. Historic district designations have become an important tool for local government efforts to preserve the character of central-city neighborhoods. While historic designation is usually thought to have a positive impact on property values, unfortunately, in the city of Houston, this is not always the case.
Some REALTORS® have experienced negative feedback from clients regarding homes in historic districts. The process has been cumbersome to obtain approvals for structures within historic districts when a property owner wants to add on or remodel. The city has recognized the difficulties and is trying to make the process easier by providing clear and concise rules and guidelines.
The City is currently in the process of updating its Historic Preservation Ordinance. Since the ordinance’s last update in 2010, HAR members and Governmental Affairs staff have been closely monitoring the ordinance’s implementation and have provided substantial feedback to the City’s Planning & Development Department, the overseer of the ordinance. We want to see REALTORS® marketing homes in historic districts as a positive instead of a negative. The goal for the next update of the ordinance, per Mayor Annise Parker, is the following:
- to correct and clarify,
- to create greater consistency,
- to streamline the approval process,
- to improve guidance,
- to create a more efficient and user-friendly process, and
- to not weaken the protections.
The Houston Association of REALTORS® supports an ordinance that respects private property rights while considering the greater good of the community.
The City of Houston’s Historic Preservation Ordinance was adopted in 1995 to provide a system for property owners and neighborhoods to identify and preserve what is left of Houston’s original building and neighborhood environments. The ordinance was updated in 2010. In 2014, the Historic Preservation Ordinance Review Committee was formed through appointment by Mayor Annise Parker. The committee met over the course of eight months, from September 2014 to April 2015, and was open to the public. Various recommendations were made, including the following:
- to increase administrative approvals (those approvals that may be granted by city staff),
- to create a design guidelines process,
- to clarify shall approves (those items that should not require any approval),
- to improve criteria for new construction,
- to revise tax exemption policies and rules, and
- to improve the appeals process.
In April 2015, the Houston Archeological and Historical Commission and the public had the opportunity to review the proposed changes and provide comment. A draft ‘redline’ document containing proposed ordinance language will become available this summer. A public hearing on the proposed revisions will be scheduled after a 30 day public comment period. In late summer, City staff hopes to have completed the approval process including approval by the Quality of Life Committee, which Council Member Ellen Cohen chairs, and final approval by Houston City Council.
The Houston Association of REALTORS® is especially grateful to the City of Houston’s staff whose insights in updating the Historic Preservation Ordinance and sharing with REALTOR® volunteers and HAR Governmental Affairs staff have been very valuable, Patrick Walsh, Minnette Boesel, Margaret Wallace, and Diana DuCruz.
For more information on the Historic Preservation Ordinance, visit the website: http://www.houstontx.gov/planning/historic-preservation