Feb 23, 2023 - News

Houston's push for conservation districts

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Houston, a city with a reputation for demolishing its history, is working toward creating conservation districts to allow neighborhoods to keep their historic feel.

Driving the news: Houston City Council is considering an ordinance that would allow residents to establish conservation districts, which would help neighborhoods preserve their architectural history by implementing certain building requirements, restrictions on parking and other new development aspects.

How it works: At least 50% of property owners in any given area would have to opt in to create the district.

  • Residents could choose a variety of criteria to include in the district, like the angle of a roof pitch on new construction, regulations on fences or front-facing building features.
  • The districts wouldn't change zoning rules since they wouldn't govern what kinds of structures were built.

What they're saying: "I'm privy to my history being wiped away," Danny Asberry El, an artist and North Forest resident who supports the ordinance, told council members during a public hearing yesterday.

State of play: The city has other avenues for preserving history, like historic districts — but those can be difficult to implement, according to Houston Public Media.

  • "They are difficult to enact, the process to get things approved can be cumbersome, and they are located mostly in higher-income neighborhoods as a way of maintaining the status quo," Houston's preservation officer, Roman McAllen, told the Kinder Institute's Urban Edge. "We [need] something ... more geared toward keeping at bay what neighbors might see as most egregious to their neighborhoods."

The ordinance could be a major win for Houston's ailing historic communities, like Freedmen's Town in Fourth Ward where only 40 of the original 540 structures are still standing, according to Urban Edge.

  • Conservation districts could prevent existing structures from being demolished without obtaining a variance and force any new developments to conform to the existing structures' style.

What we're watching: Houston City Council will vote sometime later this year on the changes to the city's preservation ordinance.


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