Houston council considering 6 neighborhoods for conservation districts

HOUSTON – Houston City Council will vote Wednesday on a proposed ordinance that would name six neighborhoods as part of a conservation district pilot program.

The idea behind the measure is to protect neighborhoods without deeds.

The Planning and Development Department defines the district as “an area supported by property owners and designated by the city council in which certain development standards are established to preserve and protect a community’s character and recognize its heritage.”

Under the ordinance, it would require developers to meet some standards including building height or the number of stories of off-street parking and yard parking.

The pilot neighborhoods are those with community members who have expressed interest in the idea:

(1) Independence Heights

(2) Freedmen’s Town

(3) Acres Home

(4) Magnolia Park/Manchester

(5) Pleasantville

(6) Piney Point.

“It also gives the residences in those neighborhoods the opportunity to say what you want to protect in regard to the character of the neighborhood, so it gives you a say so in that,” said District I Councilmember Robert Gallegos who grew up in Magnolia Park and lives in the East End. “This conservation district is something that could hopefully help protect the character of our neighborhoods that don’t have the deed restrictions.”

For a neighborhood to receive this designation, 51% of property owners would have to show interest by showing support through a mail-in survey.

“If 51% or more of the property owners respond in favor of creating the district, the application may move forward to the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission (HAHC) for consideration,” according to the planning and development department.

The percentage would only count toward those who respond.

“That’s a homeowner deciding on their own property what can’t and can happen,” said Zion Escobar with the Freedmen’s Town Conservancy. “In the same way that an individual homeowner who has a deed restriction decides what can’t and can happen on an individual property.”

If the community gets the support, the proposal would then go before the city council, “unless there is 100% support from property owners, 75% of the city council members must approve the creation of the district,” states a document from the planning and development department.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a Tuesday meeting that those who oppose the measure should have a connection to the neighborhoods.

“If you don’t have a connection with these six, then I don’t think you should trump those people who live there and whose area is being gentrified,” Turner said.

Houston Planning and Development Department Frequently Asked Questions:

What is a Conservation District?

A Conservation District is an area supported by property owners and designated by City Council in which certain development standards are established to preserve and protect a community’s character and recognize its heritage. The established standards are tailored to each district according to the area’s character and needs, based on extensive community input. Conservation Districts may be appropriate for neighborhoods that have an established character, architectural or cultural importance, but lack the concentration of original historic materials to qualify for a historic district.

Where can districts be created?

Due to anticipated interest, and in order to effectively evaluate the program, Department staff will undertake several pilot Conservation District areas, where community interest has already been expressed. Upon the completion of efforts in these pilot areas, the director may thereafter recommend amendments to the ordinance.

What elements of a community’s character can a Conservation District regulate?

The current proposal for Houston’s Conservation Districts includes the following list of attributes. A

district may include some or all of these standards:

• Building height or number of stories • Building size and massing, (the general

shape and form of the structure) • Front-facing building features

• Lot size and coverage • Front and side building setbacks

• Off-street parking and yard parking • Roof line and pitch

• Paving and hardscape covering • General site planning (location of primary and

secondary structures)

How do Conservation Districts benefit property owners?

A Conservation District offers property owners another option to protect their community’s character

and recognize an area’s heritage and cultural significance. It allows the existing property owners to

identify the important aspects of their community and provides guidance for others wishing to develop

properties sympathetic to the existing fabric and character of the neighborhood. Another benefit is

increased review when federal funding is being used in the community. For example, properties in

Conservation Districts may receive significant increases in disaster relief funding

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