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Historic Districts in Houston


Tiko

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1. "Infill construction must be similar in size to existing homes.." WHERE?? on the block or in the district. Who gets to decide?

2. "New construction must be compatible." Where is the definition of compatible outlined? If prevailing setbacks and minimum lot sizes are used why can't a 4000 sqft house be next to a 2000 sqft house? Who gets to decide?

3. Mayor Parker said the same thing. Be careful what you ask.

I however do not accept the premise that objective guidelines couldn't be developed.

 

1.  HAHC decides.  Block and district are both relevant for the determination.  

2.  Compatible is a subjective standard and is used to avoid inflexible one size fits all rules that will just send everyone to the planning commission to seek variances.  Every historic district in the United States (and there are hundreds of them) has a commission that is charged with applying a subjective standards.  Those who desire to build and renovate in those districts have to be able to have the ability to adjust their designs to gain approval of the commissions they deal with.  Predictability is a value, but can only go so far when dealing with historic preservation.  

3.  I am all for tighter standards.  I live near several homes that will inevitably renovated within the next decade.  They all have great potential to be stunning examples of craftsman architecture.  Without the ordinance or with a poorly enforced ordinance, they could be destroyed and replaced with more gratuitous square footage to make a quick buck for a builder and realtor, while destroying the character of the neighborhood.

 

http://www.houstontx.gov/planning/HistoricPres/HistoricPreservationManual/historic_districts/heights_features.html

 

And there are plenty of objective guidelines and there are guidelines for the Heights.  The above link has Heights specific guidelines.

 

But there will always be the need for subjective review because you cannot put a definition on "scale" and "compatible".  

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1.  HAHC decides.  Block and district are both relevant for the determination.  

2.  Compatible is a subjective standard and is used to avoid inflexible one size fits all rules that will just send everyone to the planning commission to seek variances.  Every historic district in the United States (and there are hundreds of them) has a commission that is charged with applying a subjective standards.  Those who desire to build and renovate in those districts have to be able to have the ability to adjust their designs to gain approval of the commissions they deal with.  Predictability is a value, but can only go so far when dealing with historic preservation.  

3.  I am all for tighter standards.  I live near several homes that will inevitably renovated within the next decade.  They all have great potential to be stunning examples of craftsman architecture.  Without the ordinance or with a poorly enforced ordinance, they could be destroyed and replaced with more gratuitous square footage to make a quick buck for a builder and realtor, while destroying the character of the neighborhood.

 

http://www.houstontx.gov/planning/HistoricPres/HistoricPreservationManual/historic_districts/heights_features.html

 

And there are plenty of objective guidelines and there are guidelines for the Heights.  The above link has Heights specific guidelines.

 

But there will always be the need for subjective review because you cannot put a definition on "scale" and "compatible".

First, thanks for the pensive reply. I made a mistake purchasing the chicken ranch. I am now trying to make the best of a bad financial decision. In my opinion, when I sell this property to some commercial developer that has connections I don't and has the staying power to wait this out, the neighborhood will end up worse for it.

You are absolutely correct that the HAHC gets to decide. Yet the ordinance reads differently than it is being applied. I do however disagree that subjectivity is needed or that it is good.

The ordinance states that guidelines will be developed and voted on by the city council within 6 months of the ordinance's passage. That hasn't happened. The "manual" you have referenced contain the opinions of the staff of the Planning and Development committee. These have not been voted on by the City Council.

Not all bungalows are craftsman. There are plenty of queen anne style bungalows. I renovated one at 1029 Tulane a few years back that had been completely obfuscated.

What defines "gratuitous square footage"? As a renovator/builder in the Heights for the past 21 years, I have personally saved several dozen structures through renovation. I have removed 4 large commercial structures and built what I think are compatible structures to the overall look and feel of the entire Heights area, not an arbitrarily gerrymandered district. I am in business to make money but I am also passionate about what I do. I think you paint with two broad of a brush.

If this ordinance gets overturned, I fear that David Weekly, Perry, In-town, and Sandcastle will end up buying and doing exactly what neither of us wants. I also realize I am put into the same camp by some. I feel like the war might be lost over some relatively minor battles. Help make this more sensible.

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What defines "gratuitous square footage"? 

 

 

Much (though admittedly not all) of the support for a stronger preservation ordinance was a desire to slow densification and, to a lesser extent, increases in square footage.

 

Inevitably, as land value increases, the economic incentive is to increase the amount of square footage of house per square foot of land, either by subdividing lots, or by replacing 1500 s.f. bungalows with 4000 s.f. houses.  Although I tend to support the rights of property owners, I even kind of understand this concern.  As more and more densification happens on a given block or neighborhood, the value of the existing structure on the last un-subdivided lot can fall to zero even as the average value of homes increases.

 

In other words, when the market in a given neighborhood is entirely large homes on small lots, the market for the 1500 s.f. bungalow on 6600 s.f. of lot ceases to exist, and the house that WAS worth $400k is now pretty much just worth the $250k for the land that it sits on.  Ironically, though , the surest way to make sure the market for smaller bungalows dries up is to make it very risky for people to buy them with the intent of renovating and expanding them.  

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Much (though admittedly not all) of the support for a stronger preservation ordinance was a desire to slow densification and, to a lesser extent, increases in square footage.

 

Inevitably, as land value increases, the economic incentive is to increase the amount of square footage of house per square foot of land, either by subdividing lots, or by replacing 1500 s.f. bungalows with 4000 s.f. houses.  Although I tend to support the rights of property owners, I even kind of understand this concern.  As more and more densification happens on a given block or neighborhood, the value of the existing structure on the last un-subdivided lot can fall to zero even as the average value of homes increases.

 

In other words, when the market in a given neighborhood is entirely large homes on small lots, the market for the 1500 s.f. bungalow on 6600 s.f. of lot ceases to exist, and the house that WAS worth $400k is now pretty much just worth the $250k for the land that it sits on.  Ironically, though , the surest way to make sure the market for smaller bungalows dries up is to make it very risky for people to buy them with the intent of renovating and expanding them.  

 

I will actually cite to one of the most rabid anti-ordiance HAIF posters to rebut this argument.  The Niche argued that gentrification in the Heights was actually leading to a net loss in population as the generation that lived in the Heights prior to gentrification tended to have large families and are being replaced by smaller families, empty nesters, and singles (young and old).  Large single family properties that were previously divided into multifamily are being renovated or demolished and replaced with single family (as is the case with a property on Tulane that is just north of one of the Bastian properties by the old chicken plant).  And the multifamily apartments that were full of lower income families are getting gentrified and replaced with singles and couples (like the pair on Ashland).  Of course, the two giant apartment complexes and the big townhome developments will push the population numbers in the opposite direction.  But the gentrification of single family residential homes is not seen as a densification issue, and is actually a reduction in density on a net population basis due to the change in demographics.

 

Also, the idea that the market for 1500 sf bungalows cease to exist when there is uncertainty regarding renovation or expansion is rebutted by the current market.  Despite the constant drumbeat of anti-ordinance stories in the Leader, there are still piles of people racing to open houses and bidding on bungalows in the historic districts.  The real issue is that most of the low hanging fruit in the historic districts has been flipped and there are very few bungalows coming on the market.  As a result, the prices for bungalows in the HDs have been crazy high even with all the alleged uncertainty regarding HAHC.  The problems HAHC, if anything, will just shift the purchasing power away from investors and back to people who are looking for homes as it is just about impossible for a buyer to win a bidding war with builders/investor. 

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.....If this ordinance gets overturned, I fear that David Weekly, Perry, In-town, and Sandcastle will end up buying and doing exactly what neither of us wants. I also realize I am put into the same camp by some. I feel like the war might be lost over some relatively minor battles. Help make this more sensible.

 

Spot on.....this pretentious HAHC has turned the ordinance on itself with an attitude of disdain for traditonal families and businessmen/women alike.  Go see one of these meetings in-person and watch the dandy who fancies himself as overlord of the coterie roll his eyes when property owners are speaking, see hijackers twerk their Ipads in disrespect for the applicants, hear the condescending tone and imperial attitude of the do-nothing, glad-I-got-this-gig filler commissioners.  It all makes for a nauseating introduction to governance by the Parker administration.

 

The relatively minor battle over the Chicken Plant could serve as a turning point that the attracts attention of the uninformed and unaffected Houston voters.  NOBODY wants an apartment/condo/townhome development, but that is exactly what this clueless HAHC could deliver, making Houston's "preservation" effort the laughing stock of the nation once again. 

 

One year ago, with the asinine Kelman Denial, the HAHC changed the debate from the ordinance to the HAHC.  Since that turning point influential members of our community, the local press, the Planning Commision, one member of the HAHC, our two CM's and the mayor herself have gone on record pointing to the problems with this Commission and its foolhardy decisions.  The foremost supporter and architect of this HAHC, former Director of Planning Marlene Gafrick, resigned unexpectedly last fall, literally amid a torrent of letters to the Mayor critical of the HAHC.  And the HAHC continues to fiddle about, prancing around like the Belle of the Ball in a gown of invisible thread.

 

So fiddle away and say goodby to Mr. Bastian.....the ordinance may very well follow.

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Much (though admittedly not all) of the support for a stronger preservation ordinance was a desire to slow densification and, to a lesser extent, increases in square footage.

 

Inevitably, as land value increases, the economic incentive is to increase the amount of square footage of house per square foot of land, either by subdividing lots, or by replacing 1500 s.f. bungalows with 4000 s.f. houses.  Although I tend to support the rights of property owners, I even kind of understand this concern.  As more and more densification happens on a given block or neighborhood, the value of the existing structure on the last un-subdivided lot can fall to zero even as the average value of homes increases.

 

In other words, when the market in a given neighborhood is entirely large homes on small lots, the market for the 1500 s.f. bungalow on 6600 s.f. of lot ceases to exist, and the house that WAS worth $400k is now pretty much just worth the $250k for the land that it sits on.  Ironically, though , the surest way to make sure the market for smaller bungalows dries up is to make it very risky for people to buy them with the intent of renovating and expanding them.

Thanks for the thoughtful and cordial response. In the particular case of replacing a non-historic commercial development with new construction based on the original designs of the neigborhood, this is not an either or with removing bungalows. Also, in our particular case we are NOT making it more dense we proposed decreased density.

My question is, if a 4000 sqft home is set back like the surrounding homes and is not lot line to lot line, what makes that incompatible with a similarly situated 1500 sqft home. Compatible and typical have not been legally defined and therefore are in the eyes of the beholder.

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...

My question is, if a 4000 sqft home is set back like the surrounding homes and is not lot line to lot line, what makes that incompatible with a similarly situated 1500 sqft home. Compatible and typical have not been legally defined and therefore are in the eyes of the beholder.

 

What's incompatible about a 4000 sqft and a similarly situated 1500 sqft home is.the people who live in them, of course, and for the social engineers on the HAHC, this the metric.  Yes, you are cursed with logical thinking, and you did not do your homework on this HAHC which rarely applies or appreciates the logical thinking of real engineers.  This modus operandi is nothing new to the regulars around here.

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My question is, if a 4000 sqft home is set back like the surrounding homes and is not lot line to lot line, what makes that incompatible with a similarly situated 1500 sqft home. Compatible and typical have not been legally defined and therefore are in the eyes of the beholder.

 

"Compatible" and "typical" are not defined because you cannot create a one-size fits all definition for a neighborhood that has different styles on different streets.  Much of Heights Blvd has historically been larger Victorians with smaller craftsman bungalows mixed in.  Parts of Harvard and Cortland also have a number of larger residences.  Most of the WD is craftsman bungalows with a few small Queen Anne (both Victorian and craftsman versions) and a few four squares.  A large Victorian new build would be more compatible with Heights, Harvard or Cortland than it would in the WD because that is where you see that kind of architecture and scale more often than in the WD where that kind of architecture and scale is not present in the historic inventory.  But there are a few spots in the WD where a larger house would be compatible with the scale of new construction that has replaced the historic inventory.  Allowing a subjective interpretation of "compatible" and "typical" gives the commission the flexibility to make determinations based on the peculiar aspects of each block in each district. 

 

Also, the issue isn't pure square footage as much as it is dimensions like eave height, set backs and front elevations.  I always find it interesting when I have friends and family come into town and walk the neighborhood with them.  On streets where new construction has permeated the existing historic architecture, people have a hard time figuring out whether the new construction is a rehab or ground up new build.  But on a street like the 1200 block of Rutland, no one has ever had any trouble picking out the two big new builds on the street.  They tower over the rest of the street.  The front elevations are massive in comparison to the single story bungalows and the handful of two story homes. 

 

Of course, the determination is left to the eyes of the beholder, but as demonstrated by the two new builds on 1200 block of Rutland, it is not a mere guess as to what is compatible and what is not.  The frustration has really been about the fine details of scale and compatibility rather than the commission drawing bright lines purely on the basis of square footage or not allowing a second floor.  But the demands for less subjectivity and more bright lines will lead to those kinds of rules and just have builders lining up for variances instead of complaining about subjectivity.

 

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"Compatible" and "typical" are not defined because you cannot create a one-size fits all definition for a neighborhood that has different styles on different streets.  Allowing a subjective interpretation of "compatible" and "typical" gives the commission the flexibility to make determinations based on the peculiar aspects of each block in each district. 

 

Also, the issue isn't pure square footage as much as it is dimensions like eave height, set backs and front elevations. But on a street like the 1200 block of Rutland, no one has ever had any trouble picking out the two big new builds on the street.  They tower over the rest of the street.  The front elevations are massive in comparison to the single story bungalows and the handful of two story homes. 

 

Of course, the determination is left to the eyes of the beholder, but as demonstrated by the two new builds on 1200 block of Rutland, it is not a mere guess as to what is compatible and what is not.  The frustration has really been about the fine details of scale and compatibility rather than the commission drawing bright lines purely on the basis of square footage or not allowing a second floor.

Again, I appreciate your comments. We have some common ground but we probably won't ever agree on everything. For instance I don't agree why "compatible" and "typical" can't be defined. The districts were not formed because of a unifying architectural theme, they were formed in a gerrymandered form to get enough votes to be passed. Why is it necessary to define things block by block when districts are formed. What is the goal?

I completely agree with your comments on set backs. But would those houses have been so offensive to you if they were pushed back to the same setbacks as the rest of the street?

NONE of the bungalows on the 1200 block of Rutland could be permitted today. They are all too close to the ground they ALL need to be raised by 8" to 16". How do you factor this into eave and ridge height requirements? There are 5 or 6 of the 31 two story houses in the West District that have eave heights of 24' plus. Why wouldn't that work on Rutland?

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Another head scratcher is the recently approved 5,500 sq ft house in the 1500 block of Allston...approved in 4th quarter of 2013 sometime. Slightly larger lot at ~8,000', but take a drive down the street and see if you think it is "compatable". And this went through HAHC and with a heated protest before the committee.

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Thanks for the thoughtful and cordial response. In the particular case of replacing a non-historic commercial development with new construction based on the original designs of the neigborhood, this is not an either or with removing bungalows. Also, in our particular case we are NOT making it more dense we proposed decreased density.

My question is, if a 4000 sqft home is set back like the surrounding homes and is not lot line to lot line, what makes that incompatible with a similarly situated 1500 sqft home. Compatible and typical have not been legally defined and therefore are in the eyes of the beholder.

 

The wording in the HD ordinance doesn't say anything about SF of the house:

 

 

Sec. 33-242. Same--New construction in historic district. 

 
The HAHC shall issue a certificate of appropriateness for new construction in an 
historic district upon finding that the application satisfies the following criteria: 
 
 (1) The new construction must match the typical setbacks of existing 
contributing structures in the historic district; 
 
 (2) The exterior features of new construction must be compatible with the 
exterior features of existing contributing structures in the historic district; 
 
 (3) The proportions of the new construction, including width and roofline, must 
be compatible with the typical proportions of existing contributing 
structures and objects in the historic district; 
 
(4) The height of the eaves of a new construction intended for use for 
residential purposes must not be taller than the typical height of the eaves 
of existing contributing structures used for residential purposes in the 
historic district; and 
 
(5) The height of new construction intended for use for commercial purposes 
must not be taller than the typical height of the existing structures used for 
commercial purposes in the historic district. 
 
Nothing in the foregoing shall be construed to require or impose a single 
architectural style in any historic district. 
 

 

Criteria 3 seems to be the most fitting that could limit SF. Otherwise the establishment of proportions is fairly vague. A literal person might calculate the average, mean, or other mathematical measurements of homes in the HD they are building to come up with some middle of the road number and build around those numbers, or go no bigger than the biggest example in the HD. As it is vague, it's left to interpretation, and well, argue your case if you can, see how far you get. Leaving it vague works in both directions, you know. Of course, it's a matter of how much time/money you have to invest in the property.

 

Certainly s3mh's interpretation of the vague rules, and neither the interpretation by the HAHC shouldn't be taken as the final word, if you really want to challenge it.

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The wording in the HD ordinance doesn't say anything about SF of the house:

 

 

Criteria 3 seems to be the most fitting that could limit SF. Otherwise the establishment of proportions is fairly vague. A literal person might calculate the average, mean, or other mathematical measurements of homes in the HD they are building to come up with some middle of the road number and build around those numbers, or go no bigger than the biggest example in the HD. As it is vague, it's left to interpretation, and well, argue your case if you can, see how far you get. Leaving it vague works in both directions, you know. Of course, it's a matter of how much time/money you have to invest in the property.

 

Certainly s3mh's interpretation of the vague rules, and neither the interpretation by the HAHC shouldn't be taken as the final word, if you really want to challenge it.

Thanks for your comments. I responded to this thread not to try to persuade anybody. I wanted to set straight some misinformation regarding our project and was truly interested in trying to understand the thinking of those opposed to new development of larger than average homes.

Criteria 3 is a major stumbling block. The staff and HAHC interpret "typical" as average. That means a uniformity that NEVER existed in the Heights. If a 4000 sqft contributing structure exists in the district, I personally think that is typical. If you open up 3 bags of M&M's and each bag has 1 or 2 blues and the majority brown and yellow, then blue is typical but not average.

I have been and will continue to work with the staff to work something out. But my patience and pocketbook are both limited. After exhausting appeals to the Planning Commission and an appeal to the City Council, I will sell the property to the developer who is willing to continue. And contrary to some opinions, that person is ready.

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If you open 3 bags of M&Ms and each bag has one blue M&M, then one blue M&M is typical per bag of M&Ms. In a single bag of M&Ms, multiple blue M&Ms would in fact be atypical.

 

That analogy would only make sense if there were multiple "Heights Wests."

And this is where we disagree. The existing "districts" were gerrymandered. There ARE multiple "Heights Wests". That is one of the problems with the ordinance and the way the districts were formed.

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NONE of the bungalows on the 1200 block of Rutland could be permitted today. They are all too close to the ground they ALL need to be raised by 8" to 16". How do you factor this into eave and ridge height requirements?

 

I imagine that the idea of restricting construction to something that cannot legally be built and therefore leaving development in gridlock actually fills him with glee.

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I will actually cite to one of the most rabid anti-ordiance HAIF posters to rebut this argument.  The Niche argued that gentrification in the Heights was actually leading to a net loss in population as the generation that lived in the Heights prior to gentrification tended to have large families and are being replaced by smaller families, empty nesters, and singles (young and old).  Large single family properties that were previously divided into multifamily are being renovated or demolished and replaced with single family (as is the case with a property on Tulane that is just north of one of the Bastian properties by the old chicken plant).  And the multifamily apartments that were full of lower income families are getting gentrified and replaced with singles and couples (like the pair on Ashland).  Of course, the two giant apartment complexes and the big townhome developments will push the population numbers in the opposite direction.  But the gentrification of single family residential homes is not seen as a densification issue, and is actually a reduction in density on a net population basis due to the change in demographics.

 

 

 

Whether or not it's actually an increase in population, it IS an increase in square footage. And there are most definitely people who complain when a 6600 s.f. lot which previously had one 1300 s.f. house is replaced by two 2500 s.f. houses.

 

The point being that if what people really want to prevent is the kind of townhouse-ification that has happened in Montrose and Rice Military, and is happening Shady Acres, or to prevent multi-family construction on largely single-family blocks, there are less intrusive means. 

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January 16, 2014 HAHC meeting...http://houstontx.swagit.com/play/01222014-1006...Houston Heights HD's had four Additions presented for CoA and all four were denied by the emboldened HAHC knowing that the newly neutered appeals process is no longer a threat to their power.  This meeting alone could make the case to the general public that the Ordinance must go.  Watch the applicants, your friends and neighbors, tell their tales of dealing with the unprepared staff and beg for mercy only to be slapped down by the snickering boobs.  Listen to the political commentary on zoning by the apartment-finder Chairperson Welsh.

 

Common folk had one measure of revenge when the all-powerful commission was forced to retroactively approve a stucco replacement on a project they had Denied CoA but the Planning Commission overturned on appeal (prior to the Gafrick jury-rigging).  Their disdain for the applicant was palpable and the looks on their faces was priceless as they were each forced to bite the turd.  The applicant himself gave me a first-hand description of the disrespect he and the others endured at this meeting, and the video doesn't capture all of it, such as the eye-rolls and other condescending behavior by the HAHC.

 

Mr. Bastian (Chicken Plant Project) ended the meeting getting lectured on how "typical" means "average" and other legal opinions from the all-powerful commission.  They all wished him well in the end, like a cat lifting its paw off the tail of a mouse while licking its chops in anticipation of his next visit.

 

 

 

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  • 2 months later...

Placing him clearly in the lead of the “Do as I say, not as I Do” category of elitist pigs, HAHC radical hijacker David Bucek demolishes historic bungalow under “renovation” on the Menil campus. 
From Swamplot: 
http://swamplot.com/renovation-of-menil-bungalow-into-menil-cafe-will-be-more-extensive-than-originally-planned/2014-04-07/#comments

It wouldn’t be so bad if he hadn’t bragged about it on the Stern and Bucek website linking here, here   and here.  Well, yeah, it would.   I watched him lie to the Planning Commission in person as he unsuccessfully tried to block an HAHC appeal trying to force a back-wall starting point for a termite-infested dump renovation.  I guess he found a termite or two at Menil….try that excuse when you beg for your CoA  to demo a Heights bungalow….Bucek say no way homey, termites are good source of protein for you peons .

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  • 4 weeks later...

As much as I hate to get this banter started again when it's finally quieted down, I saw this today and realized, we are not the only knuckleheaded neighborhood in the country....

 

http://www.today.com/money/neighbors-want-architects-dream-home-torn-down-its-devastating-2D79606820

 

Last quote from the article.

"I don't think it's appropriate to exert your tastes on other people's property rights''

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  • 1 month later...

if anyone wants to see a before/after of my house. anyone who thinks i am not a historic preservationist is crazy!

 

thank you again to everyone who helped me along the way!

 

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10101657054246971.1073741826.17004695&type=1&l=79af547c8b

 

p.s. hopefully the link works? I tried to make the photo album public, but I don't know how to test it for people that i'm not FB "friends with". Can someone let me know?

Edited by briekelman
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^^ very beautiful. Did you get involved in any of the specifics? I'm looking to get a rain shower similar to what I saw in one of your pictures. Also, the outside lights look good, I'm trying to find some appropriate looking porch lights - similar to yours

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Thanks! Yes, i designed every inch of everything in the house - from the built-in's to the lighting fixtures to the hardware, plumbing, everything. All of my interior lights are antiques from various antique stores, but the exterior lights are not expensive - $33 each from Home Depot. I noticed later that Coltivare has the same ones outside, but in "Brick Patina" (mine are "brushed nickel").  If you PM me your email address, I'll send you my spreadsheet which has the link / prices to everything.

 

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Hampton-Bay-Brushed-Nickel-1-Light-Outdoor-Cottage-Lantern-BOA1691H-BN/202022740?keyword=BOA1691H-BN

 

Through the process, I found that you can spend a fortune on everything....or NOT! Rehabbing these old houses is so expensive, that when I could save money on selections, I tried to get good quality as inexpensively as possible. The rain shower head is American Standard and cost $65 (now it looks like it's $79), and you need another piece that's $30. Below are the links to those. The plumbers did all the rough-in fixtures, so I'm not sure how much they cost, as it was embedded in the bigger plumbing bill. I did chrome throughout the house, which surprisingly is the cheapest finish these days (very rare that my personal preference is the cheapest option!!!).

 

http://www.homedepot.com/p/American-Standard-Easy-Clean-10-in-Single-Function-Rain-Showerhead-in-Polished-Chrome-1660-610-002/202099436?keyword=1660.610.002

 

http://www.homedepot.com/p/American-Standard-12-in-Ceiling-Mount-Shower-Arm-in-Polished-Chrome-1660-190-002/202099421?keyword=1660.190.002

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm not trying to detract from the recent PC post. However, seeing it made me realize that while I posted the Culture Map article, I forgot to post the Houzz article on our house. It was written by one of the Houzz editors who specializes in Historic Preservation. Enjoy!

 

http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/28613889/list/Houzz-Tour--From-Shocker-to-Stunner-in-Houston

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  • 4 weeks later...

I was searching for information regarding the variance sign posted in front of the new house next to 1236 Heights Blvd (something about the setback I think) and I happened to watch the video of one of the HAHC meetings.  I didn't see anything about said variance, but did watch an interesting segment regarding a COA request for a new sign at the Infinity Title business across the street.  Infinity Title is a business housed in bungalow and apparently they wanted to put a new sign on the building, which would go on the gable.  "Staff" recommended approval of the new sign, but there was some groveling by one of the committee members about how he didn't like it.  When the chair asked for motion to approve the sign, this guy made a motion to deny approval.  What happened next was really telling:

 

The chair said something to the effect of, "Well, if you are moving to deny the COA, could you tell us what grounds you are using for the denial, which sections of the ordinance the sign would violate?  Because we will need to know that in case there is an appeal."

 

The committee member making the motion for denial had to think about it for a bit and then spit out some of the "magic numbers" for denial, cause "I just don't like it" wasn't good enough.  The COA for the new sign was denied, by the way.  I hope they appeal and win.

 

Every time I see that committee at work, it makes me want to puke!

 

 

Edit:  I found the information I was looking for about 1226 Heights Blvd and boy are they in a pickle.  This was new construction and they received a COA.  Halfway through construction, they discovered that due to a mistake by the contractor, they had built the house 2'4" closer to the street than it was supposed to be.  They had apparently measured from the fence instead of the property line (fence was between the property line and the street).  So this made the planned front porch of the house encroach 2'4" into the 25' minimum setback.  "A neighbor" reported that the house appeared to be farther forward than the rest of the houses, so planning went out and found out it was.  They then cancelled the permit and told them to stop work.

 

I think work must have continued because that was sometime in early 2014 and I know they continued to work.  They couldn't just make the porch 2'4" narrower because then it doesn't meet our communist-designated minumum width of 6' for porches on houses in the Heights.  So they applied for the variance to encroach into the 25' setback.  DENIED.

 

So they are screwed.  It looks like the COA has been cancelled, permits have been cancelled.  Red-tagged.  I guess they could move the whole house back.

Edited by heights
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Wonder if this is more ask for forgiveness instead of permission?  They most definately contiuned work and still are.  I drive past it at least 4 times a day.  Seems like such a rookie mistake.  Geez the house and garage take up the whole property seems like the probably knew where the property line was from the start.

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No builder in his right mind would intentionally ignore setbacks. (I am a builder but don't know the people involved)  The animus directed at his mistake is telling of our current social fabric but could result in significant blow back and unintended consequences.  If the setback is part of the original plat, he may not have many options.  If the setback is part of the application of the Hysterical ordinance, the builder can afford to litigate.  When faced with a mult-million dollar loss, litigation makes business sense.  

 

A more cooperative approach to the intent of the Historic Ordinance would be much more productive for everyone.  The polarization of those for and against the ordinance and its application obscures the fact that there are a vast number of people in the middle.  Those who want to maintain and restore the historic fabric of these neighborhoods while allowing sensible re-development are ignored.

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A more cooperative approach to the intent of the Historic Ordinance would be much more productive for everyone.  The polarization of those for and against the ordinance and its application obscures the fact that there are a vast number of people in the middle.  Those who want to maintain and restore the historic fabric of these neighborhoods while allowing sensible re-development are ignored.

 

This is so true, but the pro-historic people, dont actually care about the historic nature at all, they are against all new development - they are just trying to not get priced out of their houses...every new deveopment increases their value and their taxes.

 

Yes, they think their bungalows are cute, but this entire ordinance is more about people trying to find ways to control development, and control cost so they dont have to sell their houses.  The house are cute, but there really is nothing "historic" about them at all.

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This is so true, but the pro-historic people, dont actually care about the historic nature at all, they are against all new development - they are just trying to not get priced out of their houses...every new deveopment increases their value and their taxes.

 

Yes, they think their bungalows are cute, but this entire ordinance is more about people trying to find ways to control development, and control cost so they dont have to sell their houses.  The house are cute, but there really is nothing "historic" about them at all.

 

Uh, no.

 

I don't agree with a single thing in that post, other than the idea of trying to somewhat control development.  Including the assumption that I think my bungalow is cute.  Comfortable, yes... cute, no.

 

Controlling development is what deed restrictions are all about, as well as zoning and other land use regulations.  Duh.

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Bungalows are pretty much known for being cute. 

 

The problem I see with the pro historic people is they think they know better than everyone else.  Yes the anti historic district people are the same... but at least they aren't trying to force you do something you don't want to do.

 

 

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Uh, no.

 

I don't agree with a single thing in that post, other than the idea of trying to somewhat control development.  Including the assumption that I think my bungalow is cute.  Comfortable, yes... cute, no.

 

Controlling development is what deed restrictions are all about, as well as zoning and other land use regulations.  Duh.

 

You dont have to agree with me....The pro historic people overwhelmingly want to limit the increases in their property values.  The new homes were driving that cost up so fast that they needed to assemble to stop it.  The HHA assembled to stop the demolitions so they could slow/stop the drastic increase in property values that has occurred.  They can't come right out and say that or they would have no method to achieve their goal of controlling development.  Their only option was usign the city to impose a historic ordinance b/c the majority of property owners were against them when they tried to go lot by lot block by block to get their deed restrictions imposed...most owners said no, so they had to use the city and then lie to property owners to get their ordinance passed. 

 

Whether you agree with me or not, does not change the facts.  There are people who legitamtely love the history of their own homes, unfortunately they make up the vast minority of people.  Most just want to prevent an $800,000-$1,000,000 house from making their little bungalow economically obsolete and reducing their bungalow to a lot value tear down.

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I disagree Mark.  That isn't their intention, even if that is the consequence.  They think they are making a "difference" for the betterment of all.   It isn't about the economics, it is about living out their distorted ideal utopia while they think everyone else either just doesn't know better/isn't enligtened or is an evil destroyer of history.

 

 

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Sorry, how foolish of me to think that I might know about what my neighbors have talked about for the last 30 years.  It's only been a major topic of discussion at my voluntary HOA that worked its patootie off reinstating and renewing and modifying deed restrictions, and signing up for minimum lot size and prevailing setbacks, and yes, even put in historic designation in a couple corners of the neighborhood (all of which require super majorities to be put in place), beginning in the mid 1980s.  You might even be surprised to learn that among the reasons for doing all those things was to enhance our property values.

 

Just because some of y'all think that some brand new giant McMansion with glue on stone and fiberglass bathtubs and a really big price tag are the be all and end all, doesn't mean that everybody does, or even a majority of any group other than you and your cronies.  

 

For the record, I'm not too nuts about how the commission deals with things, either.  I'd rather have clear regulations, fairly and consistently applied.

 

Let's make a deal.  I won't try to tell you what you're thinking, if you allow the rest of us the same courtesy.

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If they were trying to keep property values down/affordable when they started the Historic Districts, I can't really say it's been working. Lot value alone is up 25% in the last two years. Partially due to the overall Houston climate, but the fact is, that due to the HAHC decisions, the inventory of lots in the Heights is quite limited.

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If they were trying to keep property values down/affordable when they started the Historic Districts, I can't really say it's been working. Lot value alone is up 25% in the last two years. Partially due to the overall Houston climate, but the fact is, that due to the HAHC decisions, the inventory of lots in the Heights is quite limited.

 

Inventory of lots in the Heights was non-existent even before the HAHC.  It became nearly impossible to buy lots in 2009, when just about every possible property south of 20th and north of 6th became gold.

 

Property values are increasing inspite of the HAHC, not because of them. 

 

And for the record, I support minimum lot size designations reasonable setbacks, and other common sense restrictions on the lots that ensure the nice residential nature of the area is protected.  I do not support requiring approval to build/remodel a house.  I certainly do not support requirements that period details be preserved, or required either. 

 

I do not personally like the 3000sqft houses on the 2800 sqft lots any more than the bungalow owners...we just have completely opposite views on how to control those things.  The problem could have been resolved easily with minimal disruption0, and the city chose to use a sledge hammer to force their views on everyone.

 

And there was never even a majoirty of support for the districts.  EVER.  That is an outright lie that is well documented.  The city and the HHA used the most dishonest process ever to achieve their results.  They, at most, had 40% support at any time, FAR less than a super majority.

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And there was never even a majoirty of support for the districts.  EVER.  That is an outright lie that is well documented.  The city and the HHA used the most dishonest process ever to achieve their results.  They, at most, had 40% support at any time, FAR less than a super majority.

 

The two districts that I have personal knowledge about did have well over 50% participation (actually, 67% was the minimum threshold), so, majority rules and all that.  

 

The remedy for an arbitrary process is to revise the process, not necessarily to eliminate it.  Besides, the historic districts make up a tiny fraction of even the area inside the loop.

 

(note to self - stop feeding trolls.)  :ph34r:

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mollusk,

 

I'm assuming you live in Norhill.  I thought Norhill was a true example of why the historic districts weren't needed.  That community got together, came up with their own deed restrictions and got the majority to go along with it.  That is not what happened in the East/West/South Heights districts.

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I do not live in a designated historic district, though I am close to several and was up close and personal with the formation of one.  I also served in a land use management capacity for my voluntary HOA until the Director of Domestic Bliss informed me that I would no longer do so.  

 

The problem with deed restrictions in older neighborhoods is that you have to have someone to enforce them.  In theory, the city attorney's office can; however, my personal experience is that unless it's something truly out there like opening up a rave club in your garage, they just don't have the resources, and in those instances where they will take the case, they are very, very slow.  Even newer areas with mandatory HOAs often have to hire an outside entity to do the job, and that's before hiring the attorneys to bring the lawsuit.

 

67% is 67%.  These are all just different ways to get to a similar goal.  The thing is, there are some people who are going to insist that nobody, nowhere, is gonna tell them what to do with their very own property, and they really don't care if they are the only person on the block that wants to have the ability to install an industrial smelter.  

 

And as I've said before, I'm not to jazzed about how the commission works, either.  But the way to address that is through the political process instead of calling for dismantling it.

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I find it odd that the answer to the city's lack of involvement/enforcement, is more city involvement/things to enforce...  

 

Instead of dismantling the curent process, why not create a new (neighborhood supported) process and phase out the rediculous one for the new?   This is what the "preservationist" should be working towards.  The biggest thing needed would be any changes would need to be voted on, and require a majority.  That is the part that really pisses people off, the radical changes that took place without proper input from the stakeholders (property owners).  The ole bait and switch.

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I do not live in a designated historic district, though I am close to several and was up close and personal with the formation of one.  I also served in a land use management capacity for my voluntary HOA until the Director of Domestic Bliss informed me that I would no longer do so.  

 

The problem with deed restrictions in older neighborhoods is that you have to have someone to enforce them.  In theory, the city attorney's office can; however, my personal experience is that unless it's something truly out there like opening up a rave club in your garage, they just don't have the resources, and in those instances where they will take the case, they are very, very slow.  Even newer areas with mandatory HOAs often have to hire an outside entity to do the job, and that's before hiring the attorneys to bring the lawsuit.

 

67% is 67%.  These are all just different ways to get to a similar goal.  The thing is, there are some people who are going to insist that nobody, nowhere, is gonna tell them what to do with their very own property, and they really don't care if they are the only person on the block that wants to have the ability to install an industrial smelter.  

 

And as I've said before, I'm not to jazzed about how the commission works, either.  But the way to address that is through the political process instead of calling for dismantling it.

 

You may not recall, or you may and you are just intellectually dishonest - the only way they got to 67% was by 1) utilzing city owned property in the vote, 2) preventing landowners with more than one property in the area from voting twice...Thus creating the scenario where a person could own an entire city block of rental properties save the exception of three invidivduals and the three individiduals could bind that owner as a "majority" of the votes supported restrictions.

 

The process was dishonest....so many people who supported the HHA which got the signature for the peititons, wanted to withdraw their support after the restrictions were announced, and there was no way to do so....you say the ballot allowed that, right?  Well - the ballot was an unmarked envelope from the city, mailed over Christmas, due around new Years, where you had to OPT OUT...YES, OUT....Not mailing the ballot meant you supported the historic district.....Its the only "Vote" in hisotry, where not voting, meant you supported something.

 

Can you imagine what would happen if not voting meant you actually voted FOR something.....I could pass anything I could ever think of...Heck I could get half this city to vote for giving me their houses for free if not mailing in the ballot was a  honest means of voting for something.

 

I support everyones right to organize and  if there really was overwhelming support for this, I would back down, but  there is not.  This was a dishonest bait/switch, and the city and the organizers knew it, and resorted to lieing, cheating, and eventually stealing to win.  It was dishonest.  Period.  There is no debate about that point.

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You may not recall, or you may and you are just intellectually dishonest

 

Starting a post with a gratuitous insult is rarely a good debate tactic.  

 

I've already said more than once that I was NOT commenting on Heights proper, because I did not participate in that process; instead, I was discussing other districts where I do have personal knowledge of the hows and whys of their creation.

 

If I choose not to respond to a future post of yours, please don't take that as agreement.  More likely, it will be a desire to not engage with someone apparently unwilling to acknowledge any viewpoint other than their own.

 

-- 30 --

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Well maybe it did make more sense for your district... but i seem to remember people even in Norhill (who had the strictist deed restrictions already in place) that were apprehensive to the change. 

 

I'm more concerned about the process and how it went down for the whole thing vs. any specific district.

 

 

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