The Homeowners are Speaking Out
 

Property Values on the 1600 Block of Columbia 

I own a vacant lot in the 1600 block of Columbia. Even though I bought the lot 4 years ago and did not support the creation of the Historic East Heights neighborhood, the property is subject to the Historic Preservation Ordinance.  Between purchase, taxes, upkeep and architect fees, I have about $350,000 invested in this property. Until a few months ago, I was not overly concerned because I believed that even if I did not build, I could still recover most of my investment by selling.  Today, I believe the lot will be worth $150,000 to $200,000 if the proposed amendment to the Historic Ordinance is approved representing a loss of $150,000 to $200,000. I am fortunate that the original 900 ft2 dilapidated asbestos clad structure was removed since the new proposed ordinance will make demolition or removal of existing structures over 50 years old extremely difficult. 

Every block in the Heights has its own unique characteristics.  I reviewed the 25 addresses on my block using the Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) data available online.  A few observations follow: 

-        The average age of home on my block is 41 years assuming new homes will be built on the 2 vacant lots next year. The age is 45 years if those lots are excluded.

-        The median is 1982 meaning half of the homes were built before and after that date.

-        Only 40% of the homes on my block and opposing block face are contributing or potentially contributing historic homes. Of those 10 homes, only 5 are owner occupied - I assume the rest are rentals.

-        So, 20% of the total homes on the block are over 50 years old and owner occupied.

-        60% of the addresses on the block are non-contributing. 2 are vacant lots. All non-contributing structures are owner occupied.

-        55% of the total market property value on the block is land. The land value of all types is essentially equal at $1.6 million/acre.

-        Non-contributing properties constitute 72% of the total market value for the block even though they only represent 60% of the addresses and two lots are vacant.

-        Non-contributing properties constitute 72% of the improved living area for the block and 89% of the improved area market value with only 60% of the addresses.

-        Total $/ft2 numbers are similar for all types but the average house value on an area basis is quite different - $34/ft2 for contributing versus $112/ft2 for non-contributing. These numbers further emphasize that the contributing structure value for this block is negligible.

-        The house at 1648 has been approved for demolition but was left in the contributing structures category for this analysis since it is still standing. 

For contributing structures on my block, the majority of market value is supported by the land and not the structure. The inability to replace these structures with newer construction will reduce the property value for that address. As an example, the Appraisal district only designates $1000 value to one of the homes on the block. If the home cannot be demolished, what is the market value of that property?  

In my case, if I am required to build something compatible with the remaining contributing and potentially contributing structures on my block then I will likely be required to build a home no larger than 2000 ft2 since the homes over 50 years old average only 1503 ft2.  With this assumption, and a building cost of $130/ft2; the total cost for the home would be 2000 ft2 x $130/ft2 + $350,000 = $510,000.  This home could not be financed since the cost per square foot would be $255.  In order to get to a current market cost per square foot of $200, you would need to purchase your lot for no more than $140,000.  For me, this would be a huge loss. Even if I could get approval to build a home twice as large as the existing “historic” homes, the lot value would need to be $210,000 to make the economics work.  Everyone on the block loses value but especially those whose properties primarily represent lot value. 

I hope this analysis is of some use. I believe the Planning Commission should be required to produce similar analyses for all of the Historic neighborhoods to help owners understand the characteristics of their blocks. I oppose the current proposal to amend the ordinance for historic neighborhoods.   

Regards, 

Chris Chamblee


 

Property Owner AGAINST Proposed Historic District Changes

Dear Mayor, City Council Representatives & Marlene Gafrick,
 
My wife and I are homeowners in The Heights.  We are deeply concerned about the proposed changes that are being considered and we fear for the impact that they will have on our neighborhood and community.  We support Historic Preservation, however we do not believe that this can be achieved with extreme measures such as those proposed.  We believe that as a result of the proposed measures, the following are inevitable side affects:
 
- Increase in crumbling properties that are not maintained by their owners  
 
- Increase in boarded up and abandoned properties 
 
- Increase in vacant lots and empty land 
  
- Falling land values (such as the 40% drop that has occurred in the Old Sixth Ward) since the tight rules were put in place
In summary, these changes go to far.  They will be the first nail in the coffin of this Houston community.
 
If you have any doubt to the overwhelming public concern, please drive the streets and look for the blue signs.  Please attend the meetings yourself to witness the concern first hand.
 
I trust in you, as our elected officials that you will follow a fair democratic process, and not push through these extreme measures.
 
Faithfully,
 
Rob Phillips,  Elizabeth Hawes
Heights East District 
 

 

August 25, 2010


1801 Arlington Street
Houston, Texas 77008
(713) 802-0064

City of Houston Legal Department
900 Bagby, 3rd Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Attention: David M. Feldman, Esq.
City Attorney of the City of Houston

Re: Proposed Amendments to City's Historic Preservation Ordinance —Possible Unlawful Redrawing of Historic Districts' Boundaries.

Dear Mr. Feldman:

My wife and I are property owners residing in the Heights East Historic District and we wish to emphasize that the City of Houston must follow the letter of the existing law in pursuing the proposed amendments to the City's Historic Preservation Ordinance.

Namely, on the City of Houston's website there is a posting of "Questions and Answers from Public Meetings (current as of August 13, 2010) — Historic Preservation Ordinance Amendments Questions and Answers" relating to the proposed amendments.' The answer to the second question regarding what happens if the planned resurvey process fails to garner sufficient support from the property owners within an historic district contains the statement that "a determination may be made that there is sufficient support for a smaller contiguous group of property which would then become the district. " This statement begs the question: a determination made by whom?

As you know, Article VII, Section 33-227 of the Code of the City of Houston provides in relevant part: "any change in the boundaries of any historic district ... shall require action by the city council and shall follow the procedures for application, notice, public hearing and recommendation by HAHC and the commission used for the original designation of the... historic district ..."  In addition, Article VII, Section 33-221(a) of the Code of the City of Houston provides in relevant part:

See http://www.houstontx.gov/planning/HistoricPres/hist pres_amend.html.

"The city council may. . . amend. . . the boundaries of any. . . historic district.. . as provided in this article."

Neither the HAHC nor the City Planning Commission has the power to amend, alter or redraw the boundaries of any historic district. That authority resides solely with the City

Council. I bring this to your attention because we have heard disturbing allegations that during the HAHC meeting at which the Heights South Historic District was purportedly designated as an historic district the HAHC unlawfully redrew the proposed boundaries of the district in order to eliminate non-consenting property owners and thus reach the 51% threshold of consenting owners needed for designation. We trust that no such illegal activity will occur in connection with the planned resurveys of the Heights Historic Districts.

In addition, if the planned re-surveys of the Heights Historic Districts indicate support for a smaller, contiguous historic district within the boundaries of an existing historic district, Section 33-227 (quoted above) requires that the same "procedures" used in the original designation must be followed with respect to making any change in such historic district's existing boundaries.

As you may know, the property owners in the Heights Historic Districts used the petition process as the "procedure" by which they made "application" for designation as historic districts. If any boundary of any of the Heights Historic Districts is to be amended, redrawn or altered in any respect the same "procedures" (including the petition process) must first be followed.

We trust that you, the City's chief legal officer, will ensure that these important legal requirements are observed.

Very truly yours,

Rob Taylor

cc: Mayor Annise D. Parker
City of Houston
P.O. Box 1562 Houston, TX 77251

Council Member Wanda Adams
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member C.O. "Brad" Bradford
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member Anne Clutterbuck
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member Stephen C. Costello
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member Ed Gonzalez
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member Al Hoang
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member Jarvis Johnson
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member Jolanda "Jo" Jones
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member Sue Lovell
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member Melissa Noriega
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member Oliver Pennington
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member James G. Rodriguez
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member Brenda Stardig
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Council Member Mike Sullivan
City Hall Annex
900 Bagby, First Floor
Houston, TX 77002

Marlene L. Gafrick
Director, City of Houston
Planning and Development Department
P.O. Box 1562
Houston, Texas 77251

 

8/12/10 Property Owner AGAINST Proposed Historic District Changes
Dear Mayor, City Council Representatives & Marlene Gafrick,
My wife and I are homeowners in The Heights.  We are deeply concerned about the proposed changes that are being considered and we fear for the impact that they will have on our neighborhood and community.  We support Historic Preservation, however we do not believe that this can be achieved with extreme measures such as those proposed.  We believe that as a result of the proposed measures, the following are inevitable side affects:  more
 

 
Paul Fruge´  on Push Back
A Critique of the Rutger's study oft quoted (by the pro ordinance change folks)
 

Here are the problems with the Rutgers study: 1) It is out-of-date. It covers the time period between 1973-1987; before the Berlin wall came down. It covered the time period when the urban areas were in decline. When families moved to the burb’s for better schools, to get away from crime, so their children could play in their yards and people could take evening walks. The establishment of urban historic districts during this time period brought stability to chaos. This study took place during the time period when if you drove through our neighborhood during the day, you had your windows rolled up, your doors locked and you ran all the stop signs and red lights! Heaven forbid, one never drove the streets at night! This is 2010; not 1973, not 1980, not 1987. Some of you probably weren’t even born then.

 

2) The Rutgers study is based upon statistical data only. Those folks didn’t come down here to look at the houses. Most of their data was obtained from the respective appraisal districts, How many of you have protested your tax values with the appraisal district? Do you feel they even have a clue as to what really goes on in our historic neighborhoods? So there you have it….Rutgers being in New Jersey doing a study down here in my home state depending on our arch enemy, the appraisal district, for statistics that would make little sense if they had spent a little time really looking at our houses and the soul of the neighborhoods.

 

3) Read the summary at the beginning of the Rutgers paper. “Designation of historic districts is… used as a tool to revive or halt deterioration of central city neighborhoods.” Does the Heights need to be revived? I thought it had been revived! Do we need to halt the deterioration of the neighborhood? I haven’t seen any deterioration of our homes lately in the neighborhood other than some of those folks that don’t have the money to replace their roof or rotten siding. I have seen an increase in the renovation and remodeling of older homes in the Heights. Don’t need some statistician to tell me that; I just drove up and down the streets. The summary also states that “while historic designation is generally thought to have a positive effect on property values, evidence on this issue is mixed.” Duh! Sounds like Rutgers got the advice of a good attorney; leave the back door open!

 

All-in-all, I have read this study over and over and it is not applicable to the Heights or any of the other Houston historic districts, except maybe, the Old 6th Ward. The Heights has thrived due to people wanting to live here. People wanting to raise their children here. Parents raising the bar at the local schools for their children’s education. The revitalization of historic Heights downtown area. Restaurants. Shopping. Now that most of the work is done, the city is saying it is going to protect us from ourselves. How ridiculous! Will this new ordinance as presented create a protected district or a fiefdom. In case you don’t know, a fiefdom is “the estate or domain of a feudal lord. Something over which one dominant person or group exercises control.” I am for responsible preservation, not for the suppression of property rights!

 

 

Paul Fruge´

 

 

Dear Neighbors , 
When the petition for Historic Preservation first surfaced in 2006? 2007?, Ms. Beale came to our home a total of 4 times asking for our signatures.  At first they were polite conversations with questions and answers.  We repeatedly declined to sign the petition for a number of reasons.  The proposed area for historic designation seemed random and small--from 11th Street to 16th Street and from Allston to Ashland.  Although Ms. Beale assured us that we wouldn't have to provide an architectural committee with anything more than simple drawings, we saw the writing on the wall, so to speak.  We could see an average home owner needing to hire an architect just to provide drawings and elevations to replace windows, add decorative features, etc.
 
Ms. Beale was so persistent with getting our signatures because we actually own an old bungalow built around 1910.  They were desperately in need of signatures of people who actually owned older homes because their petition was filled with mostly new construction home owners.  The construction dates were in the 1990s and early 2000s which didn't conform to the requirement that over 50% of the "historic" homeowners' signatures were required to pass the ordinance.  On the fourth occurrence, we actually had to ask Ms. Beale to leave us alone and stop knocking on our door.
 
At the initial hearing for the ordinance in October 2007, my wife, Jayna Ketner, attended and asked specific questions of the panel.  Questions were posed such as, "new homes in the designated area have Hardi siding and vinyl windows, will those of us who have truly historic homes be subject to the same standards as new homes, or will we have more stringent requirements?"  No one from the panel answered a single word.
 
Addresses of those who signed the petition in favor of historic designation were posted on the Houston Heights Association's Web site.  Jayna looked up the addresses on HCAD and saw that only 39% of the signatures belonged to people owning old homes.
 
Also at the hearing, one opposing home owner made allegations that his signature was actually forged on the petition.  The panel didn't even blink an eye.  Another speaker in opposition to the ordinance pointed out the Environmentally Unfriendliness of the ordinance.  A couple panelists accused the speaker of being misinformed and not reading the ordinance correctly.  The speaker had the written version of the ordinance in his hand and quoted it verbatim.  Again, the panelists refused to take into consideration any points the opposition had to make.  Ms. Beale and Mr. Pace recused themselves from the vote since they are Heights residents, but the rest of the panel returned a unanimous vote in favor of the ordinance within a few short minutes.
 
When we purchased the home in 1993, it was covered in asbestos siding and had a screened in front porch.  We removed the asbestos siding, repainted the wood siding, and removed the screened in portion of the front porch back in 1997.  In October of 2009, we began the permit process to make repairs and renovations to the front of our home.  We went back and forth with the historic preservation committee for months.  At first they only wanted pictures and simple drawings, then they asked for elevations from the ground to the apex of the roof, and finally we were turned down completely for a permit.  We were supposed to be able to get our after 90 days permit on May 17, 2010.  When we went to the permit department, there was a "hard hold" on our permit that had to be cleared up before they would issue the permit.  All these trips to the city public works departments cost a home owner time and money.
 
What was so horrible about the proposed changes we wanted to make to the front of our house, you ask?  We want to replace rotted wood, a window that wasn't a window at all, and front porch posts.  The existing window was just a large sheet of textured glass secured by rotting wood that had fallen out and broke.  We want to put stone halfway up the siding, install 3 vinyl-clad low-e fixed windows which will house 3 panels of stained glass and install cedar shakes from the stone to the top of the front, righthand side.  The cedar shakes will cover the vinyl so it won't even be noticeable.  We want to replace the porch posts with cedar posts, and replace rotten soffit and facia with non-rotting Hardi.  Are these crimes against historic preservation?  You be the judge.
 
Thank You,
 
James & Jayna Ketner

 

   
 

 
Responsible Historic Preservation   |  
713.398.8113   |  info@responsiblehistoricpreservation.org