The Homeowners are
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
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
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.
constitute 72% of the total market value for the block
even though they only represent 60% of the addresses and
two lots are vacant.
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
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
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
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!
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!
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
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.
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
James & Jayna