(Updated) New design guidelines coming for Houston’s historic districts

by James McClister


Photo credit: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

The City of Houston will now provide historic preservation design guidelines for certain neighborhoods. The changes will affect builders, homeowners and agents alike.

A multi-phase project, the City’s will first phase will see guidelines drafted for: Houston Heights East, Houston Heights West, Houston Heights South, Freeland Historic District, Norhill Historic District, Old Sixth Ward Historic District, and Woodland Heights Historic District. The project’s second phase will start in 2017 and include guidelines for Main Street Market Square Historic District and Glenbrook Valley Historic District.

As to what the guidelines will actually entail, the City itself is still unsure.

“This is not a one-size-fits-all plan,” says project manager Steph McDougal. “The changes will be specific to the distinct character of each respective district.”

In May, the City brought on the Denver-base design consulting firm Winter and Company to help expedite the process.

“Everything is very data driven,” McDougal says. “Our consulting team has been collecting information all summer on the types of architecture and lot sizes in each of our historic districts. They’ll also be hosting community workshops to refine their understanding of the individual communities’ wants and needs.”

But while Winter and Company will help determine and organize potential guidelines, the consulting firm will not be the ultimate decision makers. Instead, an appointed Houston Archeological and Historical Commission will have final authority over any home-exterior changes, both to existing and new construction homes.

Ultimately, McDougal says, the guidelines will serve as clarification for builders erecting new homes in historic districts and existing homeowners who want to expand their living space. The changes will not impose retroactive changes to homeowners whose properties don’t meet the new guidelines.

“A big challenge to homeowners living in our historic districts is expansion. Families don’t live the same way they did 100 years ago, and sometimes they want to add space,” she explains. “Our guidelines will instruct homeowners on how to expand their homes while preserving its historic character.”

The City’s forthcoming guidelines will mean restrictions on builders and a less diverse supply for buyers to buy and agents to market. But it could ultimately prove to be a good thing. Because as Inman pointed out earlier this year: “It’s hard to ignore the facts. The hottest real estate markets in the U.S….all have predominately historic homes.”

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