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Houston Puts (Some) Teeth Into Its Historic Preservation Code

One side's happy

City Council easily passed today some important revisions to Houston's historic preservation laws, the key part being you can no longer thumb your nose at Houston's historic preservation laws.

The ""90-day clause" -- which said the city could stop you from demolishing a historic structure for all of 90 days, in the hope that you'd think better of it -- is gone.

"It is a compromise document. But working with council members, addressing their issues, we were able to bring forward a compromise that gives us, for the first time in Houston's history, a real, 'no means no' preservation ordinance," Mayor Annise Parker said.

And it is a compromise document, if by that you mean a code that would be giggled at in cities that enthusiastically embrace historic preservation.

While it may be rugged for Houston, where zoning and planning are scorned, the new rules are not exactly draconian.

Your historic building has to be in an approved historic district -- in effect, about two square miles of Houston's 640 square miles, according to the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance. Neighborhoods grandfathered in will have a one-time chance to opt out by petition and vote.

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And some may. The group Responsible Historic Preservation for Houston claims the new ordinances go too far and infringe on homeowners' rights.

At the Friends of Houston Heights Historic Districts, they seem to be ready for the next step: "Get ready to protect!" its Facebook page says. "The opposition will be hitting the streets with their lies."

While it may prevent wholesale replacement of Heights bungalows with McMansions, the laws are still very Houston-y, in that you won't have a red-tape-wielding city bureaucrat watching what you do with the interior of your home, or ordering you to keep up its historical character. You just won't be able to tear it down.

Baby steps....

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