City Working to Create Historic District Guidelines / by Mark Sternfels

Earlier this year, the City of Houston approved changes to the City's Historic District ordinance. As part of those changes, City Council authorized the development of design guidelines for the three designated historic districts in the Houston Heights. The City ultimately bid out the design guideline project, and awarded the contract to Winter & Co, a nationally renowned and leading urban design guideline firm in the country. Because the bid also came in lower than the City expected, the City added other historic districts that have not yet developed design guidelines to the contract, including the Woodland Heights and Norhill. Other nearby neighborhoods, such as Germantown, (also located within the WHCA area) have already had design guidelines approved by City Council.

The design guidelines are primarily useful in identifying, visually, the scope, the variance, and the options available to residents looking to build or remodel buildings located in the historic district. Instead of interpreting the words of the ordinance, residents, architects and builders will be able to visually see pictures and renderings of options appropriate for that particular historic area. Moreover, the City and Winter will also consider whether larger historic districts ought to refine the guidelines to take into consideration whether some blocks or areas should consider different design guidelines than other blocks or areas.

Over the next year, Winter and the City will be working closely with residents in the Woodland Heights Historic District to develop design guidelines. The guidelines, which are part of the original intent of the Historic District ordinance, will be developed by Winter, with significant input from residents, including the collection of surveys, opinions, and community review of multiple drafts. In addition, the City has formed an interest committee with residents, builders, and others, to keep check on the City and Winter's progress through the process. David Jordan, who formerly oversaw deed restrictions and land use in the Woodland Heights, and is a resident in the Woodland Heights Historic District, has been appointed to that committee.

The City's effort is led by Steph McDougal, a PhD, historic preservation expert hired specifically for this project by the City's Historic Preservation, Planning & Development Department. McDougal held a meeting on June 20, 2016 at Hogg Middle School for residents of the Woodland Heights Historic District, who were notified by mail of the meeting. Residents were able to ask questions about the process and approach, and hear more about the program. Woodland Heights Historic District residents with questions can reach out to Mr. McDougal or Mr. Jordan.