City of Houston

Houston City Council delays vote on conservation district program

Six communities are set to be part of a pilot program that could test the benefits of a conservation designation.


Freedmen’s Town is a neighborhood considered for the city’s conservation designation.

The Houston City Council delayed a vote Wednesday on a new proposed conservation district pilot program. Six communities are set to be part of a pilot program that could test the benefits of a conservation designation.

After numerous community meetings, and a public hearing that brought forth many concerns from council members and community members about the broad language in the ordinance, the planning department identified: Independence Heights, Acres Homes, Freedmen's Town, Magnolia Park/Manchester, Pleasantville, and Piney Point as the six neighborhoods for the program.

"Most of the communities have approached us over the years about some level of protecting their character whether it was interest in a conservation district that we didn't have in place, interested in a historic district, or some other way they were asking us to help them protect their character," said the city's Planning Director Margaret Wallace Brown.

A Conservation District would give communities that have a hard time meeting the requirements for a historic designation a voice in deciding the future of their neighborhoods. Community members can choose between 19 items they want regulated such as: massing, minimum lot size, lot width and dept, and more. In order to get the items approved, it would require 51% of the area’s property owners compared to the 67% that's required for a historic district.

At-Large Council Member Michael Kubosh "tagged" the item due to what he called a lack of information on how the six communities were chosen to be initial conservation districts.

"I’m interested in knowing how they were selected, and I understand that the statement has been that they have shown interest, but I’d like to see how that was determined," he said. "Is there any empirical data, other than the council members wanting to do it or the super neighborhood – Has there been any measure of the community itself over a period of time."

Many council members representing the six neighborhoods along with Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke out against Council Member Kubosh questioning why the communities were chosen. City officials said a conservation district is a tool that could save communities from gentrification.

"I know this is something that I have been bringing up in regards to neighborhoods in our city, old neighborhoods in our city, historic neighborhoods in our city, that are losing their character, they’re losing their housing stock," said District Council Member Robert Gallegos "Unfortunately, many of these older neighborhoods don’t have deed restrictions – so therefore, they’re at a disadvantage, where they can’t protect the character of their neighborhoods."

Gallegos was born and raised in Magnolia Park. His parents moved to the area from Mexico in the 1920s.

Many community members have been pushing for a Conservation District in their community for years. During Tuesday's public session, several residents with ties to the six communities identified spoke in support of the proposed ordinance. Tanya Dubose, is the Director of the Independence Heights Redevelopment Council, one of the neighborhoods being considered, and the first African-American municipality in the State of Texas. She said it would protect her community against redevelopment.

"The importance of having this conservation district in Independence Heights is because of gentrification, which is a process that erases the existing people including the heritage and culture that exist in the place," she said. "It is that identity that is being erased, and one that is's gone."

Mary Fontenot is the President of the Pleasantville Historic Society, another community identified to be a part of a pilot project. She said it’s clear the communities qualify referring to the item being tagged.

"Independence Heights, we all know about that history, Freedmen's Town we all know about that history, Acres Homes we all know about that history, Magnolia Park and Manchester, Piney Point, and we know about Pleasantville," she said. "I don't know which communities he's requesting more information on, but I know a few of those communities, just about all of them, that history is rich."

Mayor Turner said the ordinance only applies to the six communities that were identified, and he doesn't plan on creating any more additional conservation districts under his administration.

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