Residents battling historic preservation

December 7, 2010 4:31:13 PM PST
It's a fight over a neighborhood in southeast Houston that's been there more than 50 years. Some people are battling historic preservation. Several residents had signed the petition for historic designation and now there's a large effort to get those signatures retracted. The neighborhood is the Glenbrook Valley subdivision near the Gulf Freeway and Airport with about 1,200 homes. But now residents, some of them who lived there for decades, are divided.

Joe and Leticia Ablaza have lived in the neighborhood for about 12 years.

"It's an awesome neighborhood, quiet," she said. "Our neighbors are very friendly. Everyone seems to get along up until recently."

That's because of a petition circulated by the cvic association that would make their neighborhood a historic district. Apparently a number of people who signed that petition didn't understand what they were signing.

"'Can you sign the petition?'" Secondino Vazquez was asked. "And I said,'Yeah.' It sounded like a good idea."

Vazquez has lived in the neighborhood since 1994, but speaks limited English. He says he was practically forced to sign the petition and promised the city would beautify the neighborhood by shutting down sketchy nearby hotels and motels. Vazquez says he didn't know anything about the preservation ordinance that he signed off on.

"No one was ever given a copy of the ordinance," said Ablaza.

When Glenbrook Valley's application for historical designation was approved with 51 percent support thanks to those petitions, the Ablazas got involved.

"We went down to the city and asked for an open records request," she said.

They say the discrepancies they found were unbelievable.

"We got people who have deceased, people who have moved, a lot of renters here who have admitted to signing for the owner," said Ablaza.

So far, the Ablazas worked to get many signatures retracted, including that of Mr. Vazquez. Despite their work, they were told the city's planning commission will still vote to make their neighborhood a historical district based on the original number of signatures collected, even if the people didn't understand how it could change the future of Glenbrook Valley.

"Once we become a historical designation, there is no going back," said Ablaza.

Those neighbors now feel like they're being stripped of their property rights and can't afford to keep up the demands of the ordinance. People who support the ordinance call those accusations baseless.

"Members of the historic preservation group went house to house with almost 1,250 houses in the community, making sure that everyone who signed that petition understood what it was, what historical designation means," said Jason Frankel, who supports the historical preservation. "And the signatures were certified."

Marline Gafrick is head of the planning commission for the city of Houston and she said while the historical commission and the planning commission have recommended the neighborhood's application for approval, all retractions will be forwarded to city hall for consideration.

Meanwhile, LULAC is looking into whether any civil rights violations took place during this petition process.


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