Neighbors at odds over historical designation

March 7, 2011 5:21:48 PM PST
The battle over historic preservation is heating up again, as city leaders consider adding three more neighborhoods to a strict historic preservation ordinance. The plan is meant to help preserve a neighborhood's character, but some argue it steps on the rights of homeowners. Over the past few weeks, large groups of Houston residents from both sides of this argument have crowded into city hall. The controversy centers on whether three neighborhoods should become historic.

They are portions of Glenbrook Valley and Woodland Heights, as well as Heights South. It's a fight that's pitted neighbors against neighbors and friends against friends.

One street, two houses. Both are 100 years old. On one side of Woodland is Marci Debock, who doesn't want Woodland Heights to become a historic district.

"I reserve the right to decide what's the best way to improve my house," she said.

Across the street, friend and neighbor Vicky Bettis sees historic preservation differently.

"This is about our history. It's not just about what our history looks like today, but it's about what it's going to look like in 50 years," she said.

Their neighborhood is one of three that Houston City Council could soon designate as historic districts. Although the vote is still weeks away, the controversy has brewed for months. Some opponents even formed a non-profit group to battle what they see as an infringement of property rights.

"People didn't understand. When they signed up, they were giving their rights to the city," said anti-preservation ordinance advocate Kathleen Powell.

But supporters of preservation, including Mayor Annise Parker, have long said rumors that homeowners won't be able to make reasonable alterations to their houses are simply overblown. But that's until city council actually votes.

In the meantime in Woodland Heights, Debock and her neighbors will simply disagree

"It's a tough balance, isn't it, between individual property rights and protecting historic buildings," said Debock.

On Wednesday, Houston City Council is expected to consider some minor changes to several existing historic districts. But the three new districts are expected to be voted on in a few weeks

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