Proposed 'conservation districts' aim to preserve historic Houston neighborhoods

Chaz Miller Image
Wednesday, March 29, 2023
City proposes 'conservation districts' to help preserve history
Houston leaders are working on preserving the styles and cultures of six longstanding neighborhoods. In the video above, you'll learn more about which six neighborhoods are being proposed.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The city of Houston is proposing to make six neighborhoods "conservation districts," or areas where certain development standards are established in order to maintain a neighborhood's culture and feel.

While creating these districts is still many steps away, possible development standards include limiting a building's height and size, adhering to a particular architectural style, and using certain building materials.

The city says extensive community input would set the guidelines established for each of the six neighborhoods that would take part if this comes to fruition.

Those neighborhoods are Independence Heights, Freedmen's Town, Acres Homes, Magnolia Park/Manchester, Pleasantville, and Piney Point.

SEE ALSO: Freedmen's Town in Houston's Fourth Ward voted city's 1st Heritage District

"It's about design," Houston City Councilmember Tiffany Thomas said. "It's about making sure you don't tower over their ranch-style homes with a four-story townhome."

Roy McWilliams grew up in Freedmen's Town near downtown and said things are different since he moved back in 2018.

"I used to get a breeze in my back window, but I don't get a breeze anymore," he said. "The high rises took over."

Freedmen's Town today includes older homes, newer homes that look like the older ones, and homes that look very different from anything else in the historic neighborhood. That's what supporters of the conservation districts hope to avoid as development in the city continues.

"What we want to do is halt gentrification, but also empower them to protect their neighborhood," Thomas said.

The first step in making these districts possible is voting on an amendment to the city's code of ordinances.

That vote was supposed to have taken place Wednesday morning at the city council but was delayed due to Councilman Michael Kubosh's desire to get more information on why these six neighborhoods were chosen for the program.

If that vote ultimately passes, there are still multiple layers of community participation, including 51% of support from property owners in each potential district, in order for the city council to vote on initiating the program in these six neighborhoods.

McWilliams said he likes the idea of conservation districts, but only if the city does what the community says it wants.

"Listen to the neighborhood," McWilliams said. "That's how you build a neighborhood -- from who lives there."

Dr. Elmo Johnson has lived in Freedmen's Town since 1977 and is the pastor at Sharon Missionary Baptist Church. He said change is good, and that everyone is welcome, but something like this is needed in order to maintain the communal feel of his longtime home.

"If you go too high up, it takes the feel out of the community," Johnson said. "I think you should know your neighbor."

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