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Battle brewing between Heights homeowners and city

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Some homeowners in the Heights aren't happy with the changes to Houston's Historic Preservation Ordinance. They feel the city is going too far when it comes to telling them what they can do with their property.

Historic preservation was part of Mayor Annise Parker's platform when she ran for office. Last month, Houston City Council voted to amend the city's preservation ordinance. Some Heights homeowners who once supported it are now speaking out against it.

A Heights homeowner since 1958, Laverne Stephens is proud to live in one of Houston's most treasured neighborhoods.

"It's close to going to the store, to the church, to the post office," Stephens said.

Stephens, 77, admits these days living in an historical district has its drawbacks. A battle has been brewing here over property rights ever since the city amended its preservation ordinance. Initially homeowners who wanted to alter or even demolish their dwellings, but were told no by an appointed commission, would wait 90 days before moving forward with the proposed changes.

The new ordinance eliminates the waiting period leaving homeowners no choice but to abide by the board's ruling, whatever it may be.

"They are just taking my rights away from me and to me it's just bureaucracy," said Stephens.

She is among the dozens of Heights homeowners who are fighting this. They've signed a petition requesting that the city reconsider its historical designation on their neighborhood. Jerrie McGahan is leading the charge.

"If people cannot sell these little bungalow houses to people with families coming into the neighborhood that want to remodel, then this area is going to be like it was 10, 15 years ago," said McGahan.

Longtime preservation supporters say without strict regulations, the Heights would be in serious jeopardy of losing not only its charm, but more importantly its history.

"It's one of Houston's very few assets that we have left and therefore we think it should be preserved and protected and to do that you have to have some sort of control," said supporter Jonathan Smulian.

Opponents say they're all for historical preservation, but within reason.

A spokesperson with Mayor Parker's office told us, "These changes were made with a lot of input from the community. There is an appeals process that gives city council final say so there is accountability to the voters and citizens."

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heights, local, andy cerota
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