Preservation vs. dynamic renewalI received this link from one of my readers, and it inspires quite a few mixed feelings: Save The Bungalows in Houston (mainly the Heights). Obviously, I have a soft spot for some historic preservation, as witnessed by my recent petition to save the Alabama Theater Bookstop. And I do find the character of the Heights to be charming. But I also appreciate the huge benefits Houston has from no-zoning and flexibly allowing land to get redeveloped into higher value uses. That includes all the new townhomes inside the loop, which make it more attractive and affordable to live there, and are a big part of our core renewal. I understand the desire to preserve the character of some of the bungalow neighborhoods, but I also have some concerns. Here are few excerpts from their site and my thoughts.
Deed restriction changes require getting signatures from up to 75% of property owners, a difficult and time consuming process for volunteers.75% signoff on deed restrictions sounds like a pretty reasonable way for a neighborhood to have a say over its future. Translated, this sounds to me like "my neighbors are being too protective of their property rights and uncooperative signing the deed restrictions I want, so we need a political option that bypasses them."
Save The Bungalows believes that those who live in a neighborhood should have some say over its future and we advocate changes in laws and policies that will accomplish that goal.
Developers have "one stop shopping" at City Hall. Homeowners face many obstacles.Actually, developers are the "homeowners" of the land they're trying to develop. A more accurate statement would be:
Developers and homeowners have a simple and straightforward process for doing what they want with their land. Meddling NIMBY neighbors face many obstacles to stopping them.Kind of a different perspective, heh?
...the original homes edge closer every day to being worth nothing at all. Only the land itself has value. ... The math is simple. Knock down a house appraised at land value – 200K - and put up one appraised at $750K. Better yet, TWO houses appraised at 500K.That sounds like a lot of value creation to me. A house nobody wants got turned into one or two houses people really, really want. This is bad?
Homes are huge because, if land prices are 200K or more per lot, builders want to put up very expensive homes. The effect is chilling. Smaller, historically significant homes are being bulldozed. Remaining neighbors find their homes are worth nothing at all – only the dirt has value.If this is true (new development lowers neighborhood home values), then getting those 75% signatures for new deed restrictions should be a snap. People are quick to protect their home values. That doesn't seem to be the case though. People realize that a lot of the value of their property is the option to do something new on it, and if they sign deed restrictions taking that option away, they're going to lose a lot of the value in their home. Maybe the deed restrictions would be more popular if they enforced neighborhood character while still allowing developers to build what people want to buy - like bigger townhomes, but in a design style that matches the neighborhood - rather than forcing the preservation of old, small bungalows nobody seems to want.
Setting these changes in motion will help ALL older neighborhoods - especially those with fewer resources than the Heights - to have a say in their future.That's exactly what I'm worried about. A few well-meaning regulations put in place to protect the historic Heights get stretched by neighborhood extremists all across the city to stop renewal and redevelopment everywhere. It's called "the law of unintended consequences," and we could end up paying a bitter price for it as a city.
We also want to help people understand the truth about renovation by offering resources and busting myths, like the myth that renovation costs more than building new. We believe many people tear down lovely older homes out of ignorance.Bravo. Total support here. I'm not sure if the myth is true or not, but educating people about renovation options is a fine idea that can lead to better decisions. An even better idea, if a group of people really truly want these types of neighborhoods, is to form an organization with pooled money that buys these houses as they go up for sale, renovates them, and then resells them with new deed restrictions to preserve them. That's the free market and property rights at work.
I'm not saying Houston's perfect as is. There do seem to be a few problems around our development, neighborhood and historic preservation regulations that need fixing. But lets not start swinging a sledgehammer in a china shop to kill a mosquito. A few conservative adjustments can go a long way without giving up the dynamic benefits of our flexible approach to land use.