Sunday, June 08, 2008

Historic preservation should be a neighborhood choice

You may have caught the op-ed in the Sunday Chronicle today arguing for stronger historic preservation regulations. Of course, they dance around the issue of hamstrung homeowners facing expensive renovations and devalued life savings. Instead, the bad guys are all those evil "speculators" and "developers." As always defining the terminology is half the battle (see also "sprawl" and "smart growth").

Addressing a couple of specific points:
To the contrary, there is a wealth of documentation showing that historic districts stabilize neighborhoods and do not hurt property values. For example, a Rutgers University study of nine other Texas cities documented that historic districts enjoy higher property values than neighborhoods without historic designation. In Houston's Old Sixth Ward, the city's first fully protected district, property values have shot up 27 percent in the last year. When given the chance, historic preservation works.
This is great news! It means there should be absolutely no problem getting voluntary neighborhood buy-in for deed restrictions. If it boosts their values, who could be opposed? Why do we need the government to impose it, when it's obviously in their own self-interest?
Would downtown's wonderful new park, Discovery Green, be a reality if the city had not stepped in and the land had instead gone to the highest speculative bidder? No. It would be the site of downtown's newest skyscrapers.
Um, not comparable. The city either owned the land or bought the land (plus charitable donations, of course - I can't remember the details). That means we, as taxpayers, through our elected representatives, paid for that amenity we wanted, one way or the other (either we bought it, or we chose not to sell it, thus the opportunity cost). Historic preservation involves taking value without taxpayers paying for it. If it's really that important to us, and the neighborhood won't voluntarily adopt the deed restrictions, then we need to pay them for the protective easement on their property. And, of course, that's not gonna happen, because at the end of the day, taxpayers claim to want it, but aren't willing to pay for it.

As Kevin put it ever so sarcastically over at blogHouston:
Experts know better than investors and property owners -- YOU, in other words -- what Houston needs to do with (your) property to be world class. And who can argue with such experts?
Bottom line: either historic preservation is clearly good for a neighborhood, in which case getting the voluntary buy-in of a broad super-majority (75-80%?) of the residents should be no problem - or it's not so clear or not so good, in which case we have a vocal minority of busybodies trying to impose their will on the majority of neighborhood residents via government intervention. If we need to make some technical tweaks to make it easier for a super-majority of a neighborhood to sign up for historical preservation, then so be it. But that should be all that's necessary.

More debate on HAIF here.

Update: I learned in the comments that sign-up by 70% of the residents is the required hurdle to impose deed restrictions - including any related to historic preservation - on an unrestricted neighborhood. Seems pretty reasonable.

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9 Comments:

At 9:38 PM, June 08, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But if you never had deed restrictions, you can't do it with a Super Majority like the Old Sixth Ward did. You need to have 100% support if you never had deed restrictions - and there are too many absentee folks or real eastate speculators to be able to achieve this.

 
At 9:55 PM, June 08, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I agree 100% is too high a hurdle, but it needs to be a lot more than 51%. Something in the 67-85% range seems reasonable to me, depending on how strong the regs are (stronger should require more).

 
At 6:13 AM, June 09, 2008, Blogger Robert Boyd said...

Bottom line: either historic preservation is clearly good for a neighborhood, in which case getting the voluntary buy-in of a broad super-majority (75-80%?) of the residents should be no problem - or it's not so clear or not so good, in which case we have a vocal minority of busybodies trying to impose their will on the majority of neighborhood residents via government intervention."

This is a silly choice. Obviously very few property owners want to give up any property right they already have without compensation--even if they recognize that if EVERYONE simultaneously gave up this property right at the same time, the collective benefit would be great. This is a classic contradiction. It's the same reason why pollution restrictions, for example, must be legally enforced instead of being made voluntary guidelines. There is always a very good motivation for each actor to be a free rider. Therefore to say that getting a super-majority would be "no problem" even if the super-majority of property owners in principal agree with the rule is wrong.

 
At 7:39 AM, June 09, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Pollution control is not comparable. In that case all the players "lose" (higher costs) no matter what - they just want to make sure that if it has to happen, they *all* lose and feel the penalties equally (i.e. nobody gets a competitive advantage).

If everybody (or the vast majority) would be better off (i.e. they "win", vs. the losing of pollution control) if a neighborhood all agreed to a set of historic preservation restrictions, then they should have no problem getting the needed set of signatures, which then bind everyone in the neighborhood. In this case, individuals can't get the benefit unless they sign, and there are no "free riders" because everybody gets bound if they get enough signers. And if they don't get enough signers, then everybody is still free. Holding back your signature only makes sense if you truly believe the regs would hurt you if enforced on the whole neighborhood.

 
At 9:23 AM, June 09, 2008, Anonymous kjb434 said...

Non-Deed restricted communities can obtain Deed restriction status in Houston with 70% of the properties owners' signatures.

You local council member and staff at the planning commission or more than willing to help you obtain the language to develop the deed restrictions.

Once they are written up, you obtain the 70% signatures agreeing to it and at put it on the City Council agenda.

There usually never is an opposition since 70% signed on.

The recently occurred in the Clark Pines Subdivision (West 14th street area near Durham Road).

 
At 10:57 AM, June 09, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

kjb: and those deed restrictions are also enforced on the <30% that did not sign?

 
At 11:59 AM, June 09, 2008, Anonymous kjb434 said...

Yes.

The primary reason the neighborhood moved in this direction was for minimum lot sizes to be imposed.

Although it could be said the 30% lost some property rights in this situation, the idea that this was community generated and produced with a super majority makes me feel better than City Council imposing regulation without much public input.

I've talked with the homeowner who gathered the signatures. Technically, the 30% didn't necessarily say no. The rules just require 70% to say yes. So once you acheived 70%, you don't have to have anymore owners sign on to the petition.

Now, 100% of the owners were made aware. Clark Pines has an active Civic Club and a small newsletter that all properties in the neighborhood receive. The newsletter highlighted the push for deed restrictions by the civic club. The whole process took a couple of months. So there was ample chance for debate and discussion through the civic club and notices by the newsletter.

Some discussion is occuring in the Cottage Grove neighborhood for deed restrictions, but my guess is that Cottage Grove now is close to having 70% of the owners living in homes that are on original subdivided lots. Another angle the civic club is discussing is to prevent townhomes with common walls. So the minimum lot size wouldn't be imposed, but no new homes can be connected. This isn't too restrictive since it is popular in the area to build patio homes with little or no yard that share driveways. This will allow similar density and subdividing, but restrict the type of home. The non-connected homes actually fetch a higher purchase price, so I don't see the developers having and issue.

 
At 2:56 PM, June 09, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Thanks, kjb. This is good detail I've always wanted to understand better.

 
At 4:32 AM, June 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

kjb434 said...
Once they are written up, you obtain the 70% signatures agreeing to it and at put it on the City Council agenda.


It is obvious you have no idea how deed restrictions are implemented. This is a state process, not a local one.

 

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