Historic preservation should be a neighborhood choiceYou 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.