Proposed ‘Conservation Districts’ Could Change Preservation in Houston

The proposed model could be a new tool for preserving historic neighborhoods with more flexibility and with a focus on reducing displacement and addressing community concerns.

1 minute read

January 8, 2023, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


A new proposal to create “conservation districts” in Houston, where use-based zoning is subject to voter approval, could give property owners more flexibility in preserving historic buildings. Mike Snyder, writing in Urban Edge, describes the proposed designation.

According to Roman McAllen, the city’s historic preservation officer, existing historic districts “are located mostly in higher-income neighborhoods as a way of maintaining the status quo. We needed something that was more geared toward keeping at bay what neighbors might see as most egregious to their neighborhoods.”

The proposed conservation districts “could regulate a variety of elements including minimum lot size; lot width and depth; front, side and rear setbacks; building height; and architectural style.” As Snyder notes, “The recommendation also would make it possible to create a conservation district with a lower level of property owner support than the 67% required for a protected historic district,” making it easier to protect important landmarks on a case-by-case basis.

Pointing to an example from Houston’s Freedmen’s Town district, where structures and roads built by freed Black Americans in the 1800s still stand, McAllen says the proposed conservation district model “could protect many of the remaining structures from demolition while enabling appropriate infill development on vacant lots scattered throughout the neighborhood.”

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