Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced June 8 that an ordinance declaring parts of Riverside Terrace in Houston's Third Ward as a historic district would be sent back to administration amid lack of support and issues with the requirements.
For a historic district to be approved, at least 67% of residents within the district must be in favor of it. According to Turner, the 67% number was condensed to a smaller subset for just 18 homes on two blocks in order to garner support.
One resident who initially supported the district reversed course, deciding they did not want to be a part of the plan, Turner said. Another person who had previously agreed to the plan died with no will probated. For those two reasons, the ordinance is being looked at again, Turner said.
However, Turner said it is still important for the residents of the Third Ward—a predominantly Black area—to protect and preserve the “character and integrity” of the neighborhood, which could be done if it were a historic district.
“I can see, down the stretch, the Third Ward being a different Third Ward,” Turner said.
At multiple public sessions throughout the past few weeks, residents from the area have spoken out against the historic district. Some cited fears of fees and other expenses that they worry could come with the historic district title.
“There is already an economic impact to this community with inflated property values and high taxes,” said District D Council Member Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, who represents the area on the council. “Adding high cost of repairs, penalties, fees and fines attached to this historic district can further result in opportunities for gentrification, and the historic district template does not fit in every community.”
During a June 8 public hearing, residents who spoke out said they viewed the district as “a tool for gentrification.”
“Third Ward is not just a bunch of buildings,” resident Addison Aitch said. “Third Ward is about the people, and this seemed to be a willful attempt to subvert the will of the people that live here. We are people; we are not buildings.”
Some residents expressed fears of not being able to fix the exterior of their homes without first obtaining a certificate of appropriateness. According to Preservation Houston, alterations in historic districts have to be compatible with the building’s historic character. However, the certificate is not required for regular maintenance.
Residents who spoke in support of the historic district said they want to have their neighborhood’s culture protected. According to the city of Houston, a historic district is “a geographical area designated by the City Council that possesses a significant concentration, linkage or continuity of buildings, structures, objects or sites united by historical, cultural, architectural or archaeological significance to the city, state, nation or region.”
In order to become a historic district, owners of 67% of the tract must approve of the district. If they do not, a director is allowed to modify the boundaries to reach the 67% threshold while also making sure the proposed area meets at least one criteria of a historic district and a majority of the buildings are 50 years of age or older.
An April 27 presentation to the city's Quality of Life Subcommittee highlighted the notable significance of Riverside Terrace that would make a historical designation appropriate. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and Mathew Knowles, the father of Beyoncé, have both called the community home. The community also features French, Tudor, Mediterranean and eclectic revival-style homes. The area that would fall under the proposed district is a set of land that was platted in 1924.
Although Turner could not say when the ordinance will be brought back to council, he said he did not expect it to be any time soon.
“This ordinance needs to be looked at,” Evans-Shabazz said.