Historic district designation guide

Historic preservation is not about locking neighborhoods in the past, but it is important that new development respect the historic fabric and character of our neighborhoods. Designation as a City of Houston historic district is an important part of this process, but a majority of property owners must request designation; the city does not impose historic district designation. Designation will help your neighborhood directly, and it will help indirectly as well: The more neighborhoods that seek designation, the louder the message to City Hall that citizens want to protect the visual character of the places they live. This will help us get more neighborhood-friendly building codes and ultimately strengthen preservation for the benefit of all Houstonians. Preservation Houston urges you to support your neighborhood's petition for historic district designation.

If your neighborhood is interested in historic district designation, please contact the City of Houston Planning and Development Department or David Bush at Preservation Houston.

What is historic district designation?

It is an official recognition by the City of Houston that your neighborhood is an area of local historic importance. The designation is usually based on a combination of the following factors: the history of the neighborhood; the identity of the people who settled the neighborhood (were they of a particular ethnic group, did they play a special role in the city's development, etc.); the age, type and quality of the buildings in the neighborhood and the extent to which the original buildings still exist.

What constitutes a City of Houston Historic District?

The City of Houston defines a historic district as "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."

What are the requirements for owner-initiated designation?

At least 67 percent of all property owners within a proposed historic district must sign petitions expressing support for district designation in order for the historic district to be established. If less than 67 percent of the owners sign the petitions, the city planning director may modify the proposed boundaries to create a historic district in which 67 percent of the owners are in favor of designation. Each neighborhood must file an application with the City of Houston Department of Planning and Development. The process is not as complicated as it may sound, and help is available from the City of Houston Historic Preservation staff or from Preservation Houston.

Potential Houston historic landmarks and historic districts must meet at least one of the following criteria for designation:

  • Possess character, interest or value as a visible reminder of the development, heritage, and cultural and ethnic diversity of the city, state or nation

  • Location of a significant local, state or national event

  • Identified with a person who, or group or event that, contributed significantly to the cultural or historical development of the city, state or nation

  • Exemplify a particular architectural style or building type important to the city

  • Best remaining example(s) of an architectural style or building type in a neighborhood

  • Identified as the work of a person or group whose work has influenced the heritage of the city, state or nation

  • Specific evidence exists that unique archaeological resources are present

  • Has value as a significant element of community sentiment or public pride

  • Buildings, structures or objects that are not at least 50 years old may be designated as historic if it is found that the building, structure or object is of extraordinary importance to the city, state or nation for reasons not based on age

Why should I support historic designation?

Designation will let you know when development is coming and will give you time to react. In addition, designation sends a message to developers and elected officials alike that you care about the quality of your neighborhood and want to protect it.

Designation also:

  • helps maintain neighborhood property values

  • makes properties eligible for city tax benefits

  • protects neighborhoods and brings recognition

  • shows support for the preservation of historic properties and neighborhoods around the city

Will designation take away my property rights?

Designation will actually help protect your property rights. By giving neighbors advance notice of development, it will help ensure that any development fits in and enhances the character of your neighborhood. It will not keep you from selling your property to anyone you like, nor will it keep you from remodeling or otherwise improving your property. In short, designation is one of the best investments you can make.

Some myths and realities about historic district designation:

"My property is not historic."
If it is at least 50 years old, is architecturally compatible with the other houses in the neighborhood and has not been significantly altered, your property most likely contributes to the overall character of the historic district. If it is a newer building, it benefits from the historical surroundings. All owners, even of "noncontributing" properties, are encouraged to support historic district designation.

"Designation will increase my taxes."
Historic district designation is not a factor in Harris County Appraisal District property appraisals.

"They will tell me how I can use my land and my property. "
Historic designation does not restrict land use.

"Designation will replace or alter my deed restrictions."
Historic designation does not override any existing deed restrictions.

"Designation will adversely affect the value of my property when I decide to sell it."
Experience has shown that many buyers are more attracted to properties in recognized historic districts.

"They won't let me repair, change or add on to my house."
For exterior alterations, new construction, relocations and demolitions, property owners are required to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness (C of A) from the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission. City staff will work with the property owner to ensure the alterations are compatible with the building's historic character. You are not required to apply for a C of A for regular maintenance. Designation does not regulate fencing, air conditioning units or light fixtures and fans.

"They will tell me what color to paint my house, or how to remodel my bathroom, kitchen, etc."
No. Exterior paint colors and interior alterations are not regulated whatsoever.

"I will have to open my home for tours."
No. There are no requirements for home tours or public access to your home or property.

"They will make me put a historical plaque on my porch."
No. Placing a plaque is entirely the homeowner's decision.

"Designation will violate my personal property rights."
This is not a case of the government telling you what to do with your property, but a way to maintain and enhance your neighborhood and create community continuity, thus enhancing your property's value and protecting your property rights.