Cover Story: Glenbrook Valley's Historic Preservation Fight

Categories: Cover Story

richcover 6_23.jpg
Robert Searcy and Joe Ablaza have something in common: They each think they're doing good things for their neighborhood.

And that's about it.

Real estate agent Searcy and working professional Ablaza live in Glenbrook Valley, the southeast Houston subdivision that's striving to become Texas's first post-World War II historic district. The area, which was once known as "The Little River Oaks," saw its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s when many of the local Italians set up shop in the subdivision that's located near Hobby Airport.

Today's visitor to Glenbrook Valley will witness Houston's largest collection of mid-century modern homes. Searcy, a die-hard fanatic of the architectural style, moved to the neighborhood after discovering its "time capsule" feel. He thinks that a pending historic district honor will help further preserve the area's throwback essence.

Joe Ablaza and his wife Leticia, however, feel that a majority of Glenbrook Valley dwellers don't want the historic preservation designation to go through. In their minds, petition signatures were gathered under false -- and racist -- circumstances. That's why the Ablazas have gone out of their way to gather retraction signatures, speak out in City Council and stage protest rallies in front of City Hall.

Due to the differing opinions, the neighborhood has, according to a number of residents, flipped from a quiet and friendly place to a "war zone." Longtime neighbors aren't speaking anymore, people are scared to answer their doors and some are trying to move. One side has even accused the other side of dumping trash and decomposing cats into people's front yards.

After a long wait, a resolution looks to be in the works. As of the time this post was published, City Council had planned on placing the Glenbrook Valley historic district item on its June 29 agenda.

No word on if the dead cats will be in attendance.

Read this week's cover story, "War Zoned," here.

My Voice Nation Help
26 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
Alice
Alice

I'm just glad that I don't live there.  This whole thing stinks to high heaven.  If a majority don't want it, then City Council should reject it.  It shouldn't even be a question.

yale st
yale st

How can anit-preservationists complain that supporters made false claims about the benefits of historic preservation when anti-preservationists have been running around the Heights claiming that the ordinance will control house paint color and HVAC placement, ruin property values and fill the neighborhood with rentals and abandonned houses.  Since the ordinance has been strengthened, there are four historic bungalows on my street that are being rennovated.

Alice
Alice

The Heights doesn't have the same architecture as Glenbrook Valley.  Who wants to pay extra and hassle with an ordinance for a plain old ranch house that you could buy anywhere in the city?In Glenbrook Valley, home prices for 90% of the houses will decrease by 13.5% on average for a total loss of $7.7 million to the neighborhood according to a researcher who spoke at City Council this week.  

MRM
MRM

The ordinance has been in effect in the proposed Glenbrook Valley historic district for over a year. Homes continue to be renovated in accordance with the ordinance. Is it a hassle, maybe, especially if your intent is to make it a hassle as demonstrated by Mr. Stovall.

MRM
MRM

I don't have to ask. Permit records are online.

JA
JA

By the way, Mr. Stovall is smart enough to get the permit himself for far less than $300.  I still want you to ask him about the $300 though.

JA
JA

How do you know the $300 went to the permit?  Did you ask Mr. Stovall?  I dare you to.

MRM
MRM

The $300 permit fee isn't even remotely related to approval process and you know that. A prime example of what you tell people to scare and confuse them about the ordinance.

JA
JA

Making it a hassle would have been him just doing it and letting one of the neighborhood Nazis turn him in then making a big stink about it.  No, he actually did try to deal with the city appropriately.  Cost him $300 extra but he did it.  I don't recall him sanding in front of the board and making a big deal about that. 

MRM
MRM

So your going with the Stovall's front door as an example of stolen property rights. My spin is that a Doctor and her software executive husband had to wait 3 weeks to install their special order Crestview door. And I discount the pain and suffering because I suspect he applied for approval with the intent of making it a hassle.

JA
JA

Mr. Stovall made every effort to comply with the ordinance.  Thats what makes his example so outrageous.

Maria isabel
Maria isabel

you are my hero. and if folks would read and understand the mandate they would not agreed with it, entirely. if you want to protect your "historic" property, you can. there are mechanisms in place to do so without forcing other people to give up the rights to what they can or cannot do with their property. this COH proposal is outrageous unreasonable and un-American.  whether or not you should be able to park your car on the lawn may be a deed restriction issue and again, texas law reads that these laws shall be  enforced by majority vote, not the process annise parker created, approved, manipulated and  shoving down owners throats .

Matt
Matt

I think the article ignores the benefits that a historic designation would bring to the neighborhood:  the ability to attract good residents who will invest in their properties.  

Until young professionals began moving in to restore mid-century modern houses, this was a neighborhood in decline.  The new residents have brought renewed vigor, manicured lawns and increasing property values.  It's back to being a neighborhood that people want to tour rather than avoid.

If the Ablaza perspective wins, those folks will move on to an area where they feel more welcome and will stop staffing the civic club and enforcing the deed restrictions. 

With full "property rights", it will be back to parking on the front lawn, letting the weeds grow and having 12 families to a house.  A Pyrrhic victory for the opposition.

Npchoustonian
Npchoustonian

Wow Matt.  Now who might have 12 families inside one house?  Sounds like a "dog whistle" for Hispanics to me.  I'd like to point out that the "young professionals" were all ready moving into the neighborhood before a certain drunk realtor started dividing the neighbors. 

What about the facts: - 45% support, not the required 51%- No Spanish material from the city.  Everything else seams to be in Spanish, English, and Vietnamese.- Civic club would not allow dissenting opinions in their newsletter.  Maybe some contributing members would have liked to read it?-No rebuttal of the facts from the proponents, only name calling.-People were told that crime would go away with a historic designation.

But we have to stop the 12 families and yard parking right MATT?

Matt, you need to man up and tell us the truth bro.  We all ready know where you are going with your post. 

MRM
MRM

Repeating - 12 families in a house is not a "dog whistle" for Hispanics and your assuption is flat out racists.

And about those facts:

58% percent support at the time the application was submitted and support in the sections that the Ablaza's, Stovall's and Villereal reside in was 82%.

The summaries of these specific ordinances prepared by the City are in English and Spanish.  The oridinance itself is not. None of the City ordinances, state or federal law are officially translated into foreign languages.

The civic club supports historic designation. The opposition has their own method to distribute their information.

You can't rebut fabrications.

Yes, people were told that historic designation would improve the neighborhood and that would have an effect on crime.

JA
JA

Single?  Try multiple.  I showed a few examples to the deputy director of the planning department.  He told me they would not attempt to find out which signature was correct.  If I remember correctly he told me that there verification process was " If there is a name, a signature, and it matches the HCAD record we take it".  Why would I make an issue of a petition which was retracted?  Stop trying to mislead everyone.

MRM
MRM

I'm familiar with the single petition in question. The property owner signed one and turned it in, a family member signed the second and mailed it in. You obtained a retraction from the homeowner and the family member witnessed it. So, how is it that the petition counted?

This analyst accusation is new, I guess they're working on the LULAC investigation too?

JA
JA

Not so MRM.  The city counted all the petitions that I made an issue of.  That's why I made an issue of it.  When I asked the deputy planning director which signature was the correct one he told me that the planning department was not in the verification business.  That's why our retractions are witnessed or notarized.  The signatures on the petitions were not witnessed nor were they notarized.  We have an analyst who has all ready found many petitions signed by the same person.  I suspect this is why the city dropped the petitions and went with the unilateral takeover.  

MRM
MRM

The City of Houston Planning Department's analysis of the submitted petitions reduced the percentage. Those would be some of the petitions that you've been ranting about. If the City applied the same criteria to your "retractions" then you'd be way more worked up than you are now if thats possible.

JA
JA

According to the planning department there was 54% support when the application ws submitted.  Where is it now?  According to the planning department it is at 45%.  All you prove is that there is a couple of pockets with high support but taken as a whole the neighborhood has rejected the historic designation period.  If the city decided to produce a summary it should have translated the whole ordinance.  This way people would not have to rely on biased summaries. 

Generic GBV Ranch House
Generic GBV Ranch House

Sounds as if your opposition is to Mexicans. I think they're still allowed even under the current deed restrictions :( Historic District designation won't make them go away, either. Not even the ones who park in the driveway or lobby intensely to protect their rights  But if the current civic club disbands then an organization emerges that is more representative of the community.....well. That could be a good thing. Silver lining!

MRM
MRM

12 families in a house is not a reference to Hispanics. Its a reference to half way houses and assisted living facilities neither of which is exclusive to Hispanics.

And BTW its your assumption thats racist as opposed to Matt's.

Fiscal Conservative
Fiscal Conservative

I agree!  Why can't some of these bigger houses be converted into multi-family use?  It would maximize return on investment.  If there's less enforcement of building codes and fewer nosy neighbors, this could be a great place for investment property.  Buy it cheap, and rent it by the room!

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

This is an important article as it actually documents the fact that citizens of the United States and residents of Houston are meeting as a committee and making what they think are binding decisions concerning homeowners and how such homeowners manage their own private property.

Such tyranny is one of the primary reasons we came to what is now the United States and the reason our U.S. Constitution protects private property from tyrants and the government in so many different and significant ways.

The fact that people actually have control over another person property is fairly easy to understand as there are always controlling personalities but the fact that Texans, of all people, would even want to have control over another person property is just beyond the pale.

I agree with Counsel Member C.O. Bradford. Private property rights in this country are right behind life.

There are always exceptions and certain property designation are important to all citizens of Texas and those designations are clearly outlined by the Texas Historical Commission.

There are four (4) such designations.

1) National Register of Historic Places 2) Recorded Texas Historic Landmark 3) State Archeological Landmark 4) Historic Texas Cemetery

If the residents of Glenbrook Valley believe they need such property designations they should follow the Texas Historical Commission application process and guidelines just like everyone else in the State of Texas.

I find it rather doubtful that the historic preservation community across the nation with their hundred plus year old homes steeped in significant history will be flocking to Houston to cast their eyes on a 50-60 year old home with a Pepto-Bismol pink bathroom.

Historical preservation as a community value is first and foremost a community education challenge which may be followed with community ordinances as long as such laws don't make people crazy or bent over in hysterical laughter.

Good article!

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

There is a useful purpose for HOA rules, in some cases. Like the case of my friend, who bought a lovely little house in the Heights, in a neighborhood full of similar little bungalows, with big wide windows facing east that let her see the sunset every day. Six months after she moved in, the little house next door was sold, torn down, and replaced by 3-story condos that now block all of her light. Those condo owners were making just as many decisions about what happened to *her* property as HOA associations make for their members.

I, for one, would never want to live in a neighborhood full of McMansions.

Craig
Craig

I grew up in this hood and wonder if the Ablazas are of the "gated compound" trend you see today.   

Now Trending

Around The Web

From the Vault

 

General

Loading...