Texas Supreme Court Weighing Property Rights, Historic Districts in Houston

The Texas Supreme Court is deciding a case that challenges Houston’s historic preservation ordinance, which critics argue is a form of de facto zoning.

Matthew Festa at South Texas College of Law Houston is the lead attorney in the case. He says the city is trying to do an end-around state law and previous vote by the people.

“It's making sure that Houston follows its own city chart, where the people have voted and rejected having a zoning code. And making sure that if the city wants to do these things, it does it in the right way,” says Festa.

“It doesn't say you can't do zoning. And it doesn't say you can't do historic preservation. It just says you have to follow these rules. There has to be notice and voting. They have to be rational. And they have to be done a certain way. That's what is at stake in this case.”

The case differs from more common zoning challenges, such as a new supermarket, high-rise condos or music venue.

“The state legislature has a specific chapter with heightened protections for regulating things like what you can do on your land, how big it can be, what you can build and historic district preservation as well,” Festa adds.

Because of the complexity of the case, Festa says it may be weeks or even months before a ruling comes down.

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