Home in the Heights: Splitting up the Heights is a bad idea
The final chances to keep the Heights together in City Council are coming up, and the neighborhood would do well to avail itself of the opportunity to let its collective voice be heard (perhaps for the last time). The last public hearing for City Council's plan to divide the Greater Heights up into separate council districts is set for tomorrow, Wednesday, April 20, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall, 901 Bagby Street.
The City's proposed plan creates a new District J, which includes the Heights while Woodland Heights remains in District H. Studewood and North Main would be the new dividing line. Not only that, the proposed redistricting does not only split the Woodland Heights from the Houston Heights "proper," it also splits other Heights neighborhoods away as well, including Norhill Heights (District H), East Sunset Heights (H) and Sunset Heights (J). You can see the proposed overall map here and the individual district maps here.
As past Woodland Heights Civic Association president Allison Hartzell pointed out in an e-mail, "A federal guideline for redistricting is to keep neighborhoods with common issues intact." Every one of these neighborhoods has a common history and, it is hoped, destiny together. Personally, I do not think this gives the Heights two votes on Council. Rather, it splits the neighborhood's influence when it comes to common issues of historic preservation.
Take a look at that map of District J. There are two distinct areas north of south of where it's "pinched" by Buffalo Bayou. The southern part includes the Montrose area, and then stretches to include the Medical Center and the Reliant Stadium complex! The Heights is a historic neighborhood with issues relating to preservation, sustainable development and community building. There is a very real risk that all of these issues will be subsumed by the very real commercial interests of, for lack of a better term, South J. Where are the areas of common concern here?
And then look to the east, to the "new" District H, and I do mean east. The Woodland Heights, Proctor Plaza and East Sunset Heights are a small, small portion of the western edge of that map. And while the neighborhoods do share common interests (or at least more than the Heights does with Reliant Stadium), the commonality, and history and destiny, pales in comparison to the rest of the historic Greater Heights taken as a whole.
Simply put, the Heights, all of the Heights, should stay together, to speak with a powerful voice on preserving our home as well as developing it for the future. Whether the Greater Heights is in District H or J, our history is together, and our future should be as well.
If you cannot attend Wednesday's meeting, there are still opportunities to let your voice be heard. Submit your comments on the draft proposed plan to Margaret Wallace at margaret.wallace@houstontx. gov, or by mail to:
City of Houston Planning & Development Department
611 Walker, 6th Floor
Houston, Texas 77002
Furthermore, if you want to submit your own proposed plan for redistricting, you can do that as well. According to the city web site linked to above (here it is again) City of Houston Resolution No. 2011-1, passed by City Council in January sets forth "the procedures, criteria and rules for the consideration and establishment of council member district boundaries. Should you or your neighborhood want to submit a redistricting plan for Council's consideration, it must conform to Section 4 of this Resolution."
To that end, the city has set up a computer kiosk for members of the community to use to develop and submit any alternative plan. The kiosk is at the Planning and Development Department, on the 6th floor of 611 Walker Street, and will be available by appointment for anyone to use. Contact Wallace's office at 713-837-7826 or e-mail her at the above address to schedule a time.
All plans, comments and/or letters should be submitted to Wallace's attention no later than 4:15 p.m. on Friday, May 6.
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