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New twist to save Rainey Street structures: relocation

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Realizing that there may be little they can do to squelch the tide of development sweeping Rainey Street, members of the Historic Landmark Commission are proposing a code amendment that would reward developers for relocating buildings outside of the district.


The amendment, if accepted by City Council, will give developers added height allowances for relocation of historic structures. Right now, the city has limited power over the national historic district. Though the Historic Landmark Commission can delay demolition on any of the contributing structures in the district, the demolition permit must ultimately be released if historic zoning isn’t approved by the City Council.


This is a problem for the Rainey Street district, which is described on the Texas Historical Commission’s website as a residential “pocket,” but one that is zoned Central Business District. The majority of the bungalows and craftsman houses in the Rainey Street Historic District were built between 1885 and 1937, according the information on the state commission’s website, and 21 of the district’s 34 buildings contribute to the district’s historical status. None of the houses are individually landmarked, nor are they necessarily eligible for the individual landmarking that could help preserve them.


“Relocating properties outside the national register district is not something that is our first choice by any means,” said Deputy Historic Preservation Officer Alyson McGee. “We just really saw this was some way to mitigate the complete loss of historic properties that might not be eligible for individual landmarking, but can certainly continue to be in constructive use.”


McGee told the commission that the hope was that relocated houses could be used for compatible infill in neighborhoods on the east side, where there is an existing contextual relationship for the structures. This is a change from the previous policy, because it expands the area of point-worthy relocation to “a location determined to be appropriate,” instead of requiring it be within the district. 


McGee told In Fact Daily that relocation of the houses would cost about $20,000 to $30,000. In return, developers could earn five points for every property relocated — up to a maximum of 25 points — for greater density in a new project.


“It was just felt that what people had been anticipating for a number of years may finally be happening,” said McGee. “Development pressure is so much that this is a mitigation.”


Last spring, the Historic Landmark Commission persuaded developers to relocate five structures on the site of a future high rise. Though that case is still in process, it brought to light a need for a modified policy.


“None of them would warrant individual landmarking. And that’s probably the case for most contributing buildings in the Rainey Street National Register District,” said McGee.


“It’s an impossible situation in that district,” said Historic Landmark Commissioner Dan Leary. “I was in hopes what with the alternative uses that were going on there, someone would buy into the fact that they would like to retain that character, because by the time they tear down or move out the buildings there will be no longer that sense of place that’s going on now.”


Chair Laurie Limbacher took the opportunity to encourage people in national register districts to apply for local historic district status, a move that gives historic structures more protection and the commission more power. She called the relocation compromise, the “happiest outcome” for Rainey Street.


“I think it’s making the best out of a situation that none of us would prefer,” said Limbacher.

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