Newcomers to St. George Place are amazed at the number of districts, zones, and subdivisions stacked one on top of the other within such a small neighborhood. Longtime residents are too. But what may first appear to be legislative overkill has actually helped turn a forgotten, neighborhood into one of the most spectacular and livable communities in Houston. In order to make that transition, developers and planners have employed such legislative instruments as the PID, the PUD, and the TIRZ. Originally known as Lamar Terrace, this neighborhood was built in the 1950s when Houston was still a young metropolis. Back then, modest single-family homes spread among tree-lined lanes made up a community far enough from downtown to qualify as a true suburb. Through the ’60s and 70s, however, Houston’s phenomenal expansion overtook the little neighborhood. By the 1980s, the Galleria had grown into a world-class retail destination, and Westheimer had long outpaced its original designation as a Texas farm-to-market road. Through urban flight and neglect, Lamar Terrace had deteriorated over the intervening 30 years into an area complete with dilapidated homes, abandoned cars, and high crime.
Stepping into the void, a developer named Robert Silvers had a vision to turn the old neighborhood around, create an upscale community, and make a profit. Silvers purchased 107 of the 560 lots in 1989 and approached the city for assistance with repairing the neighborhood’s well-worn roads, water, storm drainage, and lighting. The city of Houston responded in 1990 by creating the Lamar Terrace Public Improvement District (PID) and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) Number One, covering the east side of the neighborhood. Both entities were the first of their kind in Houston. The purpose of the TIRZ was to facilitate infrastructure development. To generate revenue, the city established a baseline for tax receipts within the zone and agreed to collect only that amount for the next 40 years. Subsequent tax receipts above the baseline (the increment) were poured back into the zone for new roads, water and sewer lines, drainage facilities, and lighting. Although similar in nature, the public improvement district employed an assessment on property to generate revenue for public services such as security, landscaping, signage, parks, sidewalks, and maintenance. In 1992 TIRZ One was expanded to include the entire Lamar Terrace neighborhood. That same year the city approved a total of $3 million in bonds for street repairs, new curbs and sidewalks, new sewer and water systems, removal of overhead utility lines and installation of underground lines, and installation of lighting and landscaping. Just as TIRZ improvements were getting started in 1993, Houston Independent School District claimed approximately 20 acres of land within the Zone for the construction of a 1,200-student junior high school. Through powers of eminent domain, HISD captured 94 lots within a site bounded by Alabama, Yorktown, Hidalgo, and McCulloch.
In 1995 the city created Lamar Terrace Public Improvement District Number Two, which covered the western half of the neighborhood and whose purpose was three-fold: to provide supplemental services, such as security, maintenance, and administration; to fund “Western Redevelopment” or new streets, sidewalks, landscaping, lighting, and parks in the same manner as the east side; and finally, to oversee and fund construction of a new buffer fence around the entire perimeter of the neighborhood. Recognizing the need for an administrative body to oversee and guide the zone, the city established the St. George Place Redevelopment Authority in 1998. Governed by a volunteer nine-member board of directors, this not-for-profit local government corporation was charged with acting on behalf of the city to promote the common good and general welfare of Reinvestment Zone Number One. With infrastructure improvements well under way and the new neighborhood taking shape, the city also sought to guide development through zoning. In July 1999, Houston City Council approved plans to organize development within the TIRZ through the use of Planned Unit Development (PUD) districts. Using four designations ranging from commercial to single-family residence, the PUDs helped maintain the residential character of the neighborhood yet allowed for commercial and mixed-use development around its perimeter. Also in 1999, residents formed the Saint George Place Civic Association to maintain the neighborhood and its goals after the TIRZ and PID designations cease to exist. By 2005, the old Lamar Terrace neighborhood was hard to find. Single lots within the neighborhood were selling for well more than $200,000, a five-fold increase from just 10 years earlier, and average home value per residence in the subdivision was $350,000. In all, 350 new homes had been built and some 200 vacant lots were ready for construction. All PID One and PID Two projects had been completed, representing a combined total project cost of roughly $8 million. Between 1990 and 2000, the TIRZ had generated some $40 million in increment taxes, most of which had been directed toward road, sewer, utility, water, and lighting projects. In 2006, HISD completed construction of a state-of-the-art elementary school on its site with input from the Authority on traffic flow and architectural elements to match the neighborhood. Today, the St. George Place Redevelopment Authority continues to work in partnership with the city of Houston and the St. George Place Civic Association to finalize the remarkable, if somewhat complicated, transformation of an exceptional urban neighborhood.