Culture / Newsy

Photo Ban in Houston’s Most Beautiful Neighborhood Lifted

City Says Homeowners Association Cannot Restrict Access, Urges Residents to Call 311 Instead

BY // 12.13.17

After looking at the big picture, the City of Houston has declared that professional photo shoots are officially allowed to take place in Broadacres. Unofficial signs had gone up banning the practice on some of Houston’s most beautiful streets, but no one will be barred going forward.

For the past few days, photographers toting tripods received the clear message from the picturesque community that they weren’t welcome. Now, Nikons are every bit as approved as iPhones.

“The City of Houston has confirmed that the esplanades and streets are in the public right-of-way,” Alanna Reed, the public information officer for Houston Public Works, tells PaperCity.

Residents of Broadacres tried to take their esplanades out of the picture — out of all the pictures. The community has been a popular destination for photo shoots for years, with a particular uptick in the last year or two. Recently, the numbers of shoots have leapt higher, with some residents claiming there could be as many as 40 or 50 some weekends. Homeowners began to grow frustrated with the messes left behind.

On December 7, members of the Broadacres Homeowners Association began putting up signs prohibiting professional photography in the area spanning from West Boulevard to North and South Bouelvards, and the small private park.

The roughly dozen signs read:

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  • River Oaks District - MAY
  • River Oaks District - MAY
  • River Oaks District - MAY
  • River Oaks District - MAY
  • River Oaks District - MAY
  • River Oaks District - MAY
  • River Oaks District - MAY
  • River Oaks District - MAY

Welcome to Broadacres

NO Photo shoots

Dogs must be leashed

Pick-up and Remove Dog Waste

Esplanades and Park are Privately Owned

 

As of today, it’s known only half of the last line is accurate. The park remains in the Broadacres Trust. But the City of Houston owns the streets on North, South, and West boulevards, along esplanades’ central brick pathways. Which means no ban.

The signs had produced something of a social media outcry, bringing them to the attention to the media and eventually the city itself.

The Photo Issue

The city may own the brick walkway, but they don’t maintain it — the Broadacres Trust does, along with all the trees lining the esplanades. And it’s the treatment of the esplanades that called the legitimacy of public photo shoots into question in the first place.

PaperCity spoke to Cece Fowler, a Broadacres resident and president of the Homeowners Association, Tuesday before the city came out with its ruling.

“This isn’t something that we woke up one day and said we were going to do it,” Fowler says. “We’ve been thinking about this for four years.” As the number of photo shoots increased, so did the number of props and amount of equipment.

“Professional photographers using Broadacres for their own commercial gain set up huge umbrellas, tripods, all kinds of stuff. They’d bring furniture, book cases, club chairs,” Fowler says. There was even a Jeep parked on a South Boulevard esplanade the other day, she adds.

In addition to the larger objects and items, photographers were known to leave confetti, Mylar balloons, and even their fast food trash and cups. This detritus could have a negative impact on the neighborhood’s ecosystem in Fowler’s estimation. Night herons roost in the many trees making up the esplanades’ canopies.

Nearby areas with similar aesthetic appeal, like Rice University, have large built-in infrastructure to accommodate photography requests. Rice University has an arbor in the same style as Broadacres’. The two share famous architect William Ward Watkin as their designer. But Rice has a police force and an entire staff to administer the required permits.

Fowler had said the community wasn’t interested in setting up regulations to allow photography shoots. “We are 26 homes. We don’t have the kind of infrastructure to help us supervise that,” she notes.

In order to attempt to prohibit photography, the Broadacres Trustees conducted a title search and made plans to get a legal opinion to council member Ellen Cohen of District C.

But now, photographers can breathe a sigh of relief with the ban lifted. Mark Katz of Mark Katz Photography shared his concerns with PaperCity during the uncertainty.

He had shot on North Boulevard in the last month and a half. The neighborhood was quiet during that shoot and he doesn’t recall any other photo shoots happening at that particular time.

“It’s just got great scenery. The brick path down the center, the large trees, all the greenery,” he says. Katz was “surprised that they were closing in their own space,” although other areas in Houston are becoming increasingly restrictive. Hermann Park’s Japanese Tea Garden forbids professional photography for example.

Photographer Erin Beckwith thought the potential ban was unfortunate because there’s so much beauty in Broadacres, but she acknowledges that too much traffic through the area could be disruptive.

Houston Public Works will work alongside Broadacres to protect the shared space, Houston Public Works acting director Carol Ellinger Haddock tells PaperCity.

“Houston Public Works values the partnerships we have with our neighborhoods,” Haddock says. “We want to work with Broadacres to ensure that the public spaces are respected and can be enjoyed by everyone.

“We encourage the community to call 3-1-1 if people are blocking the public right-of-way or are destructive to the City’s rare and beautiful esplanades.”

It’s a similar message to the one Cece Fowler left PaperCity with: “Welcome to Broadacres. Enjoy it as much as we do. Don’t abuse it.”

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