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One step closer to demolition ordinance

Planning & Zoning approves ordinance recommendation for historic demolitions
Wednesday, October 9, 2019

When it comes to demolitions of historic buildings, San Marcos is a step closer to having a permanent ordinance to delay certain demolitions. 

On Tuesday evening, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted 8-1 to approve a draft alternative ordinance generated by City Staff regarding demolition of certain historic-aged buildings. The ordinance will place a 90-day delay on the issuance of demolition permits to certain historic buildings or parts thereof.  

The ordinance was created by staff at the request of P&Z in order to compare it to the Historic Preservation Commission’s proposed draft ordinance. 

HPC’s draft ordinance — passed on Aug. 28 — proposed a process that requires eligible properties go before the Historic Preservation Commission for a public hearing for consideration as a local landmark. In addition to the public hearing requirement, eligible applicants would be required to facilitate a Neighborhood Presentation Meeting to discuss the proposed demolition.  

Eligible properties, according to HPC’s draft ordinance, would include buildings or parts thereof 50 years or older if located outside of the boundaries of the My Historic SMTX survey, the City’s historical resources survey. If inside the survey —which was adopted by City Council on Sept. 3 — buildings or parts thereof evaluated with a high or medium preservation priority would be eligible for the demolition review process, as well as properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark. 

The alternative draft ordinance, written by staff, modifies applicability when outside of the boundaries of the historic resources survey. The alternate ordinance removes the requirement for all buildings or parts thereof aged 50-years or older to go through a public hearing process. Instead, the draft ordinance only applies to buildings or parts thereof located within My Historic SMTX boundaries and evaluated as high or medium preservation priority, or buildings or parts thereof located outside My Historic SMTX boundaries that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.

The alternative draft ordinance also removes the neighborhood meeting requirement, removes the landmark designation process and allows the Historic Preservation Commission to issue a demolition permit if there is no finding of historic significance, according to Historic Preservation Officer and Planner Alison Brake. 

“You'll see that it shortens the process greatly,” Brake said. 

During discussion on the two draft ordinances, P&Z Chair Jim Garber said both draft ordinances share the same goal: preservation. 

“Both — what HPC has recommended and what staff recommended — both of them are all about preservation,” he said. “The difference is some differences in process.”

When discussion ensued regarding the 50-year requirement of HPC’s draft, Brake noted that the alternative draft ordinance generated by staff will not have an age requirement. 

“We took out that 50 year mark because if you're on the National Register or you're a Recorded Texas Landmark, you are at least 50 years old,” Brake said.   

Commissioner Mark Gleason motioned to approve the alternative draft ordinance requested by P&Z with a second from Commissioner Travis Kelsey. 

When asked by Commissioner Maxfield Baker how he believes the new draft ordinance falls short of HPC’s ordinance, HPC Chair Griffin Spell said the age requirement threshold is the  major difference between the two draft ordinances. 

Though adding a higher age requirement, such as 75 or 80 years, to the recommended ordinance was brought up by Commissioner Mark Gleason, the alternative draft ordinance eventually passed without any age thresholds. 

“This is just a recommendation to City Council,” Commissioner Travis Kelsey said. “And we know that they like the 80-year mark and I do trust our city council and if they're like 'nah, we're going to make that 80,' they can do that, we're just giving a recommendation.” 

Commissioner Gabrielle Moore —  the only commissioner to vote against the ordinance recommendation — said her primary concern is the minimum 45 day delay the ordinance could cause. According to city staff, if a property is eligible for a demolition delay, it could take a minimum of 45 days for the owner to go before the HPC for a decision on historic significance. 

“I also wonder about the unintended consequences of this ordinance on people being able to improve or people neglecting their structures because of it, which could be a consequence of it,” Moore said. 

Following P&Z’s decision to select staff’s draft recommendation instead of HPC’s recommendation, Spell said he hopes Council will add in an age requirement in order to protect buildings outside of My Historic SMTX’s survey boundaries. 

“I am going to push very hard for some sort of age threshold to be included,” Spell said. “50 years might not be feasible, but the Council's temporary orders is 80 (years). And I think that's consistent with what other cities do, and we have to put something in place for areas outside of the survey area. We can't just say that only the areas we surveyed are historically significant because ... we didn't survey Southside, we didn't serve a lot of the lower class areas.”

Former San Marcos Mayor John Thomaides spoke against a demolition delay ordinance during public comment. 

“You're making a decision tonight that’s going to regulate properties by people who have no idea that they're about to be regulated,” he said. “The second thing is we now have a right, we purchased properties with a bundle of rights, we purchased those properties without this restriction and now what you are proposing to do in the ordinance in your packet is to add another restriction, you're taking away a right that we currently have.”

The alternative draft recommendation will now move forward to City Council for final consideration. 

San Marcos Record

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