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P&Z delays demolition review

Thursday, September 12, 2019

After a public hearing and a closed executive session, the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission postponed a decision on a demolition review period for historic-aged resources. 

Currently, demolition reviews are subject to review by city staff, but historic significance is not considered as a criteria unless the structure is a locally designated landmark or within a local historic district, which would then require a Certificate of Appropriateness to be reviewed by city staff and the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC).

On June 27, the San Marcos City Council passed an ordinance delaying permits on demolitions of historic structures. Ordinance 2019-19, which is a temporary, 120-day ordinance, was passed unanimously by the council and will put a 90-day delay on the issuance of demolition permits for buildings that are deemed historically significant or are 80 years or older. The ordinance is not meant to be permanent, and will expire on Oct. 23. 

After council passed the temporary ordinance, the HPC began meeting to discuss a long-term solution. They eventually approved a draft ordinance recommendation on Aug. 28, which proposes a process that requires eligible properties go before 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.

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

During Tuesday’s P&Z meeting, commissioners expressed concerns about requiring structures 50 years and older to go through the demolition review process. 

“The majority of homes in town are — or will shortly be — in the 50 year time frame,” said Commissioner Mark Gleason. “... I think that is a burden, an undue burden I don't think I can support and I would like to see modified in some way shape or form — the time frame.”

After a motion to postpone the discussion was seconded, P&Z Chair Jim Garber said he agrees that the demolition review period is a complex issue that needs to be digested. 

Garber requested that staff generate a recommendation of their own for the demolition review process so that P&Z can compare staff’s recommendation to the HPC’s recommendation. 

“Legislating from the dais on something this complicated is really, really difficult,” he said. 

Due to P&Z’s postponement of the topic, staff will request that City Council extend the temporary ordinance currently in place, which will expire on Oct. 23. 

Commissioner Maxfield Baker expressed concerns over the economic impact of a demolition delay. 

“My biggest concern is with that age range — that 50 years — and just how that could potentially negatively impact lower-income members of the community,” he said. 

During public comment on the agenda item, Phil Hutchinson, along with several others, spoke against the item. 

“I don't know why we need this overreaching ordinance to cover those handful of homes,” he said. “I would just urge y'all to think twice about what's going on here.”

Griffin Spell, Chair of the HPC, spoke in favor of the agenda item and noted that most cities in the area have a similar ordinance, including San Antonio, Austin, Seguin, Waco and Dallas. 

“It's a very common step cities take to try and balance property owners rights and let them use their property in a productive and useful way, but still maintaining historic character,”  Spell said. 

Spell then mentioned the First Baptist Church on MLK Drive, which was saved from demolition after community members shared the building’s history with the owner. 

“That's what we want to have happen in this process,” Spell said. “Is a dialogue between community and property owners to find a way to meet the needs of our community.”

The vote to postpone passed 9-0, and the agenda item will be brought back to P&Z on Oct. 8. 

San Marcos Record

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