By, Terra Rivers, Managing Editor
Tuesday evening, the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing and considered a recommendation to the City Council regarding a development code amendment to include a demolition review process.
Under the City of San Marcos’s development code passed last year, demolition requests are subject to review, but city staff doesn’t consider historical significance as one of the criteria.
In June, the San Marcos City Council passed a temporary ordinance to instigate a 90-day review period in the demolition permitting process.
During the public comments, several residents spoke against the passage of the proposed permanent amendment to the development code as it was written.
Former Mayor John Thomaides said he understood the community outrage over the demolition of the historic telephone exchange building and the desire for an improved process to avoid such a loss in the future.
But “I am opposed to the language in the new ordinance and believe it is a severe overreaction to that situation,” Thomaides said. “This law would subject thousands of my fellow citizens and I and anyone with a home built before 1970 to the decision making of the Historic Preservation Commission.”
Thomaides said the commission was comprised of fine citizens, who were all comfortable living under the regulations and restrictions of a historic district, but most of those in the city reside outside those historic districts for many reasons.
“The proposed law would require us to appear before the HPC for a public hearing if our property qualifies, we would have to help arrange for and participate in a neighborhood presentation,” Thomaides continued. “The HPC could designate our homes as local historic landmarks against our wishes and thwart the plans for our property. The delays caused by this ordinance may add thousands of dollars for even simple projects.”
Thomaides asked where the voices of the property owners outside the historic districts were when the ordinance was proposed.
He noted that he and many others in his area had received the notice of the public hearing in the mail on Monday, which left them all little time to get in touch with elected officials or plan to attend the public hearing.
Linda Coker, President-Elect of the Heritage Association of San Marcos, also spoke against the passage of the ordinance as written.
Coker said the unspecific wording of the ordinance is causing very serious repercussions.
“A permit was requested to tear down a carport at 221 North St,” Coker said reading from a letter sent to commissioners. “This carport is not attached to the structure, and is in no shape or form a historic and was not even permitted to be built in the first place.”
Coker said it was the heritage association’s understanding that the language used in the temporary ordinance was also used in the proposed permanent amendment to the city’s development code; due to its unspecific language of the ordinance, the structure, which was built in the 1990s, has been subjected to the 90-day review process.
Coker formally asked the City of San Marcos on behalf of the Heritage Association to have the ordinance submitted for a third-party review by a professional accredited firm that specializes in historic preservation.
Commissioner Mike Dillon agreed that the city needed something like the demolition review process and said he appreciated the council’s efforts to update the code to protect historically significant buildings.
However, Dillon said he opposed a one-size-fits-all approach, and he recognized that the comments made by speakers were valid.
Commission Chair Jim Garber said he supported postponing consideration of the ordinance as he felt they needed more time to digest the language.
Alison Brake, Planner, said it was not the staff’s recommendation to include an age in the ordinance. Staff recommended the ordinance list criteria for a demolition review period to include things such as being within the boundaries of the My Historic SMTX resources survey and if outside the boundaries of My Historic SMTX, homes that were currently listed on the national register of historic places or were recorded Texas Landmarks.
The commission voted 9-0 to postpone the amendment to the San Marcos development code to establish a demolition review period until October 8.