Vote on historic district expansion delayed by city
Fredericksburg City Council members on Monday evening delayed a vote on expansion of the historic district for further review on how it may affect existing businesses and the Fredericksburg Independent School District campus.
The council had on its agenda an item to approve an expanded historic district which would add more than 350 single-family homes to the existing district.
The survey, done in 2018, was comprised of 538 parcels, 378 of which had one or more historic-age resources on the property.
Historic Preservation Officer Anna Hudson gave the council a presentation about historic districts and how they identify what is important, figuring out how to protect and preserve it for future generations. She said “historic-age parcels” are those built in 1968 or before that are visible from the street.
“Historic preservation started in the 1960s as an actual movement and it’s always been a contentious issue,” she said. “Historic preservation is just exterior protection. We don’t look at the issues of buildings, it’s just alterations to exteriors, whether it’s masonry, an addition, changing porch columns — anything that impacts the integrity of the structure on the exterior.”
Hudson said properties were surveyed and deemed high, medium or low, relating to historical significance.
Her idea is to preserve the character, interest and cultural characteristics of the city.
Hudson’s presentation was followed by public comments, in which some homeowners spoke out against being forced to comply with historic district regulations. (See comments.)
Councilman Charlie Kiehne said he understood property owners’ reservations, but past committees and boards have “come together” to create reasonable expectations.
“I assure you being in the historic zone brought great value to my family’s home and my parents’ home,” he said. “I don’t think the Kiehne family would do it harm, but someone down the line who would have bought it and changed the historic significance of it might have. Not only to me, but what it meant to the neighborhood.”
Kiehne said the ordinances would invariably have changes and pointed to the sign ordinance as one that has worked to beautify the town. “As a fifth generation in Fredericksburg, I respect your concerns, but I feel this is a step forward,” he said.
One issue that forced the delay in the vote concerned the use of tents in the historic district, to accommodate businesses that host weddings and other functions.
Currently, portable structures are limited to nonresidential uses outside the historic district, development director Brian Jordan said.
Jordan added the intent was to be able to continue this activity, he added.
Councilman Tom Musselman also said the school district needs to be fully informed of how this new designation would affect the FISD. One of the middle school campus buildings was an early higher education building. New regulations could potentially affect construction around or alterations to that building.
FISD board president Brian Lehne requested the city postpone any adoption of a historic district expansion until effects on the district are fully known.
The city will present to the FISD board of trustees on Monday, June 10.
In order to take effect, the council must have a super-majority of yes votes. Councilman Bobby Watson cannot vote as he lives within the proposed expansion area.
Public comments on historic district expansion follow.
James McDonald — “Once a property receives this designation, the property owner … is a steward. No longer vested with the rights and liberties of normal property ownership, he simply becomes a caretaker of a government master. In the midst of so many ongoing discussions about the lack of affordable housing in our community, it seems illogical that an additional layer of regulation — and let’s be clear, regulation does equal cost — to an additional 363 single family homes.”
Jonathan Baethge — “A tree fell on my home several years ago and did a little bit of structural damage and required a contractor to repair. I asked Anna (Hudson) if that had occurred after I was part the historic district, would I have had to have ‘historic review.’ The answer was yes. I see that as an unnecessary level of bureaucracy.”
David Bullion (Historic Review Board member) — “I believe in the process. It’s been very thorough. Seventy-three percent of these properties in the proposed expansion have historical significance. One complaint I have heard is, ‘How could you let these neighborhoods disappear?’ One of the biggest positives to expansion of the district is the protection of some of these neighborhoods.”
Patricia Smith — “I have seen other families who have had to sell their family houses because they couldn’t afford the historical restrictions and regulations. We have low-income rent houses. If our houses get put in this historical district, we cannot afford to charge people low rents because we’re going to be paying out the wazoo to keep up with these regulations. I would love to be able to live in my grandparents’ house one day instead of have to sell it because of regulations that you guys want.”
Rena Blair — Said her home was dilapidated and its addition to a historic district could hamper its sale.
Dora Lee Sewell — “It’s my money that I’m spending and not your money. I disapprove of that 100%. I don’t think I’m too stupid to make decisions about how to fix my house to make it attractive.”
Karen Rode — “If we were to become handicapped at some point, we would need to make our property handicap accessible. At some point, if we want to stay in our homes, we will all face this. Is the historic review board going to tell us what we can and can’t do as far as that?”
Polly Rickert — Spoke on behalf of Hoffman Haus regarding the issue of temporary structures, such as the use of tents for weddings.