Officials moving toward revamped preservation ordinance
Wednesday, 23 May 2012 by Matthew Girard
Preserving the historic fabric of the City of Belton is not something that members of the city staff, Heritage Preservation Board and ordinary citizens are taking lightly.
Using a figurative fine-tooth comb, members of the city staff, Heritage Preservation Board and a few concerned citizens are going through the city's current Heritage Preservation Ordinance line by line to bring the ordinance in line with established historic preservation practices.
The current incarnation of the Heritage Preservation Ordinance is in moratorium after staff wanted to "clean up" the ordinance to address the appeal process, which stated that any appeals went directly to District Court, bypassing the Belton City Council if a request was denied by the Heritage Preservation Board.
"We were just tweaking the ordinance at the edges, basically," City Manager Sam Listi said. "Based on everything we had seen and based on the direction we were going to at that point in time, we were just trying to make some minor modifications, principally dealing with the issue of appeal and trying to re-focus that in having the council involved in the process."
Because of the language in the ordinance, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor filed a lawsuit in District Court against the city last year after a request from the university was denied by the Heritage Preservation Board.
The city then looked into amending the ordinance, which led to the moratorium and the hiring of Steph McDougal, of McDoux Preservation LLC, to help the city standardize its preservation ordinance.
After looking through the red-lined ordinance, McDougal said she found several problems.
"I provided the city with a report of my findings, which included several items that were very atypical," McDougal said. "There were some things that were just a little odd, including that you have to appeal in court. Typically, that's done through the City Council."
McDougal said the framework is already in place for Belton to preserve its historic structures.
"The legal framework for historical preservation was established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and that really locates the power to decide what to preserve and how to do it at the local level," McDougal said. "It's accomplished by ordinance through zoning, which is not the way Belton's existing ordinance does it.
"My recommendation was that the ordinance needed to be changed so that it does designate through zoning, because that provides a very clear process and framework that is in existence every where else."
With McDougal's expertise in historic preservation and her work in helping the city update its database, officials are now able to compare the previous preservation surveys from 1985 and 2006 to now to build the framework for the updated ordinance.
Although the moratorium, which was extended to July 10 by the City Council in March, was not a popular choice by preservationists throughout Belton, Heritage Preservation Board Chairman Larry Guess said it was the right decision.
"Your average person does not know very much about how historical preservation works," Guess said. "We all understand that old buildings have a great value and we all understand that the City of Belton is unique in that it has done a good job in keeping itself well preserved.
"While there seems to be some conflict, the City of Belton and its staff are extremely dedicated to improving the city for the benefit of its residents. There's no doubt that our staff and officials are strongly interested in the future of Belton and making it what the citizenry would like it to be."
The HPO sub-committee will meet at least twice more, before the moratorium expires in July, and will work with McDougal on creating an ordinance that benefits everybody.
"I think we were fortunate to find Steph and bring her into the process," Listi said. "Everybody felt like it was the right thing to do, to take a step back and go through the proper amendment procedure to get the ordinance right."
Guess said he was looking forward to working with McDougal.
"It's important that we have someone with this expertise to come in and advise how to structure an ordinance that does what our city wants it to do," Guess said.