City Council approves Heritage Preservation Ordinance
Sunday, 08 July 2012 by Matthew Girard
The Belton City Council was applauded for its efforts in preserving Belton's history Tuesday night at the Harris Community Center.
During the meeting, the City Council unanimously approved the adoption of the 2012 Heritage Preservation Ordinance, which received applause from those in the audience after four months of work to replace the 2009 ordiance.
Tuesday night was the culmination of members of the Heritage Preservation Board Sub-Committee, city officials and Steph McDougal of McDoux Preserveration LLC working since March to create a Heritage Preservation Ordinance that served both property owners and the city alike.
"We needed an ordinance that could be supported by the community," said Planning and Zoning Chairman Larry Guess. "Now, that will enable us to go forward on a number of things that need to be done."
The city began looking into changing the ordinance after the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor was forced to file a lawsuit against the city in District Court in order to appeal the Heritage Preservation Board's decision to deny the demolition of two structures located in the West Belton Historic District.
The City Council then decided to place a moratorium on the enforcement of the 2009 ordinance in July 2011 to address the appeals process.
During the moratorium, the city realized the need to bring in a professional preservation specialist.
With a fine-tooth-comb, McDougal helped the members of the sub-committee come up with a viable ordinance, more aligned with precedent set by Congress in the 1960s.
The key aspects of the changes include involving the Heritage Preservation Board, Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council in the appeals process and the addition of clauses that allow for a historic structure to be moved.
The council approved the proposed ordinance with two changes. The Council asked to add the option of extending the 120-day demolition clause to 180 days if the city and property owner are in active negotiations and giving the city the authority to designate historic landmarks.
Council member Craig Pearson said he was excited about the future of preservation in Belton.
"There is a sense of relief, but there is also a sense of accomplishment," Pearson said. "I think we tried in 2009 and we didn't get it right. When we saw those first cases come, we saw that we were really going to have to go back and revisit this.
"I really think that we've got it about right. Even tonight, we found a couple of things that we needed to tweak a little bit more, but I feel like we've accomplished a great deal."
The adoption of the 2012 ordinance negates the 2009 ordinance, but the city will immediately begin the designation process for the West Belton Historic District, which puts a "no-demolition" hold for 180 days.
"We needed to take action to address it," City Manager Sam Listi said. "The consensus of the council was not to just sit on it, but to aggressively and assertively go after the tools necessary to revise it within time frames to end up with a product that we were all proud of."
Guess said the revised ordinance will be a tool for Belton in the future.
"We have to remember that Belton is a unique city and this is really a great asset to have this ordinance," Guess said.