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Old Posted May 30, 2007, 5:40 PM
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sirkingwilliam sirkingwilliam is online now
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SA - Historic panel's fate on agenda today

Historic panel's fate on agenda today

Web Posted: 05/30/2007 12:31 AM CDT

Scott Huddleston

A bitter dispute centered on the power of a city-appointed board to review major projects may come to a head today with the City Council voting to reduce the Historic and Design Review Commission from 15 members to nine.

Some council members say the commission has become obstructionist in reviewing city leaders' ambitious building plans, delaying projects such as the renovation of Main Plaza and impeding future endeavors for no good reason.

Today's discussion caps several months of grumbling between council members and the commission, which reviews plans for demolitions, new construction and exterior renovations in 24 historic districts and six river improvement districts in the city.

Much of the panel's work focuses on conceptual and final design of private projects.

It's in the panel's other function, providing a review of city projects, that the commission has drawn the ire of city leaders.

Council members were miffed last year after the design of the Convention Center hotel, a $285 million project, went to the commission for review numerous times.

Councilmen Chip Haass and Richard Perez have led a move to change the HDRC, and even threatened to try to dissolve it, then reassign state historic preservation requirements to another city committee.

They've accused the panel of overstepping its advisory role, and becoming an "obstructionist" entity.

"It has been a roadblock to projects such as Main Plaza," Councilwoman Elena Guajardo said when the council discussed the commission at a work session May 2.

Though the council discussed reducing the panel to a more manageable size of seven members, council members Roland Gutierrez and Patti Radle proposed eliminating only the four at-large seats and retaining the 11 members appointed by the mayor and council members.

"I like the idea of having my own appointee on HDRC," Gutierrez said at the work session.

Members of the commission have said there will be too few commissioners to make site visits and serve on committees that focus on issues such as architecture and signage if the panel is drastically downsized.

Virginia Nicholas, president of the San Antonio Conservation Society, said her organization supports a nine-member commission of architects, historians, planners and other qualified members.

However, because the ordinance changing the panel's makeup would take effect Nov. 1, after the terms of several commissioners expire, the new City Council could reverse any action taken today, she said.

Nicholas said she was more concerned about a proposal to create two categories: small projects such as fences, rear additions and swimming pools that would be approved or denied by staff; and large, complex or historically significant cases, as well as public art, subject to review by the commission.

The goal is to diminish the flow of cases going to the panel to 5 percent so it can focus on big projects. Last year, of the 1,136 applications received for historic and design review, 54 percent went to the commission.

The city staff's recommendation is to hold public meetings to receive input on the historic and design review process, including notification and appeals procedures. The new council could adopt changes by amending the city's Unified Development Code.

Nicholas said the commission's careful study of the Convention Center hotel and Main Plaza projects was justified and led to design enhancements. She said she's afraid neighborhoods will have a smaller voice if more cases are decided by staff.

"You do not take the public out of the process," she said.

Xavier Gonzalez, commission chairman, said he isn't sure the review process can be radically streamlined without diminishing the panel's role as "the eyes and ears of the community."

"I really feel HDRC members are being shortchanged, mostly by people knocking us, but also by people not standing up for us," said Gonzalez, who became chairman early this year.
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Old Posted May 30, 2007, 5:53 PM
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sirkingwilliam sirkingwilliam is online now
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I was hoping that since he posts here that maybe Andres can shed a little light on this subject matter. Do you feel this will be a good thing (I personally do) that helps stimulate development downtown or do you think the panel is fine the way it currently is. I ask you Andres because of the many times you've dealt with them. Hopefully it isn't too personal of a question.
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Old Posted May 30, 2007, 8:07 PM
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starvinggryphon starvinggryphon is offline
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Give them the axe, now!
San Antonio / Dallas / San Francisco
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Old Posted May 31, 2007, 3:43 AM
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Texan101 Texan101 is offline
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Originally Posted by starvinggryphon View Post
Give them the axe, now!
Amen to that that
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Old Posted May 31, 2007, 3:53 AM
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KevinFromTexas KevinFromTexas is offline
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You know, it's funny, but I bet the commission would have been opposed to the proposed Alamo Heroes Monument that was proposed in 1912. Imagine their shock if they had heard the planned height of 802 feet.

For those of you wondering what the hell I'm talking about, take a look:
Do America a favor this time and don't re-elect him.
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Old Posted May 31, 2007, 6:44 AM
S.A. S.A. is offline
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Council cuts history panel by four slots

Web Posted: 05/31/2007 12:00 AM CDT

Scott Huddleston

The City Council took action Wednesday to rein in the city's Historic and Design Review Commission and created a new River Commission that will help shepherd developments through the design review process.
Though the new river panel won't take on any responsibilities of the HDRC, it will advise the commission on historic preservation, renovations and structures, including those related to the city's nearly $75 million River Improvements Project.

The council, which at times has clashed with the review commission, voted to downsize the panel from 15 to 11 members.

HDRC Chairman Xavier Gonzalez said the new river panel could help his group avoid some of the misunderstandings of the past as river projects come through.

"If they come and make us aware of things early on, that can help tremendously," he said.

The River Commission's creation fulfills Mayor Phil Hardberger's vision of a panel with a holistic view of preserving and protecting the 13-mile stretch of the San Antonio River that's under development. It will advise the city on everything from a glut of chain restaurants downtown and fish habitats downstream to land use and funding priorities.

"We don't have a more important treasure in our city than our river," said Hardberger, who called the panel's formation vital to San Antonio's future.

The council will appoint seven at-large members of the River Commission, which will include two business leaders, two tourism representatives, a conservationist, a historic preservationist and one unspecified "community leader."

Councilman Roland Gutierrez said the panel should include someone from his Southeast Side district and the three other council districts that encompass the river.

But outgoing Councilwoman Elena Guajardo, whose Northwest Side district lies outside the river basin, said geography isn't an issue because all San Antonians visit the River Walk and have a stake in future river development.

"We all are part of the family of our city," Guajardo said.

Councilwoman Sheila McNeil said the council already is focused on water quality and environmental issues and will appoint like-minded individuals.

In voting to reduce the HDRC to 11 members, the council allowed each district and the mayor a representative. It rejected a staff recommendation for nine at-large members.

Councilman Roger O. Flores was the only one opposed to the change, calling it detrimental.

"I'm concerned that the diversity will not be there anymore" with a smaller panel, he said.

The move takes effect Nov. 1, when terms of seven HDRC members will expire.

Councilman Chip Haass said having 15 members deliberate on renovations, demolitions and new construction bogs down the panel, which considers hundreds of cases each year.

Referring to the HDRC's review of the city's $285 million Convention Center hotel, Haass said at least two commission members had "a God complex" by maintaining the city shouldn't be in the hotel business.

He said he felt the commission "does a good job" but sometimes slows progress.

The city will hold public meetings to gather input on streamlining the design review process.

Commission members have said design inadequacies and sudden changes by planners, not personal philosophies, delayed the Convention Center hotel project.

Guajardo said she fears it may get harder for neighborhood leaders to access information on pending permits. Information on projects considered by the commission, including those on a consent agenda, now is posted on the city's Web site.

Although the city is looking at giving staff more power to review small projects, Gonzalez, the HDRC chairman, asked the council to study targeting larger projects to reorganize the process. By working jointly with the council on developments such as Main Plaza and the Convention Center hotel, the commission could avoid squabbles, he said.

Gonzalez said he's skeptical about giving the panel less oversight on small projects.

"I don't see how staff is going to be able to review things and approve things without neighbors being involved," he said.

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Old Posted May 31, 2007, 7:56 AM
elmariachi elmariachi is offline
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cutting it down to nine would have been better. oh well, it's a start.
Learn about me at: http://www.myspace.com/carlosgtz
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