Despite pleas from residents against an appeal filed by property owners seeking to overturn a ruling against the demolition of three properties in the city’s Downtown Historic District, New Braunfels City Council voted 5-0 in favor of the developers on Monday.
Eli Woolsey and Matt Schumann, doing business as Park Haus LLC, sought to demolish properties addressed at 173, 189 and 207 East San Antonio Street and repurpose materials into a retail development, Shoppes on the Plaza.
Buildings are proposed to be two stories and provide approximately 4,100 square-feet of retail and office space and 1,300 square-feet of retail or restaurant space, developers said, with an additional 61 parking spots included behind the Shoppes.
“The building will have a range of designs, pulling in aspects new and old, to embrace both the historical significance of our city while welcoming its new possibilities,” Woolsey Design Build said in a statement released Monday.
“We know these properties have massive potential for capitalizing on downtown’s unique physical assets and heritage. With effective planning practices, we can help to sustain an active district and maintain its legacy.”
Because the properties are within a historic district, developers filed a Certificate of Alteration to allow demolitions. The city’s Historic Landmark Commission, charged with determining if razing the structures would adversely impact the district, voted to allow
complete demolition of the latter property but only partial demolition of the other two.
Amy McWhorter, the city’s historical preservation officer, said one building dated back to the mid-1800s and was once among Harry Landa’s downtown businesses. She said both structures, and a third built in the 1930s, have since been so heavily altered that they no longer convey the same historic or visual significance as others in the historic district.
McWhorter cited the city’s 2008 downtown historic resources survey, which found “they lacked sufficient historic significance (to include) in a National Register of Historic Districts.”
City code requires properties in historic districts — no matter their condition — be restored in ways that preserve their historical integrity and match facets of similar structures in the district.
However, city officials said both buildings weren’t even close to existing fire code standards, noting electrical wiring as a problem in one and the basement foundation of concern in the other. They said both buildings likely contained lead, asbestos and other toxins.
Woolsey and Schumann said they considered moving or donating the three buildings, estimated to cost $130,000 alone for the middle building. They said demolishing the buildings would at least provide bricks and other historical material to repurpose into the new property.
Steven Digges, who saw the downtown historic district’s creation while representing District 6 on City Council from 2007-14, said the developers “could take these buildings and make (the area) look even better — it would revitalize downtown and make everybody proud.”
Others, including Lauren Riojas-Fitzpatrick and husband Thomas and HLC member Carola Davis, cited historical concerns and reminded of the city’s 175th birthday while speaking complete preservation of the properties.
“Just because they are old doesn’t mean they are historic,” countered Toya Ohlrich Boyer, who supports the development.
Developers said “there is no denying the importance of helping our city’s leading industry, tourism and hospitality, which accounted for 25 percent of jobs in New Braunfels, by bringing solutions and economic vitality to the historic downtown business district.
“We plan to continue our good-faith commitment to an economic process that will effectively preserve historic materials and revitalize downtown,” their statement said.
Council members, minus absent members Wayne Peters and Leah Garcia, had their questions during 20 minutes of discussions. All five, including Mayor Barron Casteel, voted to overturn denial of the certificate.
“There might be a free-market solution to this — where you could find someone to put in the time and money needed to get these buildings up to code,” said Matthew Hoyt, District 4 council member. “But I don’t feel comfortable mandating (developers) to put all of this money into these buildings to get them up to working standards.
“That would be holding them to a higher threshold than what we require other people to do.”