Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Protect structures that show our heritage
By the Advocate Editorial Board
Oct. 19, 2013 at 10:19 a.m.
Victoria is a city full of history. Our downtown area is being revitalized and restored to showcase our hometown's unique flavor, and our historic districts showcase several homes that have been carefully restored and preserved over the years.
But not all of our historic structures are being protected and maintained. Over the past few months, the Zahn House, a building that predates the Civil War, has faced questions about its future. In the end, the home has received a reprieve from the Victoria City Council. It will be moved to a temporary location at North Levi and Pecan streets for a maximum of three years, and Victoria Preservation Inc. will receive a $12,000 matching grant to find a permanent solution to restore and protect this 152-year-old house.
This is a positive development for this piece of Victoria's history, and we are glad that steps are being taken to restore it and keep it for future generations to see. But this incident, as well as the demolition of the 105-year-old McCabe Building, raises an important concern with us. For too long, Victoria has allowed its historic buildings to slowly fall apart and disappear. Some have been saved, but every structure that is lost can never be replaced.
We are glad to know that the city of Victoria has created a Preservation Incentive Program to help encourage owners of historic properties to improve and maintain historic structures through a matching grant funded by Hotel Occupancy Tax funds. The city has a link to the program's application on the development services portion of its website. The applications go through a committee, which then makes a recommendation to the City Council. We agree with Jeff Wright, executive director of Victoria Preservation Inc., who said this is a step in the right direction. This is a good beginning, but we hope more is coming.
Victoria has taken some steps through the Main Street Program and other efforts to restore some of the historic structures in town, but more is needed. Wright said discussions and options are in the works but are not available for discussion at this time. Thirty years ago, a company came to Victoria and compiled a list of the town's historic resources. It's time to update this list and take stock of Victoria's historic structures, their condition and what can be done to preserve them.
One option that Wright said has been brought up before is the possibility of tax incentives to help those who want to restore a historic structure. It's an issue he says should be brought up again, but there are a lot of moving pieces to the proposal.
"If somebody redoes a historic home, their neighbors' property values will go up, but that person could also get hit with a 20 to 50 percent property tax increase," Wright said, emphasizing a tax deal that creates a gradual increase instead of the sudden jump would be one option to consider.
We are glad to see Victoria is putting together programs aimed at historic preservation. The first step should be to create an updated list of Victoria's historic resources and identify the properties that need restoration. We need to know where our historic structures are and their condition, so we can take steps now to save our history. Otherwise, we will be hearing of more and more buildings planned for demolition, and not all of them will be as lucky as the Zahn House.
This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.