Preservation, property rights at odds again

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Dec. 30, 2017 at 9:30 p.m.
Updated Dec. 31, 2017 at 6 a.m.

A work crew from Quality Tree Service works to remove two oak trees on Santa Rosa Street on Christmas Eve.

A work crew from Quality Tree Service works to remove two oak trees on Santa Rosa Street on Christmas Eve.   NICOLAS GALINDO/NGALINDO@VICAD.COM for The Victoria Advocate

Victorians preserve their history piecemeal.

After the City Council decided in the early 2000s to define certain parts of the city as historic, they've come back at least three times to clarify what cannot be done there.

In 2007, they prohibited manufactured homes.

In 2010, they instituted a 60-day moratorium on the demolition of structures built before 1950.

In 2012, they banned billboards, and a few years later, they clarified electronic billboards weren't allowed either.

Tuesday, residents intend to ask the council to do something to save the trees - at least the trees on Santa Rosa Street.

Bud and Linda Hankins decided to have their trees axed Christmas Eve.

This drew two law enforcement agencies and the mayor to their property at the intersection of South DeLeon and Santa Rosa streets.

"They were part of a panoramic view," Gary Hall said about the trees. "It's kind of like looking at a beautiful painting and saying, 'You know, I'll just snip off 2 inches, and it's going to look just as good."

In the 1930s, a former mayor planted two live oak trees there as part of a larger effort to make a good first impression. Visitors were taken by mule-drawn carriage down Santa Rosa Street from the train depot to their hotel.

"And sometimes it was their only impression of Victoria," said Hall, who is the chairman of the Victoria County Historical Commission.

Several "Keep it green" signs have sprung up in the trees' place.

Sandra McKenzie's daughter designed them, and McKenzie passed them out. They are also available at the UPS store, former Victoria County Judge Helen Walker said.

The Victoria Advocate contacted all City Council members for this story.

Most could not be reached.

Those who could, Josephine Soliz and Jeff Bauknight, said they had recently returned from vacation and hadn't formed an opinion about it.

The Hankinses couldn't be reached, either.

Their property at 107 S. DeLeon St.'s latest dip in value happened after they moved a pre-Civil War home from the lot in 2014.

In 2017, the Victoria Central Appraisal District valued the property at $7,440.

An appraisal district employee said removing trees would not affect the property's value.

And the Hankinses haven't applied for a building permit there, city spokesman O.C. Garza said.

To make sure this part of Victoria's history doesn't repeat itself, Hall and Bernard Klimist suggested a permitting process.

Walker preferred an outright ban of cutting down trees on Santa Rosa Street.

More than 50 cities in Texas have tree-protecting ordinances, according to the Texas Tribune.

West University Place in the Houston Metropolitan area is among them. Removing a tree between a 19- and 36-inch circumference there requires a permit. Sometimes, a tree must be replaced with one of a similar size.

Gov. Greg Abbott thinks such ordinances infringe on property owners' rights.

Klimist, who has run a law firm from a historic building he renovated on Santa Rosa Street since 1991, said the property owner's rights must be tempered by where the property is.

"When you buy in Old Victoria, you need to have the same love as everyone else and respect the historic qualities of it. It's as simple as that," he said.



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