Months ago, several residents in the San Antonio neighborhood of Mahncke Park, north of downtown, initiated the petition process for the city to consider giving the area a historic district designation.
A historic district, according to the city of San Antonio’s Unified Development Code, is “an area, urban or rural, defined as an historic district by city council, state, or federal authority and which may contain within definable geographic boundaries one or more buildings, objects, sites or structures designated as exceptional or significant historic landmarks or clusters, as defined herein, including their accessory buildings, fences and other appurtenances, and natural resources having historical, architectural, archaeological, and cultural significance, and which may have within its boundaries other buildings, objects, sites, or structures, that, while not of such historical, architectural, archaeological or cultural significance as to be designated landmarks, nevertheless contribute to the overall visual setting of or characteristics of the landmark or landmarks located within the district.”
The city’s office of historic preservation (OHP) website outlines advantages to living in a historic district. Some highlighted advantages include tax exemption for substantial rehabilitation of a property, protection of historic buildings and potential historic landmarks from hasty demolition, and encouragement of a better design through a comprehensive review by the city’s historic design and review commission (HRDC)’s residential volunteers and city staff. The HRDC held a public hearing earlier this summer to begin hearing comments from residents on the proposed designation. It hasn’t been easy at all for the designation’s supporters. They’ve come under fire from neighbors who feel slighted by the city’s process for historic district designations, and are worried about city government interference when it comes to home improvements.
A group of Mahncke Park residents, concerned about the proposal designation, started a grass-roots campaign to stop it. “We won’t have the right to simply alter the front of our houses or remove trees from our property without first talking with the office of historic preservation (if the designation is approved),” said resident Dr. Gary Cox at a news conference with the group, Property Rights Coalition of Mahncke Park.
Supporters say a historic district would help the neighborhood to stave off pressures of encroaching residential and business development. District backers, such as resident Carlynn Ricks, add that Mahncke Park is a conservation district, but that designation doesn’t have the tools needed to address standards for significant structural projects, such as tear-downs or new construction. Many of the homes in Mahncke Park were built between the 1920s and the 1950s; architectural styles vary.
“If you just talk to a lot of folks who own and live in their home in Mahncke Park, they just want to live in a nice neighborhood without fear of a monstrosity next to them,” Ricks said in a San Antonio Express-News story. “They’re worried about their homes first, and then the neighborhood.”
Mid to lower Broadway has seen much transformation in recent years with the addition of The Broadway high-rise luxury apartment complex, as well as other high-end, mixed-use developments targeted at young professionals who want to live and work close to downtown. A new children’s museum is under construction just outside Mahncke Park, and cultural and recreational institutions close to nearby Brackenridge Park are gaining more recognition thanks to the Riverwalk’s Museum Reach. Further down Broadway, redevelopment of the former Pearl Brewery continues. Further up Broadway, the months-long Broadway/Hildebrand improvement project has just ended, and Alamo Heights is trying to lure more business to the cooridor. Many Mahncke Park residents, in the last couple of years, banded together to oppose a plan from nearby University of the Incarnate Word, which wanted to build a small parking lot on the edge of the neighborhood.
The historic district designation process is on hold for Mahncke Park, as advocates seek to grow their ranks and return to a required percentage of property owners showing support for the tag. In the meantime, residents on both sides of the issue will continue to debate amongst themselves the merits of living in a historic district and the future of their compact neighborhood.