The Brenham City Council has formally adopted a Historic Preservation Ordinance for the city’s downtown area and local landmarks.
At a standing-room-only meeting today (Thursday), the council voted 4-0 to enact the ordinance, which will institute a city approval process for certain alterations to downtown building exteriors. Mayor Milton Tate abstained from the vote, along with Councilmembers Clint Kolby and Shannan Canales, due to either ownership interest or being employed by a business in downtown.
Around 30 people spoke during a public hearing for the item. Most of the people were in favor of the ordinance, like Jane Barnhill, an investor in downtown and former member of the Texas Historical Commission, who said downtown Brenham should be protected and treasured.
Others, like Ant Street Inn co-owner Keith Hankins, questioned the need for an ordinance, saying downtown was able to become what it is today without one.
Downtown property owner Tom Bartley was also in opposition, saying while the ordinance is well-intentioned, he believes this debate of protecting downtown is ultimately one that is philosophical in nature.
Local resident Mary Thornhill, who started the process of establishing a historic preservation ordinance in Brenham after researching other cities with preservation methods, said there would be one person in particular that would ask the council to pass this measure: the late owner of Hermann Furniture, John Hermann.
A Historic Preservation Office consisting of Main Street staff will be responsible for issuing Certificates of Appropriateness (COA) for alterations not considered to be ordinary repairs and enforcing the guidelines of the ordinance. Currently, the office would consist of Tourism and Marketing Director Jennifer Eckermann and Main Street Coordinator Kathrine Briscoe, who will train through the Texas Historical Commission and National Association of Preservation Commissioners to serve as Historic Preservation Officers.
The passing of the ordinance leads to the creation of a Downtown Overlay District, covering 49.4 acres. Additional historic districts and local landmarks may be designated upon request by property owners and upon review by a Historic Preservation Board. The board will be made up of seven people appointed by the Brenham City Council; at least four members must be property owners within the historic district or an owner of a historic landmark. Board members may serve two terms before needing to take off a year.
COAs will not be needed for ordinary repairs such as replacing mechanical equipment, repainting a surface using the same color and repairing architectural features using the same materials. They will be needed for insignificant alterations like changes to paint colors, replacing non-historic features with ones keeping with the era of the building, and modifications to an existing COA. The Historic Preservation Board will consider significant alterations, which include work that requires a building permit, new construction added to existing building features, changes that alter the design or character of a building, and moving or demolishing a building or landmark visible from the public right-of-way. The ordinance is only intended to maintain building exteriors, not interiors.
According to Eckermann, the city has issued an estimated 56 building permits for downtown since 2017. Thirty were for interior remodels, nine were for insignificant alterations, five were for signage, and six were for ordinary repairs and maintenance. Only six of the 55 permits would be considered significant alterations with this ordinance, thus only those six would need to go before the board for approval. However, property owners can choose to take their request to the board for non-significant alterations, if they wish. COA applications and building permits can be considered concurrently.
Also at today's meeting, the council approved:
- An advanced funding agreement between the city and TxDOT related to intersection improvements at Old Chappell Hill Road and FM 577. Planned improvements for the intersection include dedicated turn lanes, additional pavement to allow better turning movements for large trucks, four new signal poles, improved drainage around the intersection and designated crosswalks. The total cost of the project is expected to be $761,582, with the city being responsible for engineering and utility relocation costs at $225,000, and TxDOT handling all construction costs. The project is expected to start in late 2021 or early 2022.
- An agreement between the city and Ranier and Son Development Company (Stylecraft) related to the city’s participation in construction costs for oversizing a water main along Dixie Road. Stylecraft is seeking to upsize a water line from 6 inches to 12 inches, which the city says will benefit its water system and give a looped feed to the west side of Highway 36 North. The new line will tie into the existing 12 inch line on Dixie Road that was installed by Stylecraft last year and was also a partnership in which the city paid for the upsizing. The city’s share of construction costs will not exceed $35,000.
- An amendment to the lease agreement between the city and the Brenham Heritage Museum. The agreement established benchmarks for the museum to meet relating to the start of construction and opening to the public. The amendment pushes all benchmark dates back one year because of COVID-19.
- An addendum to the memorandum of understanding between the city and Brenham Main Street Historical Preservation, Inc. The addendum allows for a feasibility study/business plan to be developed about the operations of The Barnhill Center by the city.
- An ordinance on its second reading amending city signage code regarding major multi-tenant shopping center sign regulations.