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Smithville to name members to new historic preservation, design board

The Smithville Historic Preservation and Design Standards Advisory Committee is ready for service after the City Council voted June 12 to approve its adoption with a total of nine members to guide development in Smithville.

For now, the committee remains empty after the council unanimously tabled appointments to it until the criteria for choosing appointments was clear. With Mayor Scott Saunders absent from the meeting, the criteria for choosing appointees was not clear — and several council members said they needed the information before voting.

The council is expected to take up the group’s membership at its meeting next month.

Formed in 2012 through a council resolution, the committee had four charges: examine existing ordinances; create a document of examples showing what kinds of design features should be “protected, encouraged, and discouraged”; provide guidance to the Planning & Zoning Commission on projects; and develop a low cost “City Historical Marker” program.

The task of creating a design plan was too great for the volunteers, Smithville City Manager Robert Tamble said.

“It’s not a slam to the original committee by any means. We needed professional help from experts in the field,” he said.

In 2015, Architexas was hired to research the town and architecture. After nine months, the consultant presented a 79-page report at a joint City Council and P&Z workshop last summer.

Some of the designs standards for building fronts in the historic district, however, were presented as suggestions rather than requirements, and P&Z Commissioner Caroline McClimon objected.

“I think this is pointless if it’s just guidelines,” she said. “We have to enforce it.”

The workshop also revealed a new two-step process in building codes with a Certificate of Approval also required in the downtown area if a building permit was needed.

“If it doesn’t need a building permit, then it doesn’t trigger this process,” Stan Graves of Architexas said.

Discussions at the workshop led officials to call for a review of city codes and for updating. All would also have to be synchronized for clarity and more heavily enforced, officials said at the time.

The council members and commissioners were unable to form a comprehensive plan for design, application and enforcement last summer. They had planned to hold another meeting, but one hasn’t been held yet.

The new committee will be tasked with creating a comprehensive design plan based on Architexas’ report and public input and report directly to the City Council for approval. Residents will have a chance to weigh in at several public hearings in the future before the formal adoption of the design standards.

The committee will also be the first to look over the renovation or building application if it’s applicable to the historic district, hear from the residents and make a recommendation to the City Council. If the council approves the application, the project will receive a Certificate of Appropriateness.

“This is another set of eyes to ensure that we protect our downtown look, charm and feel,” Tamble said. “It’s not a way to circumvent any other committee.”

The City Council will continue to handle building codes and the building permit process, while P&Z will hear variance and zoning change requests, meaning that someone building or renovating a structure in the historic district could potentially need to apply to three different entities for construction.

“There are some buildings that are historic and some that, while aren’t, contribute to the historic district,” Tamble said. “First National Bank building – that’s a great example of what we want