The three Waxahachie City Council members present Monday night approved a historic overlay district after much back-and-forth discussion with residents.
To create an overlay district, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission or residents had to submit a formal request. Thirty percent of residents then had to be in favor of its creation.
Becky Kaufman, Heritage Preservation Commission chair, told the council the percentage of residents in favor grew from 65 to 73.9 percent since the last report.
“The overall overlay will provide protection for the residents. We are pleased for the past 13 years with our downtown overlay,” Kaufman said. “Overlays encourage restoration, tourism, and compatible infill development. This area is truly unique, and I encourage you to pass this ordinance.”
Resident Kevin Myers stated the district is critical in preserving the city’s past for future generations.
“I was a banker in Dallas, and I saw the homes that were destroyed in Highland Park. They would bulldoze them and build a McMansion,” Myers said. “There is nothing in the ordinance saying they are forcing a person to make a change. It is simply a guide of rules. You can’t find too many places that you can walk down the street, and it feels like the 1920’s.”
The rules of the overlay district only govern the look of the front façade of the home. It has no authority of the interior, landscaping, and the back of the property. Residents who wish to make changes have to obtain approval from the HPC before work begins on the building. Property owners in the district are not required to do anything except for if work on the front façade is done.
Council member Melissa Olson expressed her concern that if the district was created that it might pose an undue hardship on residents who might not be able to keep up their homes in the event if they get sick. She also suggested an opt-out clause for residents who didn’t want to participate.
Heritage Preservation officer Anita Brown stated that, under current rules, participation in exemption and incentive programs is voluntary. With the adoption of the overlay district, changes made to the front façade of any property in the area must be reviewed by the Heritage Preservation Commission.
Resident Amy Hedtke told the council she felt that this district is a wrong step because it infringes on a person’s rights.
Mayor Kevin Strength questioned Hedtke's interest in the creation of the district, stating, “You don’t live over there, and it's obvious you are an anarchist.”
Hedtke told Strength she was here for “private property rights.”
A few audience members rebuked Hedtke stating, “this is something we want.”
Resident Jane Wedding told the council the district was about preserving history.
“Once these home are renovated that history is gone,” Wedding said. “This is usually the most expensive asset that we have, and we don’t want it to go down.”
After listing to residents, Olson stated she ran for office to do what is best for residents and for the city and didn’t need any additional persuasion on this item.
The historic overlay district passed in a 3-0 vote. Council member Chuck Beatty is a resident of Oldham Street. Absent from Monday's meeting were Mayor Pro Tem David Hill and Council Member Mary Lou Shipley.
Before the meeting adjourned, Strength told the audience he and his fellow members are trying to do what is best for the city.
“We are not trying to do anything to destroy our town,” Strength said. “We are trying to create something that your children can be proud of and take ownership.”
Hedtke stated the attitude shown by Strength and audience members by interrupting a speaker during public hearing shows they don’t respect property rights or individuals.
This article has been updated to clarify comments by Anita Brown on exemption and incentive programs.