City Considering 'Viewshed' Restrictions to Protect Historic Structures

Preservation of historic structures, like the Alamo and the Spanish Colonial Missions, doesn't just involved preserving the buildings themselves, but the city also has to make sure that when people look at Mission San Jose, they don't see a thirty story skyscraper looming behind it, and destoying the historic feel of the structure, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

That's why the city is looking at what are called 'Viewshed' laws, to protect the area around the Missions and other historic structures, to make sure the view isn't cluttered with modern electric signs, buildings, theme park rides, and other items which would destroy the view.

"That basically allows for you to stand in front of the famous parapet of the Alamo, and see blue sky behind it," City Historic Preservation Director Shannon Miller told City Council.

She says currently, only the Alamo is protected by Viewshed laws, and it is important that the City expand those protections to other structures, especially the Missions, which are the only World Heritage Site in Texas.

"What are the views that make San Antonio special?" she asked.  "What are the views that normally show up in marketing materials for the city?  We want to make sure that those views are protected."

Viewshed protections would involve what is called a zoning 'overlay,' which is when new restrictions are added to what can and cannot be developed on a particular piece of property.

But while nobody wants to see the Golden Arches looming behind Mission Espada, Viewshed requirements come with some legal challenges.

Not only do they add new restrictions to what can be done with private property, which is always a challenge, 'overlay' zoning imposes restrictions on property which has already been purchased, perhaps with a goal of development.

Also, Miller said the City has to come up with Viewshed laws that protect historic structures which don't have a 'front door,' like the Hays Street Bridge.

That may involve more than the normal 'view cone' from the front of a building, to 360 degree restrictions around the entire structure.

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