An owner’s American dream has turned into a historical puzzle


SAN ANTONIO – It’s a buyer’s worst nightmare – you buy a property, plan what you want to do with it, then the city comes along and stops you in its tracks.

This is what happens to a man who bought an abandoned house and is now surprised to learn that it could be designated a historic monument.

Henry Rocha, Engineer at KSAT, says: “My American dream is to expand my property a bit, and it was perfect because it was right next to us. But I think the historical committee is blocking me.

Rocha and her family have lived in the same bright yellow house on the south side for 12 years. For seven or eight of those years the little house next door was vacant.

“My family and I wanted to expand. We don’t have a large lot. So we started the process of buying this house, ”said Rocha.

Buying the property was not easy. The previous owner died in the 1970s and the heir did not have the deed of ownership. After three years as a litigation lawyer and $ 39,000 in property fees and back taxes, 117 Burbank was finally Rocha in July.

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He showed the house to KSAT.

“It’s cooking, I think. I don’t see a kitchen sink, but I guess it’s a kitchen, ”Rocha said of the old house.

It’s not Shangri-La. Rocha says there are cracks in the foundation and the ceiling is collapsing in places. The house is a mess, he said.

“It is not a habitable house for anyone,” he said. “This, I believe this house should be condemned and demolished. “

Rocha found a contractor to demolish the house in order to build a carport, a garden and a swing for his family. He then filed the demolition permit with the city, and that’s where the puzzle began.

All demolition permits must be submitted to the Office of Historic Preservation before granting them. This is what prompted the History and Design Review Board to look into the Rocha property.

“I received an email from the city, someone who worked for the city. They wanted to do a site survey with the Historical Commission, ”said Rocha.

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Three commissioners came, inspected the property and gave Rocha the news he dreaded.

“They were looking at the wood siding and they all agreed that this house is historic,” he said.

Rocha appeared before the History and Design Review Board for a formal hearing on November 17.

Based on three of the 16 criteria, the commission declared this house to be considered historic. It is a vernacular shotgun house, widespread in the early 20th century. It’s influenced by the craftsman and it’s one of three shotgun houses in a row.

Commissioners voted in favor of the historic designation, all but two, including Al Arreola Jr.

“I think if an owner wants to see their site or property considered historic then they should be the one making the request and not someone else on behalf of that property,” said Arreola, District 4 HDRC .

Arreola argued that because Rocha is the legal owner, he shouldn’t be forced to restore the house to its 1924 glory.

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“My position is pretty strong on this – is that if we really want to do something historic that goes beyond the historic district, then we should help compensate the owner for that investment,” Arreola said.

This is not the position of Shannon Miller, the director of the Office of Historic Preservation.

“As a community, we’re looking at the challenges of affordable housing and the climate and, you know, a lot of other issues,” Miller said. “And so, reinvesting in our existing housing stock is so important to both meeting the need for affordable housing. “

In the past year or so, Miller says his office has identified more than 700 shotgun homes. Not all of them will be designated historic, including the two right next to Rocha’s.

Ideally, the HDRC hopes that Rocha’s property would be renovated and turned into affordable housing that it would then manage.

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Rocha obtained an estimate of the cost of repairing the property. It was close to $ 51,000. He doesn’t have that money or the desire to do it.

“I feel like the little fish in the big ocean, and the city is the sharks because I can’t do what I want to do,” said Rocha.

It is still at the beginning of this process of possible historical designation. Now that the HDRC has recommended it, the case will go to city council for a vote.

They will vote to either agree or disagree with the HDRC’s recommendation on historic status. At the last check, no date was set.

The Office of Historic Preservation says you can check with them if you are considering buying a property and if you want to see if there is any historical significance.

Copyright 2021 by KSAT – All rights reserved.

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