Santiago Escobedo should have been pleased when the Historic Design and Review Commission recently informed him that his home was in the much-coveted King William Historic District. One problem: He knew it wasn't true.
Escobedo, a resident of the South Saint Mary's and South Alamo Historic District, went before the HDRC seeking approval for nine double-plated, energy-efficient windows he wanted to install in his home. He explained that the windows would not be visible from the street, and are consistent with the design of homes in his neighborhood.
Escobedo assumed that HDRC approval for this design change would be a slam dunk, but at a commission hearing, he says, Ann McGlone, San Antonio's Historic Preservation Officer, announced that vinyl windows were not allowed within the King William district. Escobedo says that for even making such a suggestion, "All the people at the table looked at me like I'd defecated on their table or something." He subsequently argued that his home did not rest within the boundaries of King William, but to no avail.
Escobedo's frustration is symptomatic of a persistent confusion about the boundary lines for the King William Historic District. On its website, the King William Association boasts of being "the only neighborhood association in the entire state with three historic districts within its boundaries," but where one district ends and another begins depends on who you talk to.
The National Register maintains one set of boundaries, while the HDRC - the local government entity with oversight power on these issues - draws the lines differently, and the King William Association tends to include a wide swath of homes south of downtown, including those in the South Saint Mary's and South Alamo Historic District. Further muddling the picture, the City now refers to the South Saint Mary's and South Alamo District as part of what they call the "King William Neighborhood." Are you lost yet? If so, you're not alone.
"People can be talking about King William and be referring to two or three separate entities, and they can all be correct," says Gregory Smith, National Register Coordinator for the Texas Historical Commission. "It just depends on whether they're looking at neighborhoods, local districts, or the national registry."
Smith offers the hypothetical example of an apartment complex located on the corner of a historical neighborhood. He says the National Register probably would cut it out of the historic district for aesthetic reasons, but local officials might choose to keep it within the district.
For Escobedo, the geographic uncertainty is a problem because, he argues, that his design-change proposal was thwarted by excessively strict standards from the HDRC, due to their protectiveness of property they consider to be located within King William. McGlone, however, insists that the commission maintains a consistent policy for all historic districts.
"We have 24 historic districts, and the only two that have individual design guidelines are Lavaca and Government Hill," McGlone says. "Everybody else uses the same thing." Escobedo says the differing boundary lines are exploited by realtors who assure prospective buyers that the house they're considering is located in King William. Rose Kanusky, a local attorney and volunteer with the King William Association, says the misinformation can cut the opposite way as well, with buyers afraid of King William's strict historical guidelines being assured that they won't have to comply with city regulations.
Kanusky says when she purchased her home, she was accurately told that it was not part of the City's King William Historic District, but did fall within its nationally recognized boundaries. "When I've gone to the HDRC, they've consistently referred to my house as being in King William, and it's not," Kanusky says. "The City just does it as a convenient way to describe an area that has three overlapping districts. In my mind, it really doesn't matter, because what the City sees as one neighborhood is pretty much one neighborhood: On one side's a highway, on another side's a highway, downtown is to the north of us and a high school is to the south of us."
Kanusky adds, however, that she, like Escobedo, has heard stories about real estate agents misleading buyers, and says, "I know it's a huge source of confusion, and I totally believe that people are being hurt by it."
Brokers and historic-review commissioners stress that it's an individual home's historical importance, and not its district's boundary lines, that carry the most weight. A historically exceptional house across the street from King William might as well be in King William, as far as property values and design regulations are concerned.
But Escobedo is not satisfied with that rationale. He points out that his neighborhood and King William are not even in the same City-Council districts, with South Saint Mary's and South Alamo falling within District 5, and King William located in District 1.
"So the King William Association ends up making decisions for us in District 5," he says. McGlone concedes that the San Antonio Conservation Society is inside the National Register boundaries for King William, but is not included in the local historic district. "Why? I have no idea," McGlone says with a laugh. "But if you're historically exceptional or historically significant, we treat them all the same."