The History and Design Review Commission (HDRC) on Wednesday approved a proposal that would establish a new advisory board to help the city ensure that historic guidelines are adhered to.

But the discussion on how to formulate this unique amendment to the Unified development code occupied several hours of the five-hour meeting and ended with a commissioner refusing to take a final vote.

Led by Commissioner Gabriel Velasquez, the discussion forced the commission to dig deeper into language dealing with racial equity and the composition of city councils.

At their July 20 meeting, the commissioners summarily signed 20 of the 21 amendments to the development code they were asked to consider before the Planning Commission takes them up on July 27 and City Council in October.

But when it comes to the proposed amendment that would establish a new technical and compliance advisory board, the panel hit a snag.

The idea first emerged in 2019, said Shanon Miller, director of the Office of Historic Preservation, as the city prepared to launch its CDU modification process, which takes place every five years. A series of public meetings collecting feedback on the proposed changes has been ongoing since December.

“One of the main objectives [of this amendment] …was to deal with workload issues,” Miller said. “HRDC meetings are very long, often four or five hours. The commissioners are all volunteers, and it’s a lot of work and a lot of inconvenience for community members who have to wait if their case is not on the agenda. It’s just not very effective for anyone.

In addition to taking on some of the technical work of the HDRC, the proposed members of the Technical Advisory and Compliance Council could serve as alternates to establish a quorum at HDRC hearings when a commissioner is absent.

Although one commissioner, James Cervantes, opposed the proposal, saying “we don’t want a bigger government”, another commissioner questioned the wording of the amendment outlining how new members of the board should be selected.

“The problem…has to do with the prevailing discussion nationally regarding equity,” said Velasquez, an architect. “I’m surprised that fairness doesn’t enter the language in any way, shape or form inside the UDC amendments.”

The proposed amendment stated that when choosing people to serve on the proposed new 11-member board, the mayor and council members should give preference to people with a background in preservation-related professions, such as architecture, archaeology, engineering and real estate. It also includes the possibility of appointing a “neighborhood representative acting as a citizen at large”.

Deputy Historic Preservation Officer Cory Edwards told the panel that the description of the amendment is intended to give council members “guidance and guidance” when making appointments.

“But that doesn’t bind them to any sort of experience requirement,” he said.

Velasquez has long argued that a “preference” for certain professions would limit Latino participation, and therefore racial equity and inclusion, on a council that ensures adherence to historical guidelines.

“Most of the historic stock falls into a time frame where minority people weren’t even allowed to live in those neighborhoods,” he said. “This attitude of believing that somehow who’s sitting in the chair doesn’t matter, because we’re all governed by guidelines, that just isn’t true… and we shouldn’t codify it to be true.”

Commissioner Scott Carpenter, vice-chairman of the panel, said it is the duty of elected officials to appoint commissioners who reflect the communities they represent and that the commission strives to preserve “what is unique about our communities , which includes culture”.

He reminded the panel that the purpose of the amendment was to help deal with a backlog of cases before the HDRC.

“I actually saw it as being more flexible and maybe opening up the possibility of fulfilling the commission more easily,” Carpenter said. “I think it would be appropriate to have people who are perhaps more technically minded on this newly formed commission that is going to deal with compliance cases and things like that.”

Carpenter and HDRC President Scott Fetzer both declined to comment the day after the meeting.

Commissioner Ann-Marie Grube told the hearing that she recalled being told more than a year ago about the installation of secondary counsel as a solution to the time-consuming nature of HDRC hearings. “I think that’s the future of what this commission should be,” she said.

Edwards also pointed to a paragraph in the amendment which states that “commission members shall represent the general ethnic and gender composition of the community.”

The city council passed a non-discrimination ordinance in 2013 and a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in San Antonio in 2020.

When OHP staff suggested adding, “As part of the city’s policy and commitment to advancing equity…,” Velasquez emphasized the paragraph, “racial equity,” then swerved. bristles at a commissioner’s suggestion to include “gender, religious and socio-economic” equity.

Following an executive meeting convened by a city ​​attorney and a series of motions to approve various language changes — and further discussions during which commissioners became visibly frustrated — the panel was asked about a motion to approve language using only “fairness “.

On roll call, Velasquez declined to vote for or against the amendment’s recommendation—or to abstain, saying, “I protest.” The motion passed with the remaining commissioners voting 6-1 in favor of the amendment.

Reached for comment on Friday, Velasquez said, “To be completely honest, I think I approached it a little more drastically to make sure ‘fairness’ goes into it, period.”

He wanted to “push” the issue, he said, and walk away from the meeting without endorsing the final recommendation the commission would present. It was also important to him that the discussion and his views be recorded in the minutes, he said.

“This is not a conversation about racism – this is a conversation about the homes of historically underserved communities that have been victimized by historical racism, which also happen to be the communities supported by OHP jurisdiction,” did he declare.

Velasquez is President and CEO of Avenida Guadalupe Associationa non-profit organization established in 1979 that works on neighborhood revitalization and economic development projects on the West Side near San Antonio.

An architect, he was appointed by District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran in August 2019 for a term ending May 2023. Velasquez was also appointed by District 3 to the city’s Cultural Arts Board in 2012 before being invited to resign following a controversy involving a mural. on the historic Mission Drive-In marquee.