BELEN — Criteria for a historic district established nearly 40 years ago in the Hub City was presented to and approved by the Belen City Council last month.
Kathy Pickering, the director of the Belen Public Library and a member of the Belen Historic Properties Review Board, presented the criteria of the First Historic District to the governing body.
The district includes the Belen Harvey House Museum and portions of properties from First Street between West Castillo and Dalies avenues, along Becker Avenue to Third Street.
The First Historic District was established in 1983, but for an unknown reason, there were no rules established at that time. Pickering said the BHPRB first presented the criteria to the city’s planning and zoning commission before going before the council.
“Within the ordinance, the board was designated to coming up with review criteria,” Pickering said. “If someone wanted to put up a new building within the district or make a change to building … we have that criteria.”
There are exceptions to the rules for the one and only historic district in the city, Pickering explained, saying income or other scenarios could arise that would prevent someone from building or changing the appearance of a building.
“We recognize we’re not Santa Fe; we want to be reasonable,” Pickering said.
According to rules, “All alterations to existing structures and all new structures within the First Historic District shall conform to the aesthetic atmosphere and Southwestern vernacular architecture of Belen during its booming economic period of 1888 to 1945.”
Some of the criteria include:
- Proposals shall provide complete descriptions about the final visible exteriors of the structures involved, itemizing each part or element of the proposed project in detail.
Include information about square footages, heights, other dimensions, materials, colors, finishes, type of windows and their materials, etc.
The BHPRB review will result in a recommendation to the city council for its consideration.
- Facades: All building exterior walls shall reflect the style of Southwestern vernacular architecture common during the era of the First Historic District, including adobe, brick, stucco, and/or cast iron. Materials such as aluminum siding, metal panels or vinyl siding are not allowed, and must be amended with conforming facades. Appropriate earth colors shall be used to reflect the style of the era of the First Historic District.
- Windows and Doors: All windows and doors shall reflect the materials and style of the era of the First Historic District.
- Exterior Structures: Any porches, ramps, exterior stairways or other exterior structures shall be covered and match the materials and style of the exterior walls of the main structure. Fences, gates and railings shall reflect the materials and style of the era of the First Historic District.
- Roofing: Any visible roofing shall be made of clay tile, wood shake shingle, or tin in appropriate earth colors to reflect the style of the era of the First Historic District.
Some of the exceptions could be granted if:
- The proposed alterations or construction will not damage the appearance and character of the district;
- Exceptions are required to prevent a hardship to the applicant or an injury to the public welfare;
- The proposed alterations or construction will strengthen the unique heterogeneous appearance and character of Belen by providing a full range of design options to ensure that residents can continue to reside within the historic district;
- Exceptions are required due to special conditions and circumstances which are peculiar to the land or structure involved and which are not applicable to other lands or structures in the related streetscape;
- Exceptions are required due to special conditions and circumstances which are not a result of the actions of the applicant; and/or
- The proposed alterations or construction provide the least negative impact with respect to preserving the historic district’s appearance and character.
Prior to unanimously approving the criteria, the council had questions about it. Councilor Robert Noblin, who resides within the First Belen Historic District, asked what the process was if a property owner wanted to make a change.
“If it’s a visible change, then the process would be to apply to the board,” said Steven Tomita, the city’s planning and economic development manager. “Once the district is declared, the review comes through the (BHPRB). They then will make a recommendation to the council. Anything that happens in the district has to come to the council for consideration.”
Councilor Danny Bernal Jr. said he believes the criteria is “a good step toward more regulation in the district.
“Because if we intend to grow this area, we don’t want a McDonald’s to come in, or franchises like that or something that doesn’t fit the look.”
Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova had a few questions of his own, including whether the criteria would be in contradictions to existing ordinances, such as the planning and zoning code and parking. Tomita told the mayor these criteria only deals with facades to maintain the historic look.
“Would we have to create rules for the next district, such as an art deco district?” Cordova asked.
Tomita said each district would have its own set of rules.
Councilor Ronnie Torres, who resides close but not in the district, said his house has siding that looks like vinyl siding but it’s wood. He asked if that would be allowed.
Pickering said vinyl siding is not historic, and to meet the criteria, the siding would need to be wood, although it could be an exception if there is a financial hardship.
Review Criteria for Historic Districts
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.