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History of structures can be preserved even if buildings come down


Historic Preservation Committee Commissioner Judy Berryman said she would like to see the property at University Avenue and S. Chaparral Street, which is at least 75 years old, preserved for history. She describes the property as vernacular architecture, which is based on local needs and availability of construction materials, probably built by several families.

She explains the buildings are on private property and not in a designated historic district and so there is no mechanism to prevent the owner from taking down the structures in order to build new ones.

The property at the corner of University Avenue and S. Chaparral Street, at least 75 years old, is slated for demolition as concerned citizens ask about preserving the buildings.
The property at the corner of University Avenue and S. Chaparral Street, at least 75 years old, is slated for demolition as concerned citizens ask …

“Private property always has the upper hand,” she said. “You can’t force an individual who owns private property to go against their wishes. We would like to be given the opportunity to adequately document those buildings.”

The city has a number of ordinances providing guidelines in the case of cultural resources including historic buildings, she said.  Specifically, Chapter 40 outlines the city’s commitment to preserve historic resources in Las Cruces. That effort is in an early phase of developing a program to preserve and protect the historic assets. The commitment to reviewing properties in historic districts is a significant step, as many communities don’t even have that much protection.

The ordinance is in the process of being reviewed and updated, Berryman said. One of the goals of updating chapter 40 will be to apply it to any buildings in the city more than 50 years old.

The property could be significant, but under the current Chapter 40 the city can only look at historic buildings in a historic district. This property is not in a district designated as historic.

“The city is growing, and many ordinances are growing and changing,” she said. "Historic preservation is a difficult topic to understand. It doesn’t mean everything needs to be preserved.”

Berryman said there are both state and national standards about what makes a building significant. In many cases it’s not possible to save or preserve properties, so the goal is to collect the data to record the history. But it is still essential to preserve significant buildings and neighborhoods.

“If we tear down all historic buildings, what is left of our history?” she said. “There are standards one can look at. There are processes to go through. You do need to have standing examples of important places and events.”

The property on University Avenue is owned by a bank and it has the right to develop the property, she said, while noting there are specialists at New Mexico State University willing to record those buildings at no cost.

“That would be an ideal situation,” she said.  “If we can get a property owner to agree, that would be great.”

She also suggested the owner could take an extra step and develop some photo exhibit on the property so people to see what’s inside. This could be a positive step for the owner because it would show they care about and are working to show the history of the area.

History of structures, historic, Chapter 40