Three Open Seats Emerge on HDRC as Chair Resigns

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HDRC Chairman Michael Guarino listens as HDRC Commissioner Daniel Lazarine asks questions regarding the final design for the Frost Bank Tower.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Michael Guarino

Michael Guarino, a renowned local architect who served as chair of the Historic and Design Review Commission, resigned from that position Tuesday.

The District 2 and District 4 commissioners have also recently resigned, leaving three seats open on the commission that makes exterior design recommendations for structures in historic districts, downtown areas, publicly owned buildings, and those near the San Antonio River.

“After nine years and seven months on the commission it’s about time for someone else to do the job,” Guarino said via email. He declined to elaborate.

Guarino was appointed to HDRC in 2010 by then-Mayor Julián Castro. Officially, he had not been reappointed, but so-called “holdover” members of the commission may serve as interim commissioners until they step down or are replaced by their respective City Council member.

“It is my understanding that a letter of resignation is not required for an interim position, so this is notification that I am terminating my interim service as of today,” Guarino wrote in a communication to Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s office on Tuesday.

He spent nine years with Ford, Powell & Carson before he retired as partner and he has served as interim executive director of King William Association.

Guarino is widely respected in the development and neighborhood advocacy communities, but the commission often encounters controversial projects and protests, as it is one of the more high-profile boards that makes recommendations to City Council and staff. A project does not technically need approval from HDRC to proceed, as recently illustrated with City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s decision to approve the design of an apartment complex near the historic Hays Street Bridge, but it’s largely seen as essential to build, modify, or move buildings/structures under its purview.

More recent controversial decisions include the approval of the Alamo Master Plan and recommending historic designation for a dilapidated building at Beacon Hill Elementary School. This week, however, City Council will consider a compromise deal that allows the building to be demolished in exchange for a new cultural/architectural heritage curriculum. HDRC was not formally notified of that compromise, according to the Office of Historic Preservation.

Jim Bailey, principal at Alamo Architects, frequently finds his projects – high-profile and small-scale – up for review by the commission.

Guarino’s presence will be missed on HDRC, Bailey said, because he was sensitive to historic preservation, property rights, and the concerns neighbors often have regarding development.

“Not only is he a skilled architect … he has been sort of this ultimate middle ground between neighbors and [developers],” Bailey said. “He encouraged everyone to sit back and talk through [projects].”

Some developers often say the HDRC should be abolished, he said, while neighborhoods often feel the commission is too development-friendly.

“The reality is, it’s a group of trained professionals that are dedicated community servants,” Bailey said, adding that HDRC isn’t perfect, but the mechanism it provides is necessary. “It’s a thankless job.”

Sandi Wolff, who had represented District 2 on HDRC since she was appointed in September, said her departure from the commission was unrelated to Guarino’s.

“I took on a new job and I just don’t have time [to serve on HDRC] with my employment commitment,” Wolff said. “I wish I could have continued to serve.”

She will attend as many meetings as possible until an interim member is selected, she said.

Michael Connor resigned from the District 4 seat in September after he was informed by Councilman Rey Saldaña’s office that they were looking for a replacement, according to his resignation letter.

The 11 commissioners serve two year terms at a time indefinitely at the will of their respective City Council member or mayor who appoint them. The commissioners don’t have to live in the district they represent, but they must live in San Antonio. Typically, however, district representatives live in the area. 

The HDRC members have experience in architecture, historic preservation, landscape architecture, planning, public art, and development – but it’s not required. The amount of time needed to review cases and attending meetings (which can last more than five hours) is not insignificant and a learning curve for some to understand architectural drawings can be steep.

Each term of the current commissioners expires at the end of May this year, after the municipal elections. It’s not atypical for a Council member to retain the sitting commissioner or appoint a new one.

Residents who are interested should contact their Council member‘s or the mayor‘s offices. For more information about HDRC, click here.

10 thoughts on “Three Open Seats Emerge on HDRC as Chair Resigns

  1. Thank you Michael for your dedication and service to the City and our King William neighborhood. I enjoyed serving on HDRC with you .

  2. It is a thankless job and on many occasions they cater to the larger developments and squash the small businesses that are trying to develop inner city properties because OHP gives them flawed information as to historic designation. HDRC exists mostly for King William and deters development of inner city neighborhoods like the westside!

  3. Michael thank you for your extraordinary service and dedication to making our city better. Everyone will miss your leadership. Now go enjoy your next pursuit

  4. San Antonio is a wonderful historic city because it has the HDRC. A group of tireless professionals who do their best to keep what makes San Antonio a city that keeps Texas proud. If it is not for them, SA would start to look like Austin and Houston. Thank all of you for your service!!!

  5. HDRC, like the Planning Commission, does not make decisions. They make recommendations to the Council, which makes the decisions. I was quite frankly surprised the City Manager, and not the council, made the decision to approve the design of the apt complex near the historic Hayes St Bridge. HDRC members often go out to the various projects and study them on site. They have input from those citizens who come to their meetings to be heard. Their whole purpose is to advise the council. I would hope the council would carefully consider their recommendations.

      • I think it’s you, “Dr. Brown,” that has no idea. Ms. Rogers is spot on in her assessment, as evidenced by the recent decision by the city council to vote for allowing the demolition of the Beacon Hill Elementary Building, without even notifying the HDRC.

        But not to worry. I’m sure Mayor Nirenberg will just appoint Hope Andrade or Lionel Sosa to sit on this board, as he does all the others. What could go wrong, right?

  6. I really enjoyed my interactions with Michael, and am sad to see him go. I always saw him as the voice I’d reason between two polar opposites, even in my own case. I have great respect for the way he did his job in this board.

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