• October 30, 2014

Belton considers safety of downtown living  

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Posted: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 4:30 am

BELTON — Belton officials are considering minimum safety standards before allowing property owners in the downtown historic district to convert second floors into residences.

The Belton City Council recently reviewed the findings of an Austin-based architectural firm contracted by the city for guidance on how to handle converted second-floor residences, which is a permitted, but unregulated, allowance under the city’s existing ordinances.

The report was “quite revealing,” Belton Mayor Jim Covington said.

In its review of one building, the firm Volz O’Connell Hutson Architects found inadequate infrastructure for a second-floor residence, such as the lack of a smoke detector or fire-rated corridor walls.

The report was commissioned to help city officials understand how to set a standard of safety in allowing second-floor living, which will become part of a recommendation going before the council within the next 90 days, Belton spokesman Paul Romer said.

In its recommendation, the city hopes to strike a balance between historic preservation, safety and autonomy for property owners, Romer said.

Covington, a licensed real estate agent, said he supports the idea of property owners and tenants living downtown, but only if the buildings can pass a certain standard of safety.

“I’m all in favor of having residences downtown,” Covington said. “I think it’s a neat thing. But I’d never be able to forgive myself if somebody died because we didn’t do our due diligence.”

Currently, downtown property owners are not required to pass a city inspection for second-floor residences under the city’s existing ordinance, Romer said. “That’s what makes it hard to gauge whether they’re safe or not. We pretty much have to be invited in.”

Covington said the city hopes to adopt “reasonable requirements” for second-floor residences that will not block downtown living.

“We’re not interested in stopping anybody,” he said. “We just want to make sure it’s safe.”

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