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Marfa Zoning Board Wants New Building Height Limits

The view of Highland Street in Marfa from the dome of the Presidio County Courthouse. (Travis Bubenik/KRTS)

Marfa's new luxury hotel - the Hotel Saint George - is hard to miss.

The four-story, minimalist white building is easily spotted from pretty much any part of town. It dwarfs the existing structures around it and has quickly become a new hub of activity on Marfa's main drag.

This week, talks surfaced at a city council meeting about setting up new building height restrictions on that same street, something Marfa Mayor Dan Dunlap said was "probably a push-back reaction" to the new hotel.

But Cory Van Dyke, a member of the local zoning board who talked about the idea on Tuesday, said that’s not the case, and that the board's been considering whether the city needs new building height limits for years.

"It has nothing to do with the Saint George," he said. "It's not about old-vs-new Marfa, the hotel, or any of that stuff."

Still, Van Dyke said the presence of the new hotel has reminded the board that Marfa's existence as a tourist hot-spot and its far-reaching intrigue means there's always the possibility for more downtown development.

"Because of the changes that are happening in Marfa right now, we've been worried - and a lot of our citizens have told us they're worried about Marfa's reputation on the international scene," Van Dyke said.

Part of the fear, he said, is that developers looking for a place to put their money could drop it in Marfa in the form of high-rise buildings.

There's no set proposal on the table yet, but the board feels the city should set up some kind of expanded building height restrictions around the Presidio County Courthouse - specifically, just north of the railroad tracks on Highland Street. (That kind of restriction would not affect the Saint George.)

There are height limits already in place. Currently, downtown buildings can’t be more than 90 feet, or about nine stories tall, but the board feels something extra is needed to preserve views of the courthouse and the surrounding area’s historic value.

Dunlap said the board's idea for further restrictions wasn’t well received by the city council at Tuesday’s meeting.

"A good point that was made was that if Marfa's gonna grow, it's gotta have the option to grow vertically, since we're kind of landlocked," he said.

"You know, if I was a property owner on Highland between the railroad tracks and the courthouse, I'd be a little concerned."

Van Dyke feels there is still plenty of room to grow vertically, even with new height limits.

The zoning board plans to hold a public hearing about the issue, possibly in May. Van Dyke said the board is open to ideas for crafting new restrictions, but also open to citizens shooting any ideas down.

"At this point there is consensus that we’d like to do something about it, but that can change, if there is some kind of outcry from the public that’s vehemently opposed to it, then we won’t do it."

Mayor Dunlap said he thinks there’s "room for compromise" in the discussions.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.