- Associated Press - Monday, September 19, 2016

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) - A year ago, when the Galveston Duck Tour drove down 25th Street toward the seawall, the tour guide on board would note the architectural and historic features of the houses on the street.

The tour guide lauded the homes, until he got to No. 1323. Then, the commentary wasn’t about the time-appropriate colors or island-famous former occupants.

It was about the vinyl siding.

“Every day he was deriding the house, for almost two years,” Julie Baker, the house’s owner, told the Galveston County Daily News (https://bit.ly/2crfUOo). “We had to save it.”

That’s changed now, after Baker and her husband Franklin, completed the renovation of the Victorian house, which was built in 1905 by Nelson Leopold, the owner of a downtown haberdashery and one-time owner of the Galveston Sand Crabs, a professional baseball team that played in the Texas League.

The Bakers did a complete renovation of the house. The vinyl siding was removed and the fish scale shingle siding was restored and repaired. They installed new pipes and a new heating and air-conditioning system and restored the house’s wood floors.

In all, the renovation cost $95,000.

The house is for sale now, and whoever buys it will get a little bonus: a 10-year break on city property taxes.

That’s because before starting the renovation, the Bakers signed up for a new city program that rewards people who renovate historic homes with a tax freeze upon completion.

“We had just purchased it when I found out about the program,” Baker said. “We were going to purchase the home anyway, but the program certainly encouraged us to invest more in the property.”

The tax exemption program was created as an incentive program in 2015 to encourage the rehabilitation of historic buildings in the city.

Owners of eight island houses have signed up for the program since it began last year, said Catherine Gorman, the city’s assistant planning director and chief preservation officer.

The Bakers were the first to complete their project and return to the city council to have their tax break approved, but Gorman expects more homeowners to go before council in the near future, she said.

“It’s a great example of what the program is supposed to do,” Gorman said of the Bakers’ house. “They were taking up a building that was dilapidated. They made changes that were more historically appropriate. They put in new systems that prolonged the life of the house.”

The program is open to any property in one of the city’s historic zones and to properties outside of the zones that are declared Galveston landmarks.

There haven’t been many major problems with the program, Gorman said. Some people have tried to sign up for the program after already starting repairs, which isn’t allowed, she said.

The modest success of the incentive program could lead to other similar programs, said District 2 Councilman Craig Brown.

Brown said he hoped to develop a program where non-historic homes could apply for tax breaks in return for repairing damage or neglected structures.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing for the community,” Brown said. “I’m hoping that, once we see how this program works, we consider incentives for these other properties.”


Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, https://www.galvnews.com

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