City council conducts property sale, approves HOT grants and engineering services for Marfa and Presidio County Museum 

MARFA — Marfa City Council sat down last week for a routine meeting involving the sale of city property to a private citizen, to approve hotel occupancy tax (HOT) grant funding requests for the area’s cultural goings-on, and to greenlight preliminary engineering services for the Marfa and Presidio County Museum. 

Mayor Manny Baeza and all council members, with the exception of Councilmember Raul Lara, were present at the meeting. City Manager Mandy Roane and City Attorney Teresa Todd were in attendance. 

After citizen comments, council held a public hearing in order to officially close on the sale of 270 square feet of East Lincoln Street to Marfa resident Concepcion Campos, to which there were no public comments or objections. At a previous meeting, councilmembers Yoseff Ben-Yehuda and Lara, along with Mayor Pro-Tem Irma Salgado, voted to sell Campos the land, on which her front porch is encroaching, so she could proceed with the sale of her home to an interested buyer. 

The city received fair market value for the land — a total of $2,473 as determined by an appraisal — which will be funneled into the city’s street improvement funds account. Campos will also pay a $500 administrative fee to the city. A replat of two lots will be performed by a surveyor before Campos’ sale can close. 

There are no city utility lines near the encroachment and due to the width of the street, the area is not affecting traffic, states the city’s notice of the public hearing. The encroachment onto East Lincoln street was one of four total encroachments, one on each side of Campos’ property, discovered during the survey process, states a city ordinance which outlines the terms and conditions of the sale. 

Along with the properties of both of her neighbors, Campos’ property lines were, in actuality, between 3 and 4 feet further west than believed. The neighboring properties agreed to the encroachment sale and to resurvey.

Homes which have been passed from generation to generation, avoiding routine surveys, and historically inaccurate measurements have contributed to local encroachment issues. City council, along with City Manager Roane, have spoken at previous meetings about the issue being recurring and city-wide. City Attorney Todd said she outlined many recitals — legal details and facts — in the ordinance in order to help future council and city officials address similar situations.

“We’ve sort of operated at a deficit of not really ever knowing what’s been done before us, so I do go to the effort of putting in the recitals, what goes on when we close the street, or a portion of the street, and why things are being done and the reasoning,” said Todd. 

Next the governing body discussed the status of their request for qualifications for engineering services for the Marfa and Presidio County Museum. The only company that responded to the RFQ was INSIGHT Structures, said Roane. Councilmember Ben-Yehuda said he wasn’t aware of the company but local adobe experts Joey Benton and MUDLAB were familiar with their work. INSIGHT Structures has previously worked on old adobe buildings in the area, said Ben-Yehuda. The city’s plan is to work with an engineer to assess the aging adobe in order to develop a plan which will then be used to put out an RFP for construction services. 

The engineering scope of the project is small, said Roane, and the company will likely spend only an afternoon reviewing the building. Council approved the RFQ, with the fees for the work yet to be determined and subject to negotiation. The city budgeted $218,556.51 for museum repairs this fiscal year. 

Next up regarding the museum, council discussed the possibility of creating a long term lease in order to allow for the site to be a part of the forthcoming nationally-recognized Central Historic District designation, which would make it eligible for franchise tax credits on restoration projects. Because the building is city-owned it is currently ineligible for the historic register and the accompanying tax credit program. The matter first came up at a previous meeting in early March, and since then Councilmember Ben-Yehuda, who is spearheading the initiative, spoke with museum board members to introduce them to the idea. 

Marfa and Presidio County Board Member Terry Norman, who was present at the city council meeting, said the museum’s leadership was interested in the concept, but still on the fence and would hopefully have an answer as to whether they were on board by the next city council meeting. He said they were concerned a lease would put them on the hook for all repairs. While the city owns the historic structure, the museum’s day to day operations are run by the board, creating confusion about who is responsible for the maintenance of the building and to what degree. 

Ben-Yehuda said the city would self-certify the long-term lease, which would take pressure off of both entities regarding the specifics of the legal document. He said the franchise tax incentive program is meant to further help the museum, while not putting the financial responsibility solely on the city, which regardless will continue to assist with museum funding through HOT grants for operations and building maintenance.  

“I think we have a special relationship with that organization — we already kind of fund them on a regular basis. So I don’t know whether a less is more approach is better for the lease, or whether we want to include some details that the city is prepared to offer grants as needed for building repairs,” said Ben-Yehuda. 

The approval of HOT grant recommendations, generated by the HOT grant committee, was next up on the docket. The city’s HOT grant program is meant to promote tourism and events that attract hotel and short-term rental guests, states the city’s website. Under arts and culture, council voted to approve $2,750 for Ballroom Marfa, $8,000 for Marfa Invitational Art Fair, $5,000 to Agave Festival and $2,750 to Maintenant, Watershed Vol. 2. 

Under historic preservation, council voted to approve $7,545 for the Marfa and Presidio County Museum and $10,000 for the Marfa Chamber of Commerce for the Marfa Light Festival. For advertising reimbursements, the city awarded $3,500 to Ballroom Marfa, $3,500 to Marfa Chamber of Commerce for the Marfa Lights Festival and $3,500 to the Marfa Invitational Art Fair.

With little back and forth about the recommendations and a unanimous, swift approval, “That might be the easiest HOT we’ve ever done,” remarked Councilmember Buck Johnston. 

In miscellaneous news, council voted to approve the purchase of a hydraulic excavator for the public utilities division and approved two street closures — one for Marfa ISD’s graduation parade, which will follow the traditional route, on May 25 and another for the Chamber of Commerce’s April 17 Easter event. 

There were no updates on the ongoing issue of the $114,000 natural gas bill received in December from city provider West Texas Gas, which the council last discussed in early February before moving the issue out of discussion in public session into executive session. It was last stated publicly the council was working with the city’s outside attorney to address the matter.