Mission San José with newly restored frontispiece. Photo by Carol Baass Sowa/Today's Catholic.
Mission San José with newly restored frontispiece. Photo by Carol Baass Sowa/Today's Catholic.

City Council passed an ordinance Thursday protecting the San Antonio Missions and federal parklands from encroaching development, and approved a resolution supporting the bid to win World Heritage Site recognition for the four Spanish colonial missions and the Alamo.

The action came days after a representative from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) visited San Antonio and toured the missions to evaluate the application. ICOMOS will make its recommendation next May and UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will vote on inscription in June at its annual meeting to be held in Bonn, Germany.

The resolution serves as City Council’s formal endorsement of the nomination of the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage Site and supports a limited waiver allowing the U.S. Congress to pay a portion of the dues it is withholding from UNESCO. Congress voted to withhold U.S. dues in 2011 after UNESCO members voted overwhelmingly to admit Palestine as a full member of the Paris-based cultural agency.

Officials here and in Washington fear that the unpaid dues, which represent a significant percentage of the UNESCO budget, could have a negative impact on the June 2015 inscription vote unless Congress agrees to release some of the unpaid funds.

Mission Concepción Protection Overlay Zoning District.
Mission Concepción Protection Overlay Zoning District. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

World Heritage Site status would place the San Antonio Missions on an international list of 1,007 natural wonders and cultural treasures recognized for their unique and irreplaceable value to the world. Only 22 of those sites are located in the United States.

Such status brings a new level of international interest and tourism. A study of the San Antonio Missions Historical Park carried out in 2010-11 by UTSA’s Center of Community and Business Research estimated that World Heritage Site status would result in $100 million a year in new economic activity and the creation of more than 1,100 jobs on the Southside.

The new ordinance establishes new Mission Protection Overlay Zoning Districts that will provide individual buffer zones protecting the Alamo and the four missions and the “viewsheds” similar to protections found of the State Capitol in Austin. A 1500? radius will be established by the new zoning restrictions, measured from the main front entrance to each mission. Within that circumference, any new buildings will be limited to heights lower than the missions to avoid obstruction of sight lines.

A visualization of how a Mission Protection Overlay Zone works.
Any new buildings built within the Mission Protection Overlay Districts will have to avoid breaching sight lines.

 *Featured/top image: Mission San José with newly-restored frontispiece. Photo by Carol Baass Sowa/Today’s Catholic.


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San José Restoration Award is Eighth for Old Spanish Missions

Urban Blight: Reaching the Missions off the Mission Reach

A Boyhood Remembered, a World Heritage Site Anticipated

San Antonio Missions Nominated as World Heritage Site

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.