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Saving Merida’s historic center is not so simple for city agency

Tracking down property owners or descendants is a difficult task

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A casona on Calle 65 and 44 collapsed last year in heavy rains. It was later partially demolished. Photo: Diario de Yucatán

Merida, Yucatan — One of Latin America’s largest historic centers is at once shaping up and falling apart.

The city’s new administration has too small a staff to properly address the growing number of abandoned properties that pose a safety risk to neighbors and pedestrians.

While the Centro is seeing a restaurant and home-renovation boom, a significant number of properties remain abandoned. Their murky title situations keep them in limbo.

At least 25 private properties have been allowed to decay to the point of public danger, according to the Urban Development department.

Addressing the problem is not so easy as declaring a property condemned and tearing it down.

The director of the agency, Federico José Sauri Molina, said that he works in conjunction with the Department of the Interior to catalog them for the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), which is then notified. INAH authorizes repairs and remodeling.

Mayor Renán Barrera Concha has made the situation a priority, said Sauri Molina. A detailed and meticulous legal process begins with the task of finding the property’s owners or, if applicable, their descendants.

“The City Council is in charge of evaluating each property’s situation and requests permits from INAH, and if approved, the municipality facilitates staff to perform the repair work and the owner of the house provides the material,” he said.

Sauri Molina reported that since the new administration began a month ago, it has received about 30 requests to repair old properties. But lack of staff and the complexity of the projects, many in large houses, has the department overwhelmed.

In the previous administration, two houses were demolished when they were deemed dangerous beyond repair.

Traffic was obstructed but no injuries were reported in June 2017 when heavy rains caused part of an abandoned casona to collapse into the street at Calle 65 and 44.

Earlier that year, the city boarded up several crumbling properties to prevent falling pieces of facade from hitting pedestrians.

The 3.5-square-mile Centro contains about 20,000 properties with historical value, of which between 3,000-4,000 are ruins. Of those, 34 percent were beyond repair, according to a 2011 report.

In 2016, 29 properties were targeted, mainly between calles 65 and 54. Intervention has been difficult because the legal status of each property is difficult to ascertain.

Officials appear reluctant to seize properties when ownership is unclear, and many are of significant architecture value, complicating the decision to tear them down.

Mérida’s Centro Histórico is one of the biggest historic districts in Latin America, only behind Mexico City and Havana.

With information from Sipse

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