City looks to shape policies to protect historical properties

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— The city, responding to concerns that growth and change may drive us from our small-town roots, has made the preservation of historical properties a major priority as it begins to plan for the 21st century.

In that interest, the city is now attempting to implement policies to protect historical properties in its new Community Development Code, scheduled to be presented to City Council in January, which will likely shape the structure of the city for years to come.

A community survey taken this year showed 72 percent of the respondents favored protecting historical properties through land use regulations and 68 percent favored the acquisition of historical property within the city.

The Historic Preservation Advisory Commission, created by the city in April 1999 to deal with those sorts of issues, has been busy in its first year of service.

HPAC has reviewed 16 properties for alteration or demolition permits since its creation. The commission has the authority to delay a demolition for up to 90 days if it believes the building in question is of historical significance. It also makes recommendations to the Planning Commission and City Council on projects of historical significance.

However, somewhat like the Planning Commission, HPAC does not have the teeth to enforce its opinions, acting mostly as a recommending body up to this point.

"Both the Planning Commission and HPAC have been in an advisory position," said City Councilman Bud Romberg, who expressed concern over the possibility that the city would make it mandatory for developers and home builders to comply with HPAC's recommendations at a recent City Council meeting. "The question is, does the HPAC advise Planning Commission or City Council? Whose opinion takes precedent at what point?"

If City Council agrees with staff on a proposal to make the commission a more active participant in the planning process, however, HPAC may find itself with a slightly more "toothy" role in the process.

For instance, the city may create an overlay zone, throughout which the commission can review properties classified into three tiers of historical significance. Review of those properties by HPAC will be mandatory, though compliance with its recommendations would likely be optional. City Council, however, would be advised of HPAC's findings, and the weight those findings would have on council's decisions would be based on the level of significance of the project (tier 1, 2 or 3).

This, some city staff members believe, could make the planning process more predictable and better define HPAC's specific role in the planning process.

Historic Preservation Specialist Laureen Schaffer is one of the members of the city staff who believes increasing HPAC's role will help the community maintain its historical nature. She has devoted herself to the cause of protecting the historical properties of the community since her appointment in January.

Schaffer, through her newly established preservation position, has spearheaded the effort to get buildings and land designated as historical properties her efforts have resulted in the designation of 10 properties to the local historical register, one to the state register and one to the national register.

"We're hoping to have a more defined and solid role and an opportunity to be more proactive in reviewing and in historic preservation in general," Schaffer said.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203

or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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