Our Opinion: Snapshot in the preservation, property rights debate

A modest request from historic preservationists has raised, once again, the ire of property rights purists.

Is the reaction disproportionate to the request?

We think so, although we acknowledge valid arguments by both factions in this often-divisive debate.

The detonator for the most recent skirmish was discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of Jefferson City’s Historic Preservation Commission to request interior photographs of properties targeted for demolition.

Reaction to our story, posted on our website, included the phrases: “Tyranny in local government” and “abuse of power.”

Let’s look at the process enacted by elected City Council members.

According to the city’s website, all applications for permission to demolish a building are made to the city’s Department of Planning and Protective Services.

If a building is more than 50 years old or has historic significance, the department forwards a copy of the application to Historic Preservation Commission for review. The commission has a 60 days to evaluate the building for architectural, cultural and historic significance.

The commission then recommends to the city approval or rejection of the proposed demolition.

On Tuesday, commissioners discussed whether to ask that interior photos accompany the demolition permit. The rationale, according to Chairman Cathy Bordner, is because “we can’t require them (property owners) to let us inside the building to know what we’re voting on.”

Historic preservationists and property rights purists represent opposing viewpoints on the issue: Does ownership prevail or does a broader community share an interest in preserving historic sites that, once destroyed, cannot be resurrected?

We don’t interpret the commissioners’ concern as a volley in that larger debate.

Instead, interior photos seem a reasonable addition to help them make an informed decision the city already is asking and empowering them to perform.

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