With the April 3 election two weeks away, Jefferson City Council Ward 5 candidates focused on preserving the city's history Tuesday during the Historic City of Jefferson's candidate forum.
HCJ members submitted questions, several of which focused around the possible local historic district in the School Street area — including properties in the 600 block of East McCarty Street, all of School Street, the 400 block of Lafayette Street, three houses on the east side of Lafayette Street and 500 Lafayette St.
The City Council voted Monday to sign the local historic district nomination application as the property owner of 408 Lafayette St. but voted to proceed with demolishing the same building.
Residents submitted the original application earlier this year but city staff sent it back since it did not meet the city's requirements, such as containing 75 percent of notarized signatures from property owners in the proposed area.
While she said the 75-percent threshold required for local historic districts allows residents to voice their opinions, Ward 5 candidate Ashley Jones-Kaufman said that number could also be an obstacle.
"Sometimes property owners are absent and may be out of reach so it's harder to make contact," she said. "That's something that would need to be assessed further to see if 75 percent is a good number or if it should be a little lower."
Ward 5 candidates Jim Crabtree and Jon Hensley said the 75-percent requirement seemed reasonable since it ensures the majority of property owners in the proposed area are in support of it and understand the design restrictions that would come with the designation. However, they added speaking to residents who have been through the process would be key for deciding whether the number is appropriate.
To improve the local historic district ordinance, all three candidates said they were in favor of streamlining it but would need more research before deciding how to improve it.
While the council showed support for the local historic district, residents said proceeding with the demolition of 408 Lafayette St. was confusing. Crabtree said doing both does not give the correct perception of the council's intentions.
"I think we really need to be a little bit more clearer in the message we're sending," he said. "We're (trying to) establish a historic district in the neighborhood, and I think if that is the intent, the city wants to encourage — the city needs to encourage — through leadership by preserving the structures that are in that neighborhood."
If the council demolishes the building, it can avoid paying back more than $78,000 in federal funds the city had invested in rehabilitating the property.
The council voted in November to try to sell 408 Lafayette St. within 60 days of posting the property; that deadline ended last week. The city placed restrictions on the bids, such as contingencies or a monetary cap on the bids. Bidders could also not go inside the property as city inspectors declared it as dangerous.
Hensley said it appeared there were too many restrictions and not enough avenues pursued to sell the property. He added he would be in favor of attempting to re-sell it.
"Everything I've heard about from that attempted sale of that property leads me to believe there are things we could have done differently to attract more buyers, creative ways of listing the property with the agent," Hensley said. "Perhaps listing it with a Realtor and getting it on MLS so it could be viewed by more buyers and any number of things you would go through when selling your own home should be looked into."
Based on the question and description provided by HCJ, Crabtree said he did not understand the criteria set by the city, adding he would understand not letting a buyer in the building if it was structurally unsound. He said he also thought there were other avenues the city should have pursued to sell the property.
Jones-Kaufman said she would need more information before she could comment on the sale and restrictions of the property, such as whether it is a risk to public safety.
The city and Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department own five properties in the proposed local historic district area — 408 and 410 Lafayette St., 602 and 606 E. McCarty St., and 623 School St.
In December, the Parks and Recreation Commission voted to demolish 602 and 606 E. McCarty St. to add to the nearby Greenway trail.
To demolish or sell properties owned by the Parks Department, the City Council and Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission must consult with each other, City Counselor Ryan Moehlman previously said. When asked who should have the final decision to sell or demolish properties owned by the Parks Department, all three candidates said the City Council should have the final authority.
As part of historic preservation, several eyes have been on the East Capitol Avenue urban renewal zone project and revitalizing the area. The Jefferson City Housing Authority has a court hearing set for Monday to find out if it will receive possession of 101, 103 and 105 Jackson St. If it does receive possession, it plans to request proposals from individuals who wish to rehabilitate the buildings.
Since the city wishes to proceed with the demolition of 408 Lafayette St., HCJ members asked how the candidates would reassure potential buyers that the city intends to complete the East Capitol Avenue urban renewal zone project.
Since 408 Lafayette St. contains federal funds which impacted the decision to proceed with demolition, Hensley said he would emphasize this was an "unique situation," while describing the efforts the city and residents have made to preserve other historic structures.
"It is a proud and rich legacy and history and a huge driver of tourism and economic activity in town, so it's important to the city for a number of reasons," he said. "We don't want to give any indication to anyone interested in investing in it that the word of the city and the publicly stated intention of the city should be doubted."
Jones-Kaufman agreed she would emphasize how the city has been working toward historic preservation and could possibly have its first local historic district if the application is resubmitted and approved by the Jefferson City Historic Preservation Commission and City Council.
"(I would) reassure the buyer that losing these buildings would be losing our culture and (it would be) unfortunate to have to start again with material and structures that would not fit with what we're trying to preserve," she said.
Since East Capitol Avenue is an important part of Jefferson City's history, Crabtree said, he would reassure potential buyers preserving its history would be in the best interest of the city.
"Capitol Avenue is significant because it establishes a sense of place in Jefferson City through the diverse architecture of the homes," Crabtree said. "I think it's important preserve as much of the architecture as you can because it reflects the ethnicity of the city, the craftsmanship of the city and the evolution of the architecture."