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Public comments favor proposed demolition ordinance

Public comments favor proposed demolition ordinance

April 21st, 2017 by Jeff Haldiman in News

The Jefferson City Council will hold a work session in the near future to continue discussion on a proposed demolition ordinance.

The Historic City of Jefferson organization introduced the ordinance to the Historic Preservation Commission in September 2015. The commission worked on it for 18 months, and in February, the commission approved its version of the ordinance.

Earlier this month, the city's Planning and Protective Services Department took public comments on the proposal. Thirty-four comments were in favor of the proposal, and 12 were against.

At Thursday's Public Works and Planning committee, Chairman Larry Henry said he felt council members who hadn't been involved in the discussions need more time to look over the proposal. A time for the work session was not set, but committee members said they wanted to resolve the matter before work begins on the city budget.

Among the requirements of the proposed ordinance, establishing a "Historic Preservation Commission Boundary" drew the most comments.

The bill would apply for reviewing properties 50 years and older. The boundary would cover Belair Drive on the west, Stadium Boulevard on the south, Grant Street on the east and Missouri River on the north. All other properties not within the designated boundary would not be subject to the historic preservation review, unless designated as a local landmark, local historic district and/or on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jayme Abbott, the city's neighborhood services manager, said Thursday, based on the public comments received, they would recommend encompassing the whole city in the boundary to clear up confusion.

Age of the structure considered for demolition also drew a lot of discussion. Currently, demolition is considered for historic preservation if a property is 50 years or older, the standard used by federal agencies such as the National Parks as a threshold for review properties for historical significance.

The potential change discussed was using a tiered system: For structures 50-75 years old, the review would be similar to what is currently in place, and for structures 75 years or older, there would be a more intensive review that could send the matter to the City Council.

Items in the proposed ordinance that did not change include:

Continuing to allow the Historic Preservation Commission 60 days from an application's submission to provide a recommendation on issuance of a demolition permit. If the Historic Preservation Commission recommends denying the demolition permit, the application would be forwarded to the council.

If the council rejects the Historic Preservation Commission recommendation to deny a permit, the permit would be suspended for at least 30 days so the commission could consult with civic groups, agencies and other interested parties; get a third party to acquire the property; explore moving the building(s); or submit landmark application or initiate historic district designation.

If the City Council affirms the Historic Preservation Commission's denial recommendation, the applicant could appeal to the Circuit Court.

Brian Bernskoetter of the Jefferson City Area Board of Realtors said the group is concerned the ordinance would give the Historic Preservation Commission — whose members are appointed, not elected — too much power.

"It's not the role of government to say what should or should not be done with a property in terms of demolition," Bernskoetter said. "It limits the best use of these properties. In some instances, the land is worth more than what sits on it. If this is approved, we, Realtors, could be opened up to lawsuits because if we had no idea if a property was deemed historic and the owner wanted to do something to it, the owner could say, 'The Realtor didn't tell me,' and we would be on the hook for something we didn't know we had to do — because deeming something historic is truly subjective."

Property owner Cathy Bordner feels a stronger ordinance would help Realtors, saying the current "weak ordinance" did not help the Realtors she consulted when dealing with her own properties on Capitol Avenue. She noted between 2009-16, the Historic Preservation Commission had denied only 10 demolition proposals and had granted demolition on 101 properties.

"The commission can only put a hold for 60 days on a demolition request, and there have been very few times in the history of the commission that has happened," said former City Councilman Steve Veile, who helped form the commission. "Even under this new ordinance, they can only recommend if a demolition should not occur. This ordinance could provide a tool that's been needed for 25 years."