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Facing new criteria, Council delays final vote on six historic homes

Friday, June 25, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

Two weeks after approving a resolution to initiate code amendments that would greatly limit the number of properties granted historic landmark status, City Council yesterday put off making a final decision on six applications that may prove to be the last considered before those changes go into effect.


The six houses – all of which are located west of I-35 – won historic landmark rezoning recommendations from the Historic Landmark Commission and the Planning Commission. Usually that would all but guarantee Council approval and the six cases were originally part of the meeting’s consent agenda.


However, Council Member Randi Shade said that she was uncomfortable tackling all six cases as part of the consent agenda, especially given Council’s recently passed resolution and the attendant debate over the value and cost of historic zoning in the city.


“I think we owe it to learn more about these cases and to hear what was the outcome of the resolution we passed two weeks ago,” Shade said. “I want to give these cases the same amount of time we give other (non-historic) zoning cases, especially because of the economic implications.”


Staff is currently processing amendments to the city code to limit the number of owner-initiated and Historic Landmark Commission-initiated nominations to three per month (36 per year) and the number of nominations that are located in National Register or local historic districts to one per month, unless the other two slots aren’t filled. Staff is also working with the Historic Landmark Commission to prepare recommendations to limit the total amount of property tax exemption for each historic property to a fixed dollar amount and prepare an analysis of the economic benefits of historic preservation.


Shade’s worries sparked a debate on the dais about whether or not to delay the vote and about the fairness of judging older applications by potential newer standards.


Council Member Laura Morrison, one of only two members who voted against changing the historic zoning application process, suggested Council approve the six applications on first and second readings and then take them up on third reading when Council reconvenes on July 29.


“That will give us the time to study them a little bit and get questions answered,” she said.


Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez agreed with Morrison’s suggestion but recommended they leave the timeline for third-reading consideration open. “What I suggest,” he said, “is we adopt it on first or second read, try to work with staff in a timely manner, and bring it back when we have recommendations or a least have had some of these discussions.”


That didn’t sit well with Morrison, however, who worried that Martinez was pushing both to consider the applications (which were already in process when the most recent resolution was passed) under new rules and call for a moratorium on historic zoning.


“That’s not something I would support,” Morrison said.


But Shade insisted that she was neither suggesting a moratorium nor looking to change the criteria by which the six applications would be judged. Rather, she said she couldn’t see being ready to consider all six applications by July 29 and that she just wanted “a little more time, a little bit more thoughtful discussion.”


At this point Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who said he shared both Martinez’s and Shade’s concerns about the historic zoning process and Morrison’s about the lack of fairness (and possible illegality) of judging old applications under new criteria, moved to pull the items off the consent agenda and open them up for discussion, a motion that was approved 7-0.


When Council returned to the items a few hours later, Leffingwell moved to close the public hearing on the six cases and approve them on first and second readings with additional instructions to staff to bring back three of the items on August 5 and the other three on August 19 for third and final readings.


Council voted to approve that motion 5-0, with Council members Bill Spelman and Sheryl Cole off the dais.


Shade told In Fact Daily that the recent resolution and yesterday’s vote showed the value of spreading out the historic zoning case load in order to allow Council to make more informed decisions.


“The resolution from two weeks ago does limit the number of potential applications,” she said, “but more importantly it spreads out the cases, and that’s really important for us who need to make the considerations. The owners deserve to tell the story (of their houses) and to describe what the public benefit is associated with granting their properties historic zoning.”

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