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After years of planning, Hyde Park historic district goes to Council this week

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 by Michael Kanin

With two days to go before the issue appears on the City Council’s agenda, Hyde Park’s bid for a local historic district faces some opposition from within the neighborhood. Opponents have told In Fact Daily they were planning an immediate canvass of the neighborhood in an attempt to get supporters of the district to change their minds.


Their late concern stems from a language change to sections of the historic district’s proposed governing document. Opponents contend that the new wording is more restrictive than the version they saw when they were first presented with the idea.


Longtime Hyde Park resident Larry Gilg is leading the charge against the language changes. He told In Fact Daily that the historic district is a blunt fix. He suggested that the historic district may have been helped along because of current issues over the tax-exempt status afforded to individually assigned landmark homes.


“If there’s a problem, really try and address the problem,” he said. “Don’t put … (this) overlay on here.”


Gilg pointed to an email that went out over the Hyde Park Neighborhood online forum from area resident Joe Bedell. In it, Bedell laments his early carelessness over agreeing to sign the petition that was initially circulated among Hyde Park residents “with very little understanding of the process or the potential ramifications of the new ordinance.”


“Stronger restrictions on demolition of older structures is one thing; the proposed ordinance is quite another,” Bedell writes. “Some people are in favor of the proposal regardless of the additional restrictions. But a growing number of people feel uncomfortable with the intrusiveness of the restrictions on existing homes. Many of my neighbors feel that by signing a petition they gave an inch and that the authors of the proposed ordinance have decided to take a mile.”


Gilg echoed Bedell’s statements. “It’s hard to be against historic,” he said. “I love my neighborhood … (but) I draw the line when they’re talking about the details of my house.”


He later noted that, with the current proposed rules, he wouldn’t be able to alter the shape of his roof, relocate external lights, or change the materials used on the exterior of his house. This is not strictly true, according to architect and Hyde Park Neighborhood Association member Karen McGraw, who told In Fact Daily that such alterations would go to the Historic Landmark Commission.If the commission says no, you can appeal to the Planning Commission and then appeal to City Council.”


McGraw that the bulk of the late changes came directly from city legal staff. “Should the city have done this sooner? Probably,” she said.


“It was turned in … last October and the city did not do anything with it,” she continued. “We had to demand that they get it on an agenda.”


McGraw added that proponents of the district had “done everything we’re supposed to do” and that “most cities would have done this 30 years ago.”


She noted that the neighborhood is at the end of a three-year process and that last-minute concerns, such as those presented by Gilg, are “typical” when it came to public process.


“I don’t like every single word in there either but when are you going to get every single neighbor to agree?” she added. “There are always things that you wish were a little different.”


McGraw then pointed to the so-called McMansion ordinance rules, on which she worked. She said that after a year, she and other involved parties returned to those restrictions to hammer out changes that wouldn’t have been possible without some experience with the law on the books. She said that Hyde Park could always revisit their district rules, if need be.


At least one other lingering issue remains on the neighborhood’s radar. The hotly debated Bradford-Nohra house continues to move through the city process on its way toward a demolition permit, some have claimed that the issue has pushed the Hyde Park neighborhood to fast-track its efforts towards an historic district.


Gilg, however, suggests that the two have nothing to do with each other. “Those two issues are not joined,” he said, noting that he’d heard the same conclusion from city staff.


McGraw agreed, saying that the demolition permit could not be delayed or halted by approval of the district. However, she added, the buildings that go up in the demolished house’s place would likely be subject to the district rules.


“Once the district gets approved, whatever they put back there would be reviewed under the historic district, and it will be a binding review,” McGraw said, noting that the design of the building would have to conform to district rules, and any future changes would have to be approved by the Historic Landmark Commission.

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