Public hearings set for Louisville’s ‘War on Preservation’ [Opinion: The Arena]

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Tempest in a teapot?

A couple of weeks ago, the Courier-Journal ran an editorial (probably written by Keith Runyon, but understandably unsigned) suggesting that our local government had declared war on historic preservation:  “Mayor Greg Fischer and … members of the Metro Council have shown disdain for the laws that protect the remarkable architectural heritage of our old Falls City.”

Whiskey Row.jpgAbout the same time, we received an email “Advocacy Alert” from Preservation Louisville, warning that the Metro Council was planning to “…enact wholesale changes to an almost 40-year-old landmark process that has protected our heritage and been a proven economic driver in our community.”

We reviewed the proposed changes to the Landmarks Ordinance, and had difficulty understanding what all the hubbub was about.  Much of the panicked opposition to the proposed changes is coming from people who have obviously not taken the time to read the pending ordinance.  Rather than the dramatic “wholesale changes” decried by the preservationists, we could only find a couple of minor “attenuations” to the 1973-vintage ordinance. 

David Yates_0.jpgAs we indicated in our previous article on this topic, Councilman David Yates, one of the amendment’s sponsors, described the proposed changes as allowing for more neighborhood involvement when designating a structure as an historic landmark.  “We are in support of historic preservation but too often, residents in the area are not made aware of the effort to preserve a structure or building and what it may mean for the future of their neighborhood,” says Yates. “This amendment would insure there is input and support for such a designation by the people who live in the area.”

The proposed ordinance changes the way the Landmarks Commission designates an individual structure as a landmark.  Currently, a property owner may request a landmark designation, or a petition requesting designation may be filed, if it contains the verified signatures and addresses of no fewer than 200 residents of Louisville Metro.  The new wording would require that 101 of those signatures come from individuals who actually reside or own property within one mile of the proposed landmark, or signatures from at least 10% of the total such residents or property owners within the one mile radius, whichever signature threshold is lower.

gennyhouse_0.jpgAll this means is that folks who live or own property within a 1-mile radius (a circle 2 miles across, if you remember your Geometry) will have an equal voice in the landmark designation process.  As our President is wont to say, “Folks with skin in the game, ought to have a seat at the table.”  A bit of a mixed metaphor, perhaps, but pretty much on point.  The voices of the owners and residents in the immediate proximity of landmark should have at least equal weight to the voices of the elites out on Wolf Pen Branch Road.

The only other proposed change would provide that all landmark or preservation district designations from the appointed Landmarks Commission would automatically become law unless a majority of the elected representatives on the Metro Council voted their disapproval within 60 days of the Commission's designation.

“It is important that government be open and accountable. We respect the Landmarks Commission and the work they do and we will continue to work with them. However, final determination should be made in an open process by the group elected and held accountable by the people of Louisville and not an appointed body,” said Yates.

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