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Frustration grows as group aims to preserve historic properties

Members of the Boulder City Historic Preservation Committee grew increasingly frustrated at a meeting Wednesday night as the group continues work to create a historic preservation code with teeth.

Committee members have been unable to find common ground with Planning Commission members, who feel that code amendments proposed by the preservation committee are too regulatory.

“It seems to me like the Planning Commission doesn’t want to change our code,” committee member Linda Graham said. “I just feel like every suggestion we made has been shot down.”

The committee is hoping to model its new preservation code off the state of Connecticut’s code, which gives stronger regulatory power to protect historic architecture.

According to preservation committee member Kiernan McManus, who proposed the new code, some members of the Planning Commission fear that any plan that tells people what to do on privately owned property could put the city at risk of litigation. Other Planning Commission members are open to a change in the preservation code.

“The Planning Commission is not unified in this. Some people like Mr. Matuska and Mr. McDonald have been very open to working with us, but Mr. Leavitt does not believe any of this should be done,” said McManus said, referring to commission members Paul Matuska, Fritz McDonald and Glen Leavitt.

During the Sept. 28 preservation committee meeting, McDonald said he would support the new preservation code as long as the city attorney signs off on it.

In a recent legal opinion, City Attorney Dave Olsen said language in the new preservation code would be too ambiguous, citing the Nevada Supreme Court case Gallagher v. Las Vegas, which concluded that retired firefighters were eligible for benefits after suffering from heart disease because of their jobs. The court stated that because of the language and history of the city’s statute, the firefighters deserved the benefits.

Olsen’s opinion stated that an ambiguous code could put the city at risk for a lawsuit.

However, preservation committee member Alan Goya said enforced regulations were the point because that is how to protect historical areas. “The new code is supposed to give greater guidelines and regulations; that is the whole point,” he said.

Goya then stated that the proposed code amendments were on par with other areas’ preservation codes.

“This is not different than anything else that is proposed,” Goya said. “Why does this code work everywhere else but not here.”

City Planner Susan Danielewicz recommended the committee focus on changing the little things with the ultimate goal of slowly molding the code until it gets what it wants.

“Things happen in baby steps in Boulder City, so you should go for the low-hanging fruit,” Danielewicz said. “Drafting up amendments can help you be more authoritative.”

The committee agreed it would continue to work on the language to help appease the Planning Commission and work on drafting small changes to the code over time.

City Council members have said they support the committee’s efforts to create a more comprehensive preservation code, but they did not feel comfortable approving new amendments without the blessing of the Planning Commission.

Contact reporter Max Lancaster at mlancaster@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow him on Twitter @MLancasterBCR.

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