53°F
weather icon Partly Cloudy

Preservation ordinance remains controversial

Last week, after years of discussion and planning, the City Council passed a new historic preservation ordinance.

Its goal is to protect the commercial and residential buildings that give the city its unique character and charm. It’s what visitors from near and far come to see.

It’s truly an admirable goal.

As the city that built Hoover Dam and survived despite its original temporary status, history is in our city’s DNA.

While few have argued against the need to preserve our city’s past, the method of doing so has been — and will likely continue to be — controversial.

Like many issues, the ordinance has both good points and bad points.

In addition to preserving historic structures, the aim of the ordinance is to help promote economic prosperity by encouraging appropriate uses of these properties and “ensure harmonious, orderly and efficient growth and development” while being sensitive to historic resources.

Once lost, these precious pieces of the past cannot be recovered. That’s why it’s important to protect what we can.

However, instead of establishing fines and severe restrictions for renovations and modifications, it would have been better to provide more incentives to help owners keep their properties as “conforming” for historical purposes.

The city’s historic preservation grant program just isn’t large enough to accommodate the number of properties in the historic district, especially with the ever-increasing cost of making home improvements.

Operating on a first-come, first-served basis, the program allocates funds as reimbursements, and only up to 50 percent of the total costs or $10,000 for residential properties and $99,900 for properties through the city’s redevelopment agency, whichever is less.

And there’s also the pesky issue of a government body telling owners what they can do with their private property, with no grandfather clauses for those who purchased their homes or businesses long before the new ordinance was adopted.

The fact that cities, counties and states establish laws and regulations for private property cannot be denied. But, for the most part, those rules were established to protect people. Building codes, and the need for permits and inspections, were created to ensure the safety of structures.

The new ordinance, however, is aimed primarily at aesthetics — the appearance of how a property looks from the street. And that’s where the ordinance gives one pause. What gives the city the right to determine how one’s private property, one’s home and sanctuary, should look?

Even more disconcerting are the vague requirements for the new Historic Preservation Commission that will determine what is “appropriate” and issue the necessary certificates for exterior work and/or improvements.

The ordinance states that “all members of the Commission shall have a demonstrated interest, competence, or knowledge in history or historic preservation.” There are no requirements for professional certification or expertise in what constitutes a historic property or how to properly preserve it.

Only one member has to have professional training or experience, but that could be in “architecture, history, architectural history, urban planning, archaeology, engineering, conservation, landscape architecture, law, or other historic preservation related disciplines.”

This same board also has the power to fine property owners for making any alterations, other than “routine maintenance” without a “Certificate of Appropriateness.” The fine may not be more than $25, but each day the violation continues is considered a separate offense. At least the City Council members heeded residents’ concerns with the draft proposal for the ordinance that had the fines at no more than $500 a day.

Additionally, the city can fine anyone who partially or completely demolishes a structure on the historic register without a Certificate of Appropriateness as much as $10,000 for each violation.

There also should be some concern about the city’s new historic preservation officer, who doesn’t have to have a professional designation to hold the job. The ordinance does specify that the person holding that job should be an “independent preservation professional who must have a demonstrated interest in historic preservation” and meets the Secretary of the Interior’s Professional Qualification Standards. But then there’s an “or” stating that person could be a “qualified professional” in one or more fields such as “historic preservation, historic architecture, urban design, archaeology, cultural geography, landscape architecture or land use planning.”

The ordinance also gives the city and commission permission to expand the historic district beyond the downtown area as it was listed in 1983 on the National Register of Historic Places.

As part of the definition of a “historic district,” the ordinance says it can include “without limitation building, sites, structures or objects as the Commission may determine to be appropriate.” These districts do not have to be a single enclosed area, nor do the areas/sites have to be contiguous.

A property or area can be designated as historic if it is at least 50 years old and meets at least two of six criteria, including historic, architectural, archaeological and cultural significance; is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to local, regional, state or national history; is associated with a person or event that had a significant impact on the city’s past; and represents an established and familiar visual feature of the city.

It’s the devil that’s in the details of this ordinance that may prove to be its undoing despite the good it promises to deliver. Only time will tell if it succeeds in its purpose.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Give thanks for all we have

Because the Boulder City Review publishes on Thursdays, I get the honor of wishing all of our readers a “Happy Thanksgiving” each year — and this year is no exception.

Much can be done in an hour

Have you ever figured out just what an hour a day represents? How often have you wanted to do something but said, “I didn’t have the time”?

Consider alternative ideas for lawn’s replacement

History is the story we want to pass on to future generations, hopefully somewhere they can find it. How we tell the story for future generations is the responsibility of the present generation.

City true winner from elections

After months of campaigning, the 2022 election is complete. Ballots have been counted and congratulations are in order for those who were elected.

Low-cost grocery store needed

One of the hot topics I’m hearing discussed in town is whether or not Boulder City needs a second grocery store. There is a question on the ballot this month (by the time this piece is published, the votes will have already been cast) regarding whether or not to allocate land at the corner of Veterans Memorial Drive and Boulder City Parkway for a shopping center that would include space for a new grocery store.

Pelletier’s dedication was blessing for city

After five years of service to Boulder City, Finance Director Diane Pelletier is retiring. I was mayor in 2018 when Interim City Manager Scott Hanson hired Diane. She came to us after 18 years of distinguished service for the Atlanta Regional Commission and 12 more for the Orange Water and Sewer Authority in North Carolina. We thought she was a major steal at the time. And she’s proved us right in every respect.

Media is the mess-age

My entire, mostly monolithic career was spent as a commercial broadcast professional. Knowing at an early age broadcast would be my chosen field, I took requisite communications studies preparatory to entering the business.

Land sale for grocer not in city’s best interest

Boulder City voters will have a chance to weigh in on whether or not the city should sell 16.3 acres of land for the development of a shopping center, primarily a grocery store. From a resident’s standpoint, a second grocery store would be nice, competition is often good and choice can benefit the consumer.

Attainable housing essential for city’s future

Two years ago, while living in Henderson, I set up Zillow alerts for the 89005 zip code. That’s actually how I found my current home; Zillow sent me an email with a newly listed house in Boulder City and my husband and I set up a showing for the next day. But I digress.