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City Halts Historic Building Designations

A year-long moratorium on certain historic building designations was approved by the City Council Tuesday night along with a Dec. 15 deadline to apply for historic status, which reduces property taxes under the state Mills Act.

The deadline was extended by a month to include three houses in town already in the process of historic designation.  The Mills Act was established to determine values for historic properties in order to discount property taxes.  The savings to the owner is intended for maintenance and rehabilitation of the preserved buildings.

With controversial applications, such as intermittent plans to renovate the historic Coast Inn on Mountain Avenue, and the recent top designation for the loosely historical renovation of the Heisler Building where Tommy Bahama’s is now located, the city’s Historic Committee felt it was time to reassess.

Bonnie Hano, representing the Heritage Committee at the council meeting said, “A lot of people have applied and it’s very important, the Mills Act, for preservation, but it also is costing the city a lot of money (in lost property tax revenue).  So we need some time to really better the process.”

Applications for buildings of the highest rating of Exceptional, will continue to be processed but those for second tier ratings of Key – a designation added by the city in 2006– will be delayed. Key buildings are defined as able to be renovated, but in less-than-pristine historic condition

“We asked for the year to clean up the process,” said Rick Gold, Heritage Committee member, “and clarify the requirements for the Mills Act, whether it was a K rating or an E rating.  It may not take a year, it may take six months.  We don’t know.”

But for some civic-minded residents, a year is too long. Ann Christoph said, “The benefits of the K (rating) being included in the Mills Act is that we’re encouraging more people to preserve our historic resources. This whole idea makes it more difficult for all those people to preserve their houses and get included in the Mills Act.  The Heritage Committee doesn’t need a whole year to figure this out.”

In another agenda matter, Sam Goldstein, 35-year-resident and owner of the Heisler Building, requested the council exempt his historically designated property from the city requirement to display artwork in public places or pay an in-lieu-of fee.  “Restoring and preserving historic buildings are in and of themselves community arts projects,” maintained Goldstein, adding that he thought all designated historic buildings should be exempted from the requirement as incentive to preserve the structure.

“I think we do an awful lot to encourage historic buildings to be preserved. We don’t have to give them the additional incentive of not putting money in the in-lieu fund if it’s not appropriate to put a piece of art in front of the building,” said Hano.

The city requires that new or remodeled commercial and industrial properties and multi-family residential buildings of four or more units as well as city parks and public works projects that incur at least $225,000 in expenses display artwork valued at one percent of the building costs.  If the building’s owner chooses not to display artwork, an in-lieu-of fee of 1.25 percent of the building costs must be paid to the city.

“We love people who restore beautiful historic buildings, but they should not be exempt,” said arts commissioner Pat Kollenda.

 

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