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P and Z approves Historic Preservation Ordinance

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County > Plan focuses on historic and cultural preservation

By Arin McKenna

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved a new Historic Preservation Ordinance by a 6–0 vote Wednesday.

The ordinance must now gain council approval. It is tentatively scheduled to be introduced at a council meeting set for Sept. 10, with the public hearing Oct. 29.

The board made two amendments with its recommendation, both based on issues raised by Public Works Engineering and Surveying Division Manager Kyle Zimmerman.

The first amendment would “require the approval of 66 percent of the owners of affected properties” for historic district designation. The proposed ordinance required written consent from only 60 percent of the property owners.

Commission Chair Ralph Phelps had some reservations about the amendment.

“That’s a very tough criterion to meet. That’s a supermajority, and that generally is targeted for only certain selected instances where there’s some vital action that requires a strong majority to do it,” Phelps said. “If we try to set that criterion here we might be undermining the real goals and objectives of our historic preservation ordinance.”

Commissioner Michael Redondo argued for the change.

“The idea of this is that hopefully everyone involved wants this designation, because it does seriously impinge your property rights,” Redondo said. “If you own a building designated as historic, it prevents you from demolishing it and putting up a shopping center or whatever else you may want to do.”

The second amendment addressed a concern Zimmerman had with a section making roads eligible for preservation.

“My concern is, I have federal regulations like the Americans with Disabilities Act that I have to comply with. So if this goes into place, can I make Bathtub Row ADA compliant? Currently it isn’t,” Zimmerman said. “I feel that by putting roads in here, it’s going to hamper the county from doing what we’re required to do federally.”

Ron Wilkins, current president of the Los Alamos Historical Society and member and chair of the Fuller Lodge Historic Districts Advisory Board (FLHDAB) from 2005–2011, explained why roads should be included.

“As proposed, it was not intended to apply to something like Central Avenue.” Wilkins said, noting that undeveloped roads such as those leading to outlying historic homesteads were the intended targets.”

“So I think unless you intend to broaden ‘trails’ to include wagon roads, you may be leaving out something of historical significance that does deserve protection.”

Wilkins also said he was “extremely pleased” to see the ordinance moving forward.

Commissioner Catherine Mockler proposed amending the section to read “primitive or historic road, exempting improved thoroughfares.” The amendment was acceptable to Zimmerman and approved by the commission.

Commissioner Larry Warner’s first motion included an additional amendment that would have excluded architectural significance as one of the criteria. Warner was concerned that it might result in contemporary structures without historic or cultural significance being designated simply for their architecture.

Mockler disagreed. “We have one of the most beautiful art nouveau post offices. If something were to happen to that because we didn’t preserve it for its architectural significance that would be tragic. Architecture is extremely important.”

Redondo pointed out that a proposal based solely on architecture was unlikely to pass vetting by the FLHDAB, P and Z and council. All three must hold public hearings and approve any proposed historic district designation.

Assistant County Attorney Katie Thwaits further clarified that no structure could be approved solely on architecture since the ordinance requires that a minimum of two of the six criteria be met.

Warner withdrew the proposed amendment.

Bathtub Row resident Colleen Olinger, who had not seen the proposed ordinance, was concerned that it might include a historic district designation for Bathtub Row and could place a financial burden on residents.

“This is not a Bathtub Row ordinance. I’m sure Mr. Wilkins could list a host of areas that could potentially apply for an overlay,” Senior Planner Gary Leikness said. “This is just basically an enabling legislation that allows us to apply for those types of overlays.”

Under the proposed ordinance, a historic property alteration certificate would be required for any construction or alteration affecting the exterior appearance of any property within a designated historic district. Ordinary maintenance or repair and alterations to interior features would not require a certificate.