Unified criteria for historic districts is in the works

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By Gabriel Vasquez

Determining guidelines for historic locations in and around Los Alamos is trickier than you might think.

The Fuller Lodge/Historic Districts Advisory Board met Wednesday to discuss a strategy for developing a set of criteria that would outline the basic requirements needed to label a property or set of properties “historic.”

Board members tossed around the idea of excluding the Bathtub Row Historic District from the criteria, or segregating it from requirements for other properties to ensure its longevity as a Los Alamos landmark.

“I think what we want is a zoning ordinance that protects Bathtub Row,” said board member Heather McClenahan. “I don’t think we want a general set of guidelines that’s going to encompass every historic district.”

Other board members agreed they should not act in haste in creating a new set of all-encompassing guidelines, citing the previous “draconian” old district policies that regulated what type of landscaping, colors, and height requirements needed to be met to ensure a property was designated as “historic.”

The basic premises of the old policy – that a property must either embody the architectural style consistent with its time period, have an association with historic persons or events, and yield, protect or present archaeological information –  seemed to be well received and considered for the new criteria.

Board members also agreed that homeowners should have a say in what the future requirements would be, and the criteria should be reviewed with them before being incorporated.

“I know this isn’t going to be fast but I’m afraid if we don’t get started on this soon it won’t get done this work-plan year,” said board chair Ronald Wilkins.

The work-plan year is scheduled to end in June 2009.

In other business, board members discussed the urgency of “using it or losing it,” referring to state money and a grant given to the Los Alamos Historical Society to perform renovations on Romero Cabin. Some said there was a chance that half the money – $30,000 from the state and a $25,000 matching grant – would be lost if not used by 2010.

“The clock is ticking but it’s not ticking real fast,” board member Gerald Strickfaden said.

Due to unexpected but discretionary expenses associated with relocating the cabin from Los Alamos national Laboratory to county land in the mid-1980s, it became apparent the renovations costs would exceed the budget and the project was put on hold, and continues to be a problem.

The lack of cooperation from the Parks Service in creating a possible “Manhattan Project National Historical Park,” was also discussed at the meeting.

“They rejected the plan,” McClenahan said. “We really need the county to approve our ad-hoc committee report so that the ECA can go to congress with our report.”

McClenahan was referring to the Energy Communities Alliance, an organization of local governments that are adjacent to or impacted by Department of Energy activities.

“The ECA is going over the parks services’ head and is going to contact each of the congressional delegations,” McClenahan added.

Board members also passed around a copy of “Of Logs and Stone,” a recently finished publication about the buildings in Los Alamos’ Bathtub Row by Craig Martin and Heather McClenahan.

Board members expressed excitement about the finished work, which is scheduled to go on sale soon at Otowi Station Bookstore and also made available at Mesa Public Library.