Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Latest Assault on Historic Preservation

Just a few short weeks ago, the Peoria City Council gutted the Historic Preservation Ordinance by "de-listing" a designated landmark, the Roanoke Apartments.

The building's owner, Trinity Lutheran Church ,wasted no time in its demolition.
Now all that remains of that beautiful Prairie-style structure are photos and a flat plot of dirt where the building proudly stood for a century.

Now, adding insult to injury, the council continues their assault on the Historic Preservation Ordinance. This Tuesday, they will vote on increases in fees by amounts that have never before been seen.

Although they are arguing that the fee increases are needed to offset the cost of enforcement, they seem more designed to stifle preservation and make landmarking more difficult and less desirable for the owners of historic structures.

For many years, a Certificate of Appropriateness has cost the home-owner $25. This certificate is required for anyone who wants to perform an exterior update to an historic structure in accordance with the law.

Granted the $25 fee seems low, so what is a reasonable increase?
Perhaps a hike to $35 or $40?
Even a doubling of the fee to $50, while steep, could be argued as necessary.

But, no.

Henry Holling and his council henchmen have decided to raise the fee to $250.
That's right, a ten-fold increase.
That is a fee increase of ONE THOUSAND PERCENT!

When is the last time you have seen any governmental fee (at any level) increased by ONE THOUSAND PERCENT?

This means that any homeowner who wants to change the position of a downspout or add an attached flower box will need to pay $250 simply to ASK FOR PERMISSION.
(The request may well be denied with no refund or rebate of this fee).

Additionally, city staff is recommending the same ONE THOUSAND PERCENT increase in the fee for an individual landmark application.  Currently, the fee is $50.  Under the staff recommended changes, the fee would rise to $505  (the Historic Preservation Commission has recommended an increase to $105).

These fees seem less designed to increase revenue, but rather to discourage landmarking and preservation by owners.  It discourages owners to landmark by having to pay $505 for consideration and knowing that any future external project is automatically increased by $250. 
It also encourages current owners of historic homes to circumvent the law and perform updates without HPC approval.

It is hard to believe that this is even a serious consideration, and yet there it is in black and white on the council agenda.

CJ Summers, the premiere local blogger, and current candidate for City Council is usually quick to expose these types of outrages and foolishness from the city "leaders".

I had hoped that, as a former member of the Heart of Peoria Commission and a self-professed "new urbanist", he would emerge as a candidate that historic preservationists could rally behind.

However, his silence thus far on this issue has been deafening.

=UPDATE:  CJ informs me that he was unaware this would be on Tuesday's agenda =

On Friday, I spoke to candidate Chuck Grayeb who was unaware of the issue, but promised to review it. He seemed genuinely shocked at the amount of the proposed increases.

The vote, however, is scheduled for this Tuesday, and I hope that the current council will at least have the decency to defer till a new council is seated.

I also have not found any public statement on this outrage from Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation or from Peoria Historical Society.
Where are the voices for preservation when needed?



Paul R Day said...

Email to City Council from CILF president Jim Bateman:

Dear City Council Members:

The agenda items for Tuesday night to multiply fees roughly ten-fold for Landmark applications and Certificates of Appropriateness are totally unacceptable!

If the reason for the fee increases is to increase revenues for the city, these changes will be counter-productive. When fees are outrageous, property owners will simply avoid them.

They will stop filing for Landmark status. The last two Landmarks were applied for by the property owners (who are not wealthy). Two applications are now being prepared by a non-profit organization. Such applications will simply cease to be filed. I suppose they could avoid the fees by filing them through a neighborhood organization but that’s an extra hoop to jump through and some properties are not located in an area served by an organization. In any event, it will not increase revenue to the city.

Property owners will simply not file for Certificates of Appropriateness. They know that city staff does not have time to pursue enforcement. If neighbors complain and demand enforcement, the city staff time to pursue enforcement is a multiple of the time required to handle a proper application for a certificate. This is hardly a way to balance a budget.

I am not aware of any city which has fees which approach the level being recommended.

Some of us visited the Planning Dept. of Oak Park, IL on Friday to get ideas for addressing some of the known problems with our ordinance. Oak Park charges no fees for anything relating to historic preservation. Most cities have only nominal fees for these matters.

We know that all city fees are being considered for increases. Are any others being considered for a ten fold increase?

This proposal will not increase revenue for the city and may increase demands for staff time. So what is the reason for it?

Jim Bateman, president

Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation

Paul R Day said...

This is an email to City Council from CILF Vice-President, Margaret Cousin:

Good morning everyone,

For a decade I’ve been telling the Adult Ed students I tutor that when you get an answer in math that doesn’t make sense, look at your work to see where you went wrong. I calculated the percentages for proposed fee increases for landmark nominations and Certificates of Appropriateness and came up with hikes of 1000%, with an only slightly less startling 250% for historic district nominations. I’d love to say I made a mistake, but my arithmetic was right, so the question is WHY? Why so much higher than other such increases?

Raising fees and fines to generate revenue in difficult economic times is understandable. Commissions engaged in fulfilling their prescribed functions require time from the City staff they partner with, and administrative duties continue even when those bodies are not meeting. As human resources are stretched tighter, workloads grow apace and every service supplied to the community costs money.

What I urge is simply that the fee increases being considered be more even-handed and equitable. Like all commissions in the City of Peoria, the Historic Preservation Commission is comprised of volunteers. Their time has value, but it is offered freely to the community they serve. In the last ten years, there have only been three historic districts created and eight individual structures or sites landmarked. This record cannot realistically be viewed as burdensome in frequency or in volume. The majority of these applications are created by volunteers as well, CILF included, and the countless hours of research required to prepare them represent no undue strain on City coffers either.

I am aware that there have been landmark application cases with high public profiles which have demanded great effort to resolve. There is no question that they used up precious City staff time, precious City Council time. But these were worst-case scenarios. Let us not make decisions based on the most negative of our struggles. Rather, let us make decisions based on our expectations for best-case scenarios and then strive to make those more positive standards the norm. The two most recent owner-consent landmark applications moved swiftly and successfully towards designation. They were our confirmation that financial efficiency can be a part of this process.

C of A’s, required for both landmarks and historic district properties, DO translate into staff time. Yet the payoff surely warrants that investment, for our heritage neighborhoods represent tourist gold every bit as much as newer, northerly areas. With mega-projects looming on the downtown horizon which we hope will bring throngs of visitors, don’t we want Perry and Knoxville, Flora-Ellis, Roanoke-Randolph, Moss-High, and Glen Oak Avenue to absolutely shine? One formula that generally holds true is: historic equals old equals maintenance equals dollars. Punitively high C of A fees may result in projects without consultation or oversight or a lessening focus on projects at all. The result could be a diminishment of what those very districts were created to showcase in the first place, a unique snapshot of Peoria’s past, vital as an image of who we once were but ALSO a beacon of economic potential pointing towards our future.

Mayor Ardis and Council Members, I respectfully ask you to carefully consider the merits of bringing increases for C of A’s and landmark and historic district nominations back into fair and proportionate alignment.

Margaret E. Cousin, CILF Vice-President