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Few attend BAR public input meeting

Posted: October 4, 2012 6:12 p.m.
Updated: October 5, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Only a few Camden residents showed up Sept. 27 for a public input meeting on a proposal to transform the Camden Historic Landmarks Commission (CHLC) into a board of architectural review (BAR). Former CHLC member Kay Kinard and a man who declined to be identified joined City Planner Shawn Putnam, CHLC Chair Laurie Parks, current CHLC members Rick Trott and Nancy Wylie, and consultants Cheryl Matheny and Carol Rhea.

If the proposed changes are approved, Chapter 158 of Camden City Code would be deleted, and the affected sections moved into Chapter 157, which covers zoning. Many changes are being proposed to comply with state law or meet Certified Local Government (CLG) requirements, a status the city may seek in order to be eligible for certain federal grants and technical assistance.

One of the the two biggest changes is to remove an existing CHLC requirement that had National Historic Register (NHR) properties automatically included under the commission’s jurisdiction. The other is to no longer allow property owners the option to refuse having their properties historically designated.

Putnam said the federal government does not allow NHR properties to be placed under any type of local regulatory program. In order to meet CLG requirements, however, local governments must also have the power to unilaterally designate properties as historic. The only recourse, Putnam said, is for owners to appeal on technical grounds.

Neither of those items came up as concerns during the meeting.

Instead, Trott said he was concerned about a number of others changes, including having board members serve for four years, instead of the two years CHLC members currently serve.

“My feeling is that someone who sees he has to commit to four years may be turned off,” Trott said. “I recommend we stick with the two years.”

Parks agreed.

“Four-year terms (seem) to scare people off. Georgetown staggers theirs,” Parks said, saying commissioners there serve for four-, three- and two-year terms. “I don’t think we need to go that far, but there are a lot of professionals who won’t want to serve four years.”

Trott also said it would be a good idea if the city could require some type of home sale disclosure concerning historically designated properties. He suggested it would also be better if historic properties were listed in a document separate from the ordinance itself.

Trott’s other suggestions included better defining what is meant by “viewable from a public road;” placing language from the ordinance concerning repairs and alterations into a set of proposed design guidelines; and avoiding vagueness in the concept of “substantial hardship” as a way for property owners to exempt their properties complying with CHLC/BAR decisions.

When owners of designated properties want to make changes, they must seek a certificate of appropriateness. The CHLC can deny such certificates for various reasons. Properties under CHLC/BAR governance may seek an exemption “based on the substantial hardship of maintaining the property according to the board’s guidelines.”

“Substantial hardship” is defined as: the property has little or no historic value; the property cannot be reasonably maintained; there is no other reasonable means of saving the property from deterioration or collapse; or the work is not financially or physically feasible.

“If you have something that general, you could have people just opt out,” Trott said. “It’s very vague in my mind; maintenance is maintenance. It needs to be clearer.”

Parks said no one has asked the CHLC for such exemptions, but added, “Someone could make a case for it, and we wouldn’t know what do with it.”

Trott said historic preservation consultant Carrie Giauque indicated there may be ways to replace certain items -- windows, for example -- with material that look “accurate” but are more energy efficient and lower cost.

“Maybe this is the first thing a buyer is going to do their home, and they run into a wall,” he said.

Putnam said he still believes the city wants to go forward on  CLG status. Matheny said the ordinance is being proposed so it can be adapted to work either way.

“It’s written so that if they take it (CLG) out, it can always be put back in later,” she said.

Trott, however, said going ahead with the CLG designation is a good idea.

“If we get certified now, then we’re already in line,” he said, for the benefits that go with the certification.

Kinard also asked what might happen if the CHLC becomes a BAR.

“The way I visualize it, Camden will have a ‘look’ and will be in sync with that historical vision,” Kinard said.

Parks claimed a city official said the name of the commission might not be changed at all. Putnam said he had not heard that.

“It’s preferred, but it’s not required,” Matheny said.

“‘Camden Historic Landmarks Commission’ is more citizen friendly,” Parks said. “It’s not as intimidating as ‘board of architectural review.’”

Matheny said it will not matter what it is called, under the proposed ordinance it would function as a BAR.

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