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CCC splits on design guidelines rewrite bid

Posted: September 26, 2013 5:48 p.m.
Updated: September 27, 2013 5:00 a.m.

A majority of Camden City Council voted Tuesday night to award a more than $47,000 bid to a Colorado firm to rewrite design guidelines used by the Camden Historic Landmarks Commission (CHLC). An attempt to table the vote failed, 2-3, followed by a lengthy discussion and a 3-2 vote to award the bid to Winter & Company of Boulder, Colo.

The award comes one full year after council received a previous rewrite of the guidelines by the city’s then-historic preservation consultant, Carrie Giauque. During a September 2012 council meeting, Giauque admitted Camden’s guidelines was her first attempt to take on such a project. Several council members indicated at the time that they were not satisfied with Giauque’s work. Few citizens attended public input meetings surrounding that work, which included an attempt for Camden to achieve Certified Local Government (CLG) status and transform the CHLC into a board of architectural review (BAR). That work would have involved updating Chapter 158 of the city code, governing the CHLC.

Council dropped CLG and BAR plans in late January, but decided to move forward with updating the guidelines. A subcommittee was formed to work along those lines.

Tuesday, Councilman Walter Long made a motion to table the bid award; Councilwoman Alfred Mae Drakeford seconded. Long’s motion failed, 2-3, with he and Drakeford voting in favor and Mayor Tony Scully and council members Willard Polk and Laurie Parks voting against.

Parks then motioned to award the bid, with Polk seconding, giving Long an opportunity to express his objections.

“It’s no secret -- I keep beating the drum -- that (I think) the process itself, the program itself is not something that is right for Camden,” Long said. “On the surface, it sounds like a great idea and people want the sense that their property is being protected, but in my belief and in my discussions -- what I’m hearing from people -- are discouraged on both the residential and commercial side.”

Long also called the $47,000 price tag a “significant jump” from Giauque’s. He also said that because of that, he felt more discussion was warranted.

“I don’t even like the fact that this is on the agenda tonight. I wish it had been in work session so that we could have all had a conversation prior to voting. Having it on the agenda immediately and voting for it the same night doesn’t give the public time to comment on it. I just can’t vote for that,” Long said.

Parks, however, pointed out that council had already allocated funds toward the hiring of a preservationist, something the city has not done. Council allocated $30,000 in its Fiscal Year 2013 budget and another $15,000 in the FY 2014 budget for that purpose. Parks said all that would remain is a little more than $2,300 to reach Winter & Company’s bid.

“You get what you pay for. The money that was done last time for (Giauque’s) guidelines was a waste of money, and now we want to do something that is quality,” Parks said, holding up an example of Winter & Company’s work for the city of Galveston, Texas. “It is an amazing product, and when you look at the other bids, they are pretty much all in that ball park for a quality product.”

Parks went on to say that historic communities throughout the state have guidelines and commissions that implement those guidelines and receive training to do so. She called Winter & Company’s potential work as “just another step.”

“This was first brought up -- I remember actually coming to a work session -- and it was in September 2011 about Chapter 158, the guidelines and a board of architectural review. Two years later, we’re still talking about it. We need to move on. There has been more than enough time for public input,” she said, including surveys and public meetings, although ones she noted were sparsely attended.

“How many times do we have to keep revisiting this without moving forward? I look back in my notes and it was you,” Parks said to Long, “that specifically wanted to develop a subcommittee to move forward on guidelines and then, subsequently, 158, that you nominated me to be a part of and Councilman Polk and that’s what we’ve been working on. The holdup on 158 is that we needed guidelines to go along with that.”

Long said he appreciated her and Polk’s work, but that it was the “sticker shock” that concerned him. Not only is Winter & Company the high, rather than low, bidder for the rewrite project, but the $47,000 price is far above what the city paid -- around $2,000 -- to Giauque. Long said that is a lot of money for something that will only affect what he counted as 288 homes in Camden.

“These are mandatory historic districts,” he said, referring to the Kirkwood, Logtown and Sarsfield districts. “My point is, we’re dealing with this amount tonight and we’re not having the public have an opportunity to weigh in on it, and I don’t agree with that.”

Polk, however, agreed with Parks’ assessment of Giauque’s work.

“We were brought a substandard product by someone whose credentials were terribly lacking, admitted in this public forum, under questioning, as to how many design guidelines had that consulting firm done and the answer was that this was the first one,” Polk said. “We bought an inferior product. A subcommittee was appointed. Two members of this council, two members of the landmarks commission, (City Planner Shawn) Putnam -- who helped charter us through this process. We began this process about six months ago, if I’m not mistaken. The proposals were sent to I don’t know how many firms, and got responses. We had Mr. Putnam go back for additional clarification to these responses. As a matter of fact, I believe staff -- even before we went back to this particular company and others -- recommended this particular company because of their expertise and their quote.”

Polk said that what the city is asking for is a comprehensive set of guidelines because the last set of guidelines are more than 25 years old. During his comments, Polk also stated that he didn’t believe there were any mandatorily designated districts under CHLC authority. Long quickly corrected him, noting not only that the city created the three districts in 2005 but that he lives in one of them.

Although he accepted being corrected, Polk insisted that it was “time to move on.”

Drakeford said she has heard from at least two business people who wanted to know if council had “gone crazy” spending $47,000 on design guidelines.

“I’m not crazy; I don’t know about the rest of you all. I understand that we’re going to have to do something, and the majority has spoken and I’m just letting you know the calls that I received (and) what was said,” Drakeford said.

Mayor Scully said he sees the expenditure as an investment in Camden’s future. He also noted that the difference between the lowest and highest bidders was only $17,000.

“Staff has recommended we use the best because … they will educate us … that what is right for a 1980 house is not necessarily right for one built in 1810,” the mayor said. “They’re trying to accommodate the public, they’re not trying to be draconian in these rules. If we’re going to market ourselves as a historic city, which is what we are, we have to be on our toes.”

Long said that for $47,000, there’s going to be a lot of rules.

“We have rules now,” Scully responded, “and I have very close friends who are not happy with the way their properties are governed by the historic commission. I am very sympathetic to some of the problems. The way I understand it, the reason this is the most qualified group is because they get that and we have control over that before it’s all said and done. We want flexible guidelines -- every city of any consequence in this state … has design guidelines and we’ve had them for 20 years, but we have to have better guidelines.”

Long suggested that if the funds for the preservationist position will now go to rewriting the guidelines, the city should send out letters to the 288 homeowners in the historic neighborhood districts to see not only if the city has their support but whether they want to be mandatorily designated.

“I would even pay for the postage to do it,” Long said.

Polk said he felt Long was tying apples to oranges by speaking about both mandatory historic oversight and rewriting the design guidelines.

“What we’re dealing with is a proposal to develop a comprehensive set of guidelines. The other thing that you’re talking about -- having people opt out of being designated and under the control of the (CHLC) -- that is a totally separate legislative matter,” Polk said.

Parks said she felt it wasn’t a question of  if  the design guidelines needed to be rewritten, but who would take on that task.

“I thought we had already settled that we were moving forward and that we were going to rewrite the guidelines and, therefore, after this is done, we would take up the issue of 158, again,” Parks said.

At that point, the mayor asked for the vote, resulting in the 3-2 split in favor of awarding the bid.

Council did vote unanimously on other items for consideration, including a proposed intergovernmental agreement with Kershaw County to combine portions of accommodations tax funding for tourism promotion. The agreement will continue funding a joint tourism director position. However, unlike the last such agreement, the director would be a city of Camden, rather than county, employee.

City Manager Mel Pearson, in response to a question from Polk, noted that hiring a new tourism director had been suspended, in part, until marketing work could be done by the Arnett Muldrow firm.

Council also unanimously approved two façade grant applications. The first is for $1,660, with a $830 city match, for the Old Towne Tavern on Broad Street. The second is for $35,700 with a city match of $15,000 for Rengy Marshall, who has purchased what is commonly referred to as the old Coca-Cola building, also on Broad Street.

Each member of council had something positive to say about Marshall’s possible plans for the building.

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