Bowling Green Council continued work on a sometimes controversial piece of historic preservation legislation Monday evening – but their efforts are still not over.
Council met as a committee of the whole with the goal of finalizing the ordinance. While they voted on a series of substantive issues, another meeting is to be scheduled to continue work on the matter before a scheduled vote next month.
“It looks like we’d be looking at next week sometime,” said Council President Mark Hollenbaugh of a tentative date for the next meeting.
Monday’s three-hour meeting was a work session and no public comment was taken.
The purpose of the legislation, drafted by the Historic Preservation Commission, is to make the city a Certified Local Government for historic preservation, a program administered by the National Park Service and the Ohio Historic Preservation Office. The city would become active in the federal program and have access to a number of benefits.
According to a letter by the HPC sent to council in October, the proposed legislation “retains the overall structure and goals of the former proposed legislation from 2014-2015, but does so in a more citizen-friendly way. The intent of the legislation is to ensure that all properties given historic preservation status and protection in the City of Bowling Green – which can only happen through subsequent legislative action to designate specific Historic Buildings, Districts, Landmarks, Objects, Sites and Structures – shall meet the standards set forth” in the legislation.
The ordinance has taken a winding path through city committees and commissions in recent months.
The legislation was drafted by the Historic Preservation Commission over 18 months of work, introduced by council, and then sent by council to the planning commission for their review and recommendation. Members of the HPC and the Planning Commission discussed the ordinance during the planning commission’s Jan. 6 meeting, with planning commission members providing the HPC with suggestions and recommendations for alterations. The HPC then met on Jan. 22 and voted on 12 suggestions.
The planning commission on Feb. 3 took the unusual step of sending the ordinance back to council without a recommendation to approve; instead, the commission asked council to extensively review and revise it specifically regarding property owners’ rights, and processes and appeals described in the ordinance. During its Feb. 16 meeting, when they were scheduled vote on the measure following a public hearing, council decided to postpone the vote until March 15, and to hold Monday’s meeting to further discuss and finalize the legislation.
The work during Monday’s meeting focused on painstaking and often technical editing and revision. Members of the HPC, as well as Mayor Mike Aspacher, Planning Director Heather Sayler, City Attorney Mike Marsh and BG Planning Commission member Will Airhart were on hand and frequently offered comments and clarifications.
Council went through the portions of the document discussed on Monday section by section. It was noted that both Councilman Jeff Dennis and Councilwoman Rachel Phipps each undertook their own significant reorganizations of parts of the ordinance for the purpose of consolidation and simplification, with input from HPC member Les Barber.
One highlight of council’s work concerned section 158.06(D) of the proposed ordinance. The section reads: “In the case of proposed Historic Districts, the Commission shall conduct a survey of all owners of properties within such a district and report the results of that survey, along with its recommendations in writing, to City Council. At least a simple majority of the owners must agree to the creation of the District before the Commission forwards a recommendation for designation.”
Councilman Bill Herald suggested that the language be changed to a simple majority of the owners, not just those who respond to the survey.
“If there was a district with 10 property owners and the survey goes out and five property owners respond, three of which say yes, two say no, then according to the wording as it is here, a district could move forward with just three ‘yesses’, which is not a majority of the property owners, just a majority of those who, for one reason or another, chose to respond,” Herald said.
Councilman Greg Robinette asked whether certified mail might be used to deliver the surveys, and Marsh said that it could be done, and is used with other notices. However, he was doubtful about the idea of counting a “non-response” to a survey as being in the affirmative.
“I don’t know that we can tell somebody that their no response is a yes and have that really hold up,” he said.
Sayler noted that, based on how the city handles public hearings, there would be multiple notifications to property owners about the survey.
Council voted 5-2 to keep the section as it currently is, but it was also decided to include language stating the survey would be sent via certified mail.
Council further held a lengthy discussion over the section which established the makeup of the HPC.
Herald suggested that there be seven members instead of the current five, and that one be a planning commission member, and at least one member have a legal background.
Aspacher noted that it has been difficult to find Bowling Green residents to serve on boards and commissions, and they are even having poor luck filling a vacancy on the HPC as it currently stands.
“Just keep in mind, that you’re trying to add to boards and commissions, it’s a challenge to find people,” he said, noting that specifying certain backgrounds “really limits the candidate pool.”
Councilwoman Sandy Rowland suggested altering the wording to state that the HPC would be made up of at least five members but not more than seven.
“I agree,” she said. “It is very difficult to get people to volunteer their evenings and weekends to work on things like this. And this is a commission that is going to be very busy.”
Robinette suggested a slightly different version, that the HPC membership be kept at five, with the option to increase it up to seven at the mayor’s discretion. That received unanimous approval.
However, the ideas that at least one member have legal background, and one be a member of the planning commission, were defeated 6-1.