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Commission seeks input on historic building demolition permits

Saturday, October 11, 2008 | 8:31 p.m. CDT; updated 11:34 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 11, 2008

COLUMBIA — Columbia's historic buildings might not stop tumbling down, but if a proposed demolition policy gets positive feedback, the old buildings might stay up a little longer.

The Historic Preservation Commission will hold a public meeting to seek input on a proposed draft policy that would allow review of demolition permits when structures are more than 50 years old.

The meeting, which was recommended by the City Council during its Oct. 6 meeting, will be held at 5 p.m. on Oct. 28 in the mezzanine of the City Hall.

After the meeting, the commission will report the outcome and any public comments to the council, said Tim Teddy, city planning and development director.

The purpose of the policy, Teddy said, is "to know what's being demolished, not necessarily to intervene."

Drafted by the Planning and Development Department, the policy would require a 10-day hold on demolitions of "historic resources" to allow a designated commission member the time to review the permit. A demolition permit would not be issued unless the applicant had notified the commission and the commission had time to review it. In cases in which the building may have historic significance, the property owner might be invited to meet with the commission.

In cases where the building may be dangerous, the city manager, public works director or fire chief can waive the waiting period.

To implement the policy, a section would be added to demolition permit forms where the applicant would indicate, to the best of their knowledge, if the building is more than 50 years old, is in a historic district, is a landmark or has any other historic significance. Once the planning department receives a permit involving a building more than 50 years old, it would be forwarded to the the commission. It could then choose to contact the permit applicant to discuss the possible historic significance.

Brian Treece, chairman of the commission, said there is currently no formal communication between the Protective Inspections Division, the department of public works responsible for issuing demolition permits and the commission. Potentially, someone could tear down a building without exploring other options, such as selling it to someone who would restore it, he said. The proposed policy would at least give the commission a chance to take a photo or document the features of a building before it is demolished.

"We can't deny or reject permits," Treece said, "but it gives us an opportunity to have an advisory review."

Treece used the demolition of the David Guitar House as an example of when the policy could have been useful. He said the council and the commission didn't know the house was being torn down, and the city government departments should have been communicating with each other.

"If it couldn't have been saved, it could have been documented, photographed, or incorporated into Columbia's historic properties," Treece said.

The historic shotgun house on Garth Avenue and Worley Street, Treece said, is an example of how the policy could effectively work. When the demolition permit was requested, the city contacted the commission. Treece then contacted the property owner and found that he really didn't want to tear down the building, and was willing to sell it to someone who would restore it.

The Central Missouri Development Council has some concerns with how the policy will be applied, namely how it will affect personal property rights, said executive director Don Stamper. He also said that the organization would probably be present at the meeting.

Treece said that developers have looked at the proposal and have given input, but "we are certainly interested in hearing from the public."

Brian Pape, an architect and consultant who has restored historic buildings, is generally in favor of the proposed policy. He said that it is good for the community but there can't be too much delay involved with the permit.

"Everybody wants this to be fair. We don't want to be taking without justification and compensation," Pape said. "Still, we want the community to have the opportunity to save something worth saving."


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