City commission looks to expand preservation role

Reviewing zoning and development changes would be new duties.
Sunday, August 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:04 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

Columbia - Columbia’s Historic Preservation Commission is seeking to expand its powers and duties for the first time in its nine-year existence.

The commission’s current responsibilities largely focus on the naming of historic sites, such as the Guitar Mansion and the Taylor House, educating the public and making recommendations to other boards and commissions. But soon the group could weigh in more on zoning and development if changes to the city’s zoning ordinance, which outlines the commission’s duties, are approved.

During a routine ordinance update required by the City Council, commission members found that state laws give them more power than the Columbia commission currently has. The commission seeks to gain those additional responsibilities.

That includes the power to review changes in zoning or demolition applications affecting historically significant properties coming before the city Planning and Zoning Commission.

“The Historic Preservation Commission is a creature of the zoning ordinance, but right now there’s no communication between the Planning and Zoning Commission and historic preservation,” said Brian Treece, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission.

Brian Pape, chairman of the commission, said the review would help the city’s historic preservation efforts as it grows and changes. Even though a zoning issue may not involve a historic preservation overlay district — that is, the zoning classification used to put extra guidelines on a historic site to help preserve it — it can still affect other historic properties, and the commission wants to be involved.

“It’s not a hindrance,” Pape said. “It’s helping the process.”

Another notable change would be the ability to establish a historic preservation revolving fund that would allow the commission to better manage historic properties. Treece said groups or individuals could donate money to the fund, and the commission would then use the money to help preserve historic sites.

City Planning Director Tim Teddy, whose department provides staff support for the commission, said the proposed changes are “pretty routine” but that certain changes, such as the revolving fund, will require further review.

“That’s one we’ll have to have more discussion on,” Teddy said. He said the Historic Preservation Commission comprises volunteers, and the group has a small budget, so managing such a fund could prove difficult.

“But if we want to have a really ambitious historic preservation project, maybe we have to have the city accept gifts,” Teddy said.

The commission will have a work session with planning and zoning soon. After that, planning and zoning will make a recommendation to the City Council before it votes.

Considering how Columbia has changed over the years, Treece said he thinks the changes are necessary.

“If you look at downtown Columbia, the emphasis on historic preservation has changed in the last 10 years,” Treece said. “This will help the community.”

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