Zoners want to shrink historic district, let owners opt out

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By Meaghan Downs

A discussion on creating a historic district in Lawrenceburg led to more questions than answers for the planning and zoning board last Tuesday night.
What the board says it does know: Planning and Zoning can either recommend or not recommend the creation of a historic district in Lawrenceburg.
The board must hold a public hearing in February, with affected property owners properly notified.
The city council will have the final vote, and the ultimate power to establish the district, or dismiss the proposal entirely.
What the board says it doesn’t know: Can it make the proposed historic area smaller?
Can the board say “Yes, we want a historic district, but with the following conditions?”
If so, does Planning and Zoning’s changes to the recommendation even have weight?
“A zone change definitely has boundaries,” board member Jody Hughes said, adding he spoke with City Attorney Robert Myles about reducing the size of proposed district area. According to Hughes, Myles indicated to him the board would be able to recommend smaller boundaries for the historic district.
“I don’t think it’d be anything out of the ordinary to suggest boundaries,” Hughes said.  
Board member Gary McInturf said during the board’s Jan. 8 meeting that his vote “hinges” on the final boundaries of the historic district, later suggesting the board establish a smaller district and give property owners the option to join.  
“The boundaries have a great effect on my vote,” he said.
Hughes, who said he feels the creation of a historic district would be good for the community, later added that a “smaller footprint” would “limit the number of people who would get excited over this.”
Anderson County residents have definitely been vocal over the proposed plans to create a historic district, the current boundaries of which stretch north from the former Early Childhood Center on Main Street to the south at Carlton Drive and include sections of Court Street, East Woodford Street and College Street.
About 80 people attended the first public hearing on the historic district in December 2011. Several argued the historic district would create an undue financial burden on those who could not meet the commission’s historic design standards, or limit renovations and property owners’ rights.
“I enjoy restoring old things,” Kerry Padyn of 341 South Main said, speaking to the five-member commission in December 2011. “We want to keep the original windows. I don’t want to lose my property rights as a homeowner. I don’t want the government, or a committee of local government, to come into my home. We have enough government.”
Others cautioned that without the historic district, downtown Lawrenceburg would continue to further deteriorate.
George Geoghegan, newly sworn-in council member and former chairman of the historic district commission, said in an interview with The Anderson News that commission members understand some properties cannot be maintained to its exact historical character.
“They’re presuming that the historic district commission is not going to let them substitute something else,” Geoghegan said of property owners. “I think that’s an assumption that may not be true. There is more than one way to skin a cat.”
Planning and Zoning Board member Freddy Carter brought up that point during last week’s meeting, stating the historic district commission’s purpose was no different than the planning and zoning board.
“It’s not cut and dry, ‘Hey, you can’t tear that building down,’” Carter said. “They can decide that, but you don’t know what it is. (An application for changes) has to go before them.”
Bluegrass Area Development District Regional Planner Beth Jones said the zoning would remain the same. A business classified as B-1 would still be B-1 if the historic district were established; the creation of a district would be a zone overlay.  
“There are people willing to pay good money to live in a nice house in a neighborhood where they know that their neighbors can’t come in and make the neighborhood go to pot,” Jones, a non-voting member of the board, said during last week’s meeting. “It’s just the same as HOA, as home owners association restrictions in private, gated neighborhoods.”
Board chair Betty Webb, the only member of the Planning and Zoning Commission who currently lives within the proposed historic district, disagreed.
“In this situation, you’re told what you can and cannot do,” Webb said, referring to historic district standards.  
Although the ordinance states additional regulations may be supplemented in addition to Secretary of the Interior historic rehabilitation standards, the five-member historic district commission has set no additional guidelines.
If it does, any changes must be subject to a public hearing and comment from the Planning and Zoning Board as well as the city council.
The historic district ordinance, passed in 2006, lists its purpose is to effect and accomplish “the preservation, protection, perpetuation, and use of historic districts, landmarks, and landmark sites.”
Other parts of this ordinance, as well as the commission’s recommendation, needs clarification from the city attorney and the commission before the February public hearing, Jones said.
Some of the conditions she suggested include placing a member of Planning and Zoning on the historic commission; allowing Planning and Zoning to participate in writing design standards; and making a boundary recommendation such as the area defined as the downtown core district in the county’s comprehensive plan.
City Attorney Robert Myles said Planning and Zoning can recommendation whatever it wants to, but whether or not the city council will give the recommendation, and its attached conditions, any weight is up to the council.  
“We can have an historical district, but let’s just have (property owners) have a choice,” Hughes said.  

Tax credits?
If you live in a historic district or your building is a certified landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, you’re in luck.
Homeowners can currently apply and receive state tax credits, or a dollar-for-dollar income tax reduction, for renovating an historic home, according to the Kentucky Heritage Council website.
Homeowners (or those rehabilitating any owner-occupied structure considered to be a historic landmark or within a historic district) must spend $20,000 at minimum on expenses within two years to receive a state tax credit.
Those homeowners can receive 30 percent of qualified rehabilitation expenses, with the tax credit not exceeding $60,000.
Businesses, non-profits and government organizations are also eligible to receive tax credits for their commercial, industrial, income-producing or other historic properties.
These property owners foot a minimum $20,000 rehabilitation bill or expenses equal to the adjusted basis, depending on which expense is higher.
The tax credit received is equal to 20 percent of expenses and can be no greater than $400,000 for the agreed two-year renovation period.
A 20 percent federal tax credit for rehab expenses is also available for certified income-producing properties, according to the Kentucky Heritage Council website. Homeowners cannot receive this federal tax credit, but other property owners are eligible to receive both federal and state historic preservation tax credits.
As of Feb. 2012, $5 million had been set aside for all Kentucky taxpayers for historic preservation tax credits; however, if projects exceed the $5 million cap, a formula will determine amount of credit per project, which may be less than the 30 or 20 percent tax credit available for homeowners and other property owners, respectively.
For more detailed information on the standards and application process necessary to be eligible for the Kentucky Historic Preservation Tax Credit, visit heritage.ky.gov/incentives.

What’s next?
After the planning and zoning commission makes its final vote, its decision — for or against the establishment of a historic district — will come before the city council.
If planning and zoning approves of the district, it must amend the comprehensive plan and zoning map to include the designated historic district area, according to city ordinance.
Once the planning and zoning’s comments come to the council, the council has only 60 days to establish a historic district.
If it votes to enact a historic district despite a negative vote from the planning and zoning commission, the council has the authority to request planning and zoning to reconsider its earlier decision, including changes to the comprehensive plan and zoning map.
Designation of the historic district can only take effect once those steps are taken, according to the ordinance.
If the council takes no action within 60 days, the historic district commission recommendation to create the historic district would be considered officially approved by law.  

Want to go?
The planning and zoning commission is required by law to hold a public hearing before it makes it final yes or no vote on the historic district recommendation.
When: Feb. 12
Time: 7 p.m., during the commission’s regularly scheduled meeting
Where: Anderson County Fiscal Court chambers, 137 S. Main St.
The location of the meeting may be changed if the fiscal court chambers cannot accommodate the number of people anticipated to attend. For any changes on meeting place or time of the hearing.