Village Council Mulls Future of Historic Commission
The Pinehurst Historic Preservation Commission could be just that - history - if some Village Council members have their way.
The council began discussing the role of the volunteer commission Tuesday and promised to continue the dialogue at a future council meeting.
The discussion came in the wake of the final approval of major site plan for enhancements to the Village Green and the downtown sand parking lot. That approval was delayed seven months when the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) voted against issuing a certificate of appropriateness for the project June 29.
The council appealed to the Board of Adjustment, which ruled in favor of the council and ordered the HPC to issue the certificate. The commission did so earlier this month, but not before the village incurred more than $33,000 in legal fees as part of the appeal.
Mayor Nancy Fiorillo said discussions about the role of the HPC had been "ongoing for a long time."
"Mark Parson had expressed some concerns on how the process was working and how it was difficult for citizens to navigate," Fiorillo said. "But that kind of fell on deaf ears until we saw what happened with our application."
Parson and fellow council member John Strickland both served on the HPC, which was created in 2006, prior to join ng the council.
Parson said the commission is "onerous" and "not effective." He said it is "the biggest unpredictable ball and chain we have" in the village.
"My gut tells me that the Historic Preservation Commission is not good for Pinehurst, because of its unpredictability," he said.
Strickland said the problems boiled down to two issues: administrative, or how the commission works, and which of its duties can be absorbed by another group, such as the village planning staff; and secondly, what the authority of the commission is, and should it have authority to overrule the council.
Strickland said there is still value in "some sort of historic preservation group."
"I want to make the point that if we are a Historic Landmark and view ourselves as a historic place, then it seems to me, considering the village of Pinehurst's history, that we'd be hard pressed to protect that without some sort of board working for us."
State law requires that a historic preservation commission be established before it designates historic districts. The Pinehurst HPC was created prior to establishing the district, and the body has been tasked with duties assigned through the village's development ordinances.
Senior Planner Molly Goodman offered the council a list of options it could consider to achieve a streamlined process without sacrificing higher standards:
Leave the HPC as is
Reduce the number of HPC members
Change hats of the current commission to either Community Appearance Committee or Planning and Zoning Board.
Dissolve the local historic district boundary and create and overlay district with separate standards
Appoint council members to the commission
n Leave the HPC in place and route all levels of approval through staff; projects not meeting the written standards would still require board review
n Create a design review subcommittee - mainly in the event that staff has more review authority as a way to give nonbinding suggestions to applicants
n Amend the current local historic district boundary
n Request special legislation for other options
Councilman Doug Lapins said the HPC isn't working as intended.
"For me, its mea culpa," Lapins said. "I was part of the council that put it in."
Lapins said the commission is "not what any of us had in mind when we started this. I'm looking for something different."
Fiorillo said she favors going back to a historic zoning overlay district with "very specific standards." Before the HPC was created, the village had a historic overlay district.
"Standards are concrete," Fiorillo said. "If the standards are made more concrete, our historic district can be administered through staff."
Parson also said he favored creating an overlay district.
One worry with that system is that if there is any discretion involved, a board with quasi-judicial authority would have to handle the issue.
The council took no action but did agree to invite HPC members to a later meeting for continued talks.
Several residents spoke on this issue Tuesday, including Jim Lewis, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission. Lewis said he has not been comfortable with the process, saying he didn't feel good about saying no to the council.
"On the other hand, if the village doesn't go by the same rules, I don't feel good about saying no to the citizens," he said.
In June, Lewis voted not to issue the certificate of appropriateness for the project. He said Tuesday his opinion hadn't changed.
"I was against it then, and I am still against it now," he told the council.
He said the commission should have some room for judgment and interpretation of the rules, and that the volunteer commission - like a jury - still has merit.
"If I can send you to jail, I ought to be able to tell you if your home is the wrong color," he said.
Contact Tom Embrey at (910) 693-2484 or tembrey@ thepilot.com.
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