Biting the Hand That Appointed It
It's a heck of a note when the servant turns around and becomes the master. This, in effect, is what seems to have happened in Pinehurst. Years ago, the Village Council created a Historic Preservation Commission to oversee the village's historic district. More recently, the elected council came up with an ambitious improvement plan for the Village Green and downtown - which its own appointed commission put the kibosh on.
This municipal slap in the face - and $33,000-plus the village had to spend in appealing the decision - has understandably got several council members out of joint. The very future existence of the commission may be up for grabs as a result.
Larger Issues Revealed
Though it does seem strange that a body of volunteers would have the power to bite the hand that appointed it, there is a larger issue involved here, which has been brought to light as a result of the current discussion. Council members have now been made acutely aware of the costly and time-consuming approval process that private applicants have had have to go through when they appear before the same commission.
All this has come to the fore during the six-month period that began when the project went before the HPC in June and has now gone well into January. Such a cumbersome process surely wasn't the intent for the HPC when it was first established.
The council has already been trying hard for a year or so to streamline the processes involved in doing business with the municipal government. Members have been getting a lot of negative feedback from everyday folks about the flaming hoops they have been made to jump through while trying to do business - not only with the HPC, but also in other areas such as building regulation.
The objective, a laudable one, is to make things more user-friendly for village residents. The commission, despite its good intentions, can hardly be said to be helping in that department.
Is a Historic Districted Needed?
Had the commission gone ahead and given the village project the thumbs-up in the first place, we wouldn't have arrived at this crossroads. But now that the fat is in the fire, the issue must be confronted. And given its importance, any discussions should involve a wide spectrum of interests and opinions.
The council appears to have a couple of major options: It can either (1) re-evaluate the commission's mission, its makeup and the issues it is empowered to handle, or (2) get rid of the commission altogether and turn the kinds of issues it has handled back over to the Planning and Zoning Department and the village staff.
One major complication: According to state law, you can't get rid of a historic commission without getting rid of the historic district. Some would consider that a big mistake - though the historic district status was originally sought for one reason only: to help publicize the village's 100th birthday back in 1995.
How important are the historic district status and the landmark status to the village? That's the question at the heart of the current controversy. It's one that deserves a thorough airing by the council, the commission and the public before any major decisions are made. But at a very minimum, any solution should eliminate the current spectacle of the tail so publicly wagging the dog.
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