Janesville69.1°

Commission to consider historic overlay change

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
April 17, 2010
— A proposed ordinance that would allow the Janesville Historic Commission to block exterior work on homes in historic overlay districts is back before the plan commission on Monday—with a change to the appeal process.

The current proposal would skip the plan commission and allow property owners to appeal directly to the city council.


The revision would direct property owners first to the plan commission.


If the plan commission agreed with the historic commission, the owner could then take his or her case to the council.


If the plan commission disagreed with the historic commission, the appeal process would stop and the work would be allowed.


Plan commission members suggested the additional step when they reviewed the proposed ordinance April 5. Members thought they could act as mediators between the owner and historic commission.


With or without the revision, the new ordinance would give the historic commission the power to deny a building permit for exterior work if members deem the work historically inappropriate.


Now, the historic commission can only delay the homeowner for six months, during which time members work with the owner to come up with a compromise. The owner can appeal to the plan commission but eventually can do the work even without approval.


The largest overlay district is the Courthouse Hill Historic District. Several individual properties also are overlay districts.


Historic commission members said a majority of property owners support a stricter ordinance.


Many Courthouse Hill neighbors say the owner of the historic Lovejoy home ruined it recently with unapproved remodeling.


Eight residents appeared before the plan commission April 5. Four spoke in favor of the proposal, and four spoke against.


The plan commission is charged with making a recommendation to the council on the proposed ordinance.


Even if the appeals process in the proposed ordinance is revised, it is not certain the plan commission would recommend changing the existing ordinance.


Some plan commission members said at the April 5 meeting that the current process works fine. They worry about infringing on property owners’ rights.


Out of 120 applications for building permits, the historic commission has denied four. Only one of those owners appealed to the plan commission, Cantrell said.


Commissioner Steve Werner said Friday that the historic commission serves an important purpose.


“At the same time, I do believe that a property owner has rights, and we shouldn’t necessarily have a historical commission that ultimately controls what a property owner can do,” Werner said.


The current ordinance seems to be working, so he wonders why change is needed.


At least one plan commission member supports the change.


Chairwoman Meredith Helgerson said the fact that the system has worked so well over the years—with “everyone coming to a happy conclusion—is a reason to strengthen the ordinance.”


WHAT’S NEXT?


The Janesville Plan Commission will review a revised proposal concerning historic overlay districts at 6:30 p.m. Monday in City Hall, 18 N. Jackson St.


If the plan commission approves the revision, the ordinance would be reintroduced to the city council and return for a public hearing before the plan commission Monday, May 17.


The council likely would consider the revised ordinance Monday, June 14, when another public hearing would be scheduled.



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