Janesville historic commission gains authority

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010
— In a 4-3 vote, Janesville council members Monday gave its historic commission more power in an effort to better protect homes in overlay districts.

Voting to approve the ordinance were Russ Steeber, Kathy Voskuil, Frank Perrotto and Yuri Rashkin. Voting against the ordinance were Bill Truman, George Brunner and Tom McDonald.

Currently, owners who want to make certain changes to the exterior of buildings in historic overlay districts must go before the historic commission. The commission could delay the owners’ plans for six months, during which time commission members work with residents to educate them on appropriate changes. Ultimately, the property owners can do what they want, including demolishing a historic structure.

After tonight, the commission will have the power to deny the homeowners their requests. However, members have said they will continue to work with homeowners for amenable results, as has happened overwhelmingly in the past.

Residents can appeal to the plan commission, then the council, then Rock County Court.

The council added the removal of exterior detail to the list of work that requires a building permit and the subsequent approval of the commission.

Three residents spoke against the ordinance and four in favor, representing the same slight majority that has been reflected at numerous information meetings and hearings in the past months.

“This is America, and property owners have rights,” said Dan Swanson. “The proposed ordinance continues to erode property rights.”

Larry Barton said the ordinance balances property owner rights with their responsibilities and “takes into account the real meaning of a historic district.”

Councilman Steeber said he was torn because he said he is a strong advocate for property owner rights.

He believed, though, that it is an ordinance residents could live with.

“Its intention is to preserve the existing homes, the state they are in,” he said, noting the extensive appeals process.

Councilman Truman said the ordinance disregarded property owner rights.

Councilman McDonald said he had no problems with the ordinance but would vote “no” because property owners deserve notice so they could sell if they wanted to.

Councilman Perrotto said he believed concerns were “highly exaggerated.” He noted that few cases have gone to appeal over the last 20 years.

Some people refer to the ordinance as the “Lovejoy Ordinance,” Perrotto said, referring to a historic home that was recently stripped of its details and encased in a concrete-like substance.

“No one here ever wants to go through that again,” he said. “Would that have been prevented had this been in place? Perhaps.”

Last updated: 2:04 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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