Janesville46°

Downtown business owners weigh historic district changes

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
April 14, 2011
— Several business people expressed concern about a proposed historic overlay district in downtown Janesville, and one said he had better hurry up and get a new door installed before the district is approved.

But others supported stricter regulations to protect historic properties.


About 15 property owners and interested residents attended Wednesday's meeting on the proposal, which was sponsored by the city's historic commission.


The Downtown Development Alliance and other downtown business owners requested an overlay district. The area would comprise about half of the current downtown historic district.


An overlay district gives the historic commission more power to regulate exterior work that requires permits. That includes alterations to windows and doors, siding and new construction and demolition. It does not include paint color.


The city's only other historic overlay district is in Courthouse Hill.


Jim Grafft, who owns several downtown buildings, said he worries that the ordinance will be based on interpretation. The extra steps required to go before the commission would cost him time and money, he said.


Dan Atwood, commission chairman, said there is no cost to the city because all commission members are volunteers who review the work within two weeks.


If permits are denied, owners can take their requests to the plan commission and finally the council. Atwood said the commission's goal is to work with property owners to help them enhance historic properties.


That protects property values, helps revitalize areas and preserves the city's historic and architectural heritage, Atwood said. It also keeps demolition material out of the landfill.


Grafft said most of the property owners downtown are sensitive to the historic buildings they own, although he did acknowledge there are a few properties he is concerned about.


But the city doesn't need more legislation to cause delays and add to the cost of people trying to get something done, he said.


Jim Alverson, downtown property owner, said property could be ruined very quickly without more oversight.


"Overnight, the integrity of the whole block can be diminished significantly," he said. He told how someone slapped white aluminum in the middle of a harmonious sequence of Italianate windows.


A proposed ordinance will now go to the plan commission, probably no later than late summer, when a public hearing will be held. It will advance to the council for a second public hearing and a vote.



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