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Big Wrecking Balls: City, Yet Again, Considers How to Raze Buildings in Historic Districts

Almost one year ago, the city debuted a proposal to streamline the process that allows for the demolition of structures within historic districts -- by eliminating altogether the Landmark Commission, which has to approve of the razing before anyone can haul out the wrecking ball. Preservationists, the City Attorney's Office and other city officials spent months hammering out out a compromise; it took till March of this year, and still allowed that the Fire Marshal can "order demolition of a structure, without Landmark approval, if a clear and imminent threat exists." But it was something with which preservationists could live.

Turns out, all those negotiations may have been for nothing: At this very moment, the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee, part of the City Plan Commission, is meeting to discuss, among other things, "consideration and action on Certificates for Demolition in Historic Districts and other Demolitions of Substandard Structures." And, Unfair Park has learned, this morning's discussion deals with a city staff-proposed process that would, yet again, eliminate Landmark Committee from stepping in if the city wants to tear down a building in a historic district. Matter of fact, the City Attorney's Office would be given the authority to swing the wrecking ball at its discretion, with the City Plan Commission's OK -- and without any say-so from Landmark whatsoever.

Preservationists have long agreed that the city needs to be able to tear down "substandard" structures within historic districts -- say, a burned-out house with a negligent, out-of-town owner, or a building that presents a threat to health and safety. But several City Hall insiders with whom Unfair Park has spoken believe this new proposal, which they've read and which we'll get a copy of this morning, is aimed at getting rid of the vacant downtown buildings Mayor Tom Leppert called out last October. So perhaps that Statler shroud won't be needed after all?

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