It's taken three years, but Hartford finally has a law to protect more than 4,000 historic buildings.
The historic preservation ordinance, introduced in 2003, was passed last year by the city council, pending adoption of design guidelines. That painstakingly assembled protocol was finally approved on Nov. 13, to become effective 30 days later.
The ordinance creates a historic preservation commission charged with preserving the character of properties listed on the state or national registers of historic places.
The commission must approve plans to demolish older buildings, construct new ones or make major exterior repairs to existing structures.
The commission will have as members the same people now serving on the existing commission that oversees the city's three local historic districts, encompassing about 100 buildings. It's a good group that knows the drill. The commissioners are committed to move business as expeditiously as possible and not hinder development. The city has added a staff member to assist the commission.
The new law should not unduly burden property owners. The ordinance directs the commission to keep historic preservation requirements from adding more than 20 percent to the cost of a project. The commission will have to be flexible to keep projects under the ceiling. The new law also does not allow the demolition of a historic building absent a showing of no economic alternative and a plan to replace it. This should discourage the demolition of historic buildings simply to lower tax bills, a too-common problem in the past.
The commission plans a series of community meetings to explain the ordinance and its value to the city. It's important that property owners approach this in a spirit of cooperation. A key point to remember is that historic preservation is economic development. The great Victorian and Edwardian structures in the city, buildings that cannot be found in distant suburbs, are one of the city's main selling points. They are a source of pride and civic identity. It's about time better care is taken of them.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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