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Task Force Ideas Fizzle

Preservation Effort Fails To Advance

March 28, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

Politicians, city staff and preservationists say they have been unable to craft a historic preservation ordinance that balances the need to preserve more than 4,000 properties in Hartford with the need to protect the people who own them from undue expense.

"Well, we're stuck," said Greg Secord, chairman of the task force in charge of exploring the ordinance issue. "Impasse is probably the right word."

Last May, Secord's task force submitted recommendations to the mayor. Last fall, Mayor Eddie A. Perez submitted a proposed ordinance to the council, which has yet to act.

"It's not dead, but we've made our best effort to reach a suitable conclusion," said John Palmieri, the city's director of development services, adding that more meetings are scheduled with preservationists to discuss how to best balance their concerns with those of Perez.

"The bottom line is, what's in the best interest of the city of Hartford?" Secord asked. "Do you treat the reality [of the historic properties] as an asset or a liability? Traditionally, it's been a liability for us as a city. The whole point of the ordinance was to change the attitude and treat it as an economic development tool."

City officials say their frustration has several elements, but the issue of how to best write an ordinance that would protect the city's low-income homeowners from new expenses is the biggest.

"The questions are, `Are you going to impose a financial hardship upon them in addition to regulating them?" asked Matt Hennessy, Perez's chief of staff.

"That's a big issue, and the mayor has said, `I'm going to side with the homeowners in Hartford.'"

City officials are concerned about the cost of implementing an ordinance.

After looking at ordinances from similar cities, city planners found that a big difference in Hartford was the scope of its proposed ordinance: It would include 4,000 properties, or about 20 percent of the city's total.

Implementing an ordinance that would be responsible for so many properties would mean an expense for the city, Hennessy and others said.

The mayor's office has explored various ways to exempt low-income property owners.

These have included loan programs, excusing them from regulation if the cost of the historic preservation exceeds 10 percent of the cost of a renovation project, and requiring that property owners go through a series of meetings with town staff members to explore all construction possibilities before letting them choose their own paths, officials said.

None were appropriate, Palmieri said.

City officials have also been concerned that there is little support for the ordinance from residents throughout the city.

"If we had a number of neighborhoods coming forward and doing this voluntarily and showing how this could work, that would be a great first step," Hennessy said.

Building public support is difficult in a city with such a low homeownership rate, Secord said.

Only one in four city homes is owner-occupied.

"So, most properties are owned by absentee landlords, and they typically will not support local historic districts," Secord said.

"I understand where the mayor is coming from, because he doesn't want this to negatively impact people's willingness to reinvest in neighborhoods," he said.

"But the mayor's edit [of the task force's report] is not workable."

Palmieri said the effort to pass a preservation ordinance has frustrated him and his staff as it searches for a workable solution.

"Of course, everyone knows that helping to preserve properties is a good way to strengthen neighborhoods," Palmieri said. "We know that, we understand that."

"The economic hardship language is what we're struggling with," Palmieri said.

"That's the long and the short of it."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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