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Breakthrough Seen In Preservation Rules

Ordinance Could Alter Homeowners' Duties

April 7, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

Richard Moe came to the Colt Gateway building beneath the blue onion dome Wednesday to talk about Hartford development from his perch as president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

But Moe, an outsider to city politics, drew perhaps the most applause when he gave the crowd a little insider information.

"There's good reason to believe that a good citywide ordinance may very well be close to adoption," said Moe, referring to a historic preservation ordinance that has for some time been stalled. "That's certainly the impression I got from the mayor yesterday."

Late last month, preservationists, politicians and city staff agreed that work on a new historic preservation ordinance was at an impasse - they could not figure out a way to balance the need for preservation with the need to protect low-income homeowners from undue repair expenses, they said.

But over the weekend, preservationists redrafted the ordinance and have resubmitted it to the mayor's office for review, they said. There is one major substantive change. Under the old draft, residents doing exterior home repairs would be exempt from the ordinance if complying with it would increase the cost of the repairs by 10 percent or more. The number in the new draft is 30 percent, said Greg Secord.

"I think [the mayor] sensed the level of frustration and, if he didn't do something different, the whole thing was going to blow up," said Secord, chairman of the city's Historic Properties Commission. "None of us are happy [with the 30 percent cap], but our thinking is we need to get an ordinance on the books."

Matt Hennessy, Mayor Eddie A. Perez's chief of staff, said Tuesday the mayor had not yet approved the ordinance. Hennessy would not comment when asked on Wednesday for an update.

"We're pleased that the preservation folks finally adopted the concept that there had to be some limit on the amount of money they could force a homeowner to pay to comply with the ordinance," Hennessy said Tuesday.

As for the 30 percent cap, Hennessy said, "I think we have to see how it works with the whole ordinance. If you're making a $10,000 repair and it costs you $13,000, for a lot of homeowners, that could be a pretty good nut to crack."

The technicalities of the ordinance aside, the progress came as good news to the dozens of people gathered to hear Moe speak Wednesday morning, as did his optimism about the city.

"I'm so impressed by what I've seen in the past two days here in Hartford in terms of historic assets and the public and private commitments of leaders in this community," he said.

Moe's talk focused on the role of preservation in urban development, referencing its value as a tool for economic development, affordable housing, and city character.

"Preservation today is rooted in an appreciation of the value of history, but it's not just concerned with the past," he said. "Preservation today is a tool for creating great cities."

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.
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