Thursday, September 24, 2009

Landmark Nomination - when to be decided?

Yesterday's letter from Esther Hall Gordon, now of Battle Creek, Michigan and former resident of the Woodstock Children's Home from 1963-1971 and Woodstock High School graduate '71, again reminded me once again that, as readers know, Mayor Sager and the Woodstock City Council tabled the nomination of Grace Hall for Landmark Designation at a prior City Council meeting, just before approving demolition of Grace Hall. That demolition is subject to approval of the first building permit for the South Phase of the WCLS special use permit to building additional little duplexes.

On September 14th I asked the City Council, at its joint meeting with the Historic Preservation Commission, to "untable" this nomination and act on it. My request elicited no response from the City Council.

The City Council would like this issue to just die and go away. Residents (voters!) cannot allow this to occur. The City Council must act responsibly and not continue to ignore the recommendation of the Historic Preservation Commission. They didn't deny it at the previous meeting; they "tabled" it. This means it is still on the table!

The honorable thing for them to do is place this nomination on the Agenda, before a permit request ever reaches the Plan Department, and act on it.

If they approve it, that will slow, stall or eliminate demolition. If they deny the landmark designation, then that opens the door for legal action against the City by the Historic Preservation Commission and interested residents for not following its own Historic Preservation ordinance. The building absolutely meets (and exceeds) the minimum requirements under the ordinance for Landmark status.

Of course, if the City Council approves Landmark status for Grace Hall and refuses to issue a demolition permit, then that will prompt legal action by Woodstock Christian Life Services, through its attorney, Mark Gummerson. When was it - a year ago? - that he intimidated legal action could be expected if the City didn't approve WCLS plans? It was subtle, but every member of the City Council had to hear the threat of legal action.

The Woodstock City Council needs a second, and fully independent, legal opinion on the question of superiority of WCLS' request for special use permit over the Landmark nomination. It is my belief that an attorney who is an expert in historic preservation will advise the City that Landmark designation, regardless of when pronounced, trumps demolition of a building with historic and architectural value.

At the present time, the City is relying on advice that, just because WCLS jumped in line first, its claim is superior to the Historic Preservation Commission's nomination. 'Tain't so.

There are seven members of the City Council. What Woodstock needs is seven independent members of the City Council! Men and women who will investigate, think through and make their own independent decisions on issues. All leaders; no followers.

Will this City Council have the courage to address the Landmark nomination without further malingering?

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