Committee shows some 'teeth'

Heritage Committee gets city officials to go with them on two of its power plays regarding Mills Act applications, exemptions.

December 02, 2010|By Barbara Diamond,

The Heritage Committee, which has long complained of impotence, flexed its muscles at the Nov. 16 council meeting to convince city officials to back two of its power plays.

At the request of the committee, city officials imposed a year's moratorium on Mills Act applications for K-rated homes, allowing the committee to shore up its guidelines and policies for eligibility recommendations to the council. The council also acceded to the committee's vehement opposition to a proposal to exempt expensively restored historic structures from the art in public places requirement. The moratorium and the denial of exemptions were approved 4 to 0 by a short-handed council, with ailing Mayor Elizabeth Pearson absent.

"As [committee chair] Jon Madison has often said, we lack teeth," said committee member Molly Bing. "So I was very pleased about the moratorium."


City K-rated homes mostly maintain their original integrity and demonstrate a particular architectural style or time period. They are not ranked quite as high as the E-rated homes listed on the city's Historical Inventory, which are usually in excellent condition and unique — some even eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places. C-rated structures are neither unique nor distinctive, but they contribute to the character of the neighborhood.

Owners of qualified buildings that sign the state Mills Act contracts provide a schedule of maintenance or repairs they propose to make on the structures. In return, property taxes are significantly reduced — some as much as $50,000 a year, which has caused some belly aching by city officials.

"It is important to have the Mills Act for the preservation of historic structures, but we are cognizant that it costs the city money and needs to be judiciously granted," Heritage Committee member Bonnie Hano said. "We are not as consistent as we might be and we need to clarify the criteria.

"We want to make sure property owners are using the [tax reduction] to for the upkeep of the property."

The Mills Act has been around since 1976. In 1993, the city approved the use of the act as an incentive to preserve historic structures and in 2006 expanded eligibility to K-rated homes.

When the Planning Commission amended the city's Historical Preservation element in 2006, there were 745 homes listed on the inventory: 130 E's, 351 K's and 258 C's.

To be eligible for the Mills Act, homes must be placed on the city's Historical Register.

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