A discussion during which Lawrence's mayor acknowledged "some sloppiness" in the city's historic preservation ordinance also displayed some sloppy thinking by parties on both sides of the issue.
The exchange was prompted by a request to demolish a house at 1042 Ohio. The city's Historic Resources Commission had recommended that the demolition permit be granted, but neighboring residents protested the permit because they believed the loss of the house would damage neighboring property which has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Both the city's HRC and the state historical society had reviewed the request and approved the demolition. Their opinion was that the loss of the house on Ohio would not damage the historic property located across the alley on Tennessee. With this argument removed, Former Mayor Marci Francisco, one of the objecting neighbors, set aside the merit issues and decided to argue about the process, saying the demolition application shouldn't be valid because it wasn't signed by the property owner.
Meanwhile City Commissioner David Penny also set aside the legality of the issue by saying he was voting to allow the demolition because he is philosophically opposed to the part of the city's historic preservation ordinance that protects the "environs" surrounding historic property. In essence, he was saying he didn't care if the demolition was legal; he disagrees with the law and was basing his vote on his own personal opinion of what should be done.
Is this how the city commission is intended to function? If city commissioners disagree with the laws on the books, they have every right to try to change those laws, but they should be expected not to simply ignore those laws with which they philosophically disagree. Such a system is a recipe for chaos.
Likewise, Francisco's actions in using every possible means to delay and frustrate the action offers an excellent example of why decisions come so slowly and painfully in Lawrence.
The city's historic preservation law was hammered out over many months and many discussions, but it seems that it has not answered all the questions that may arise concerning historic properties and the area surrounding them. Perhaps some refinement of the ordinance is in order, but side arguments like those presented at Tuesday's city commission meeting serve only to further muddy the waters, rather than clarify the ordinance's goals.