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Archive for Wednesday, December 11, 2002

County reviews Black Jack plans

Officials consider blessing historic designation nomination

December 11, 2002

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Douglas County commissioners are preparing to settle a battle between preservationists and property-rights advocates about a site that helped spark the Civil War.

Tonight, commissioners will consider supporting a nomination to list Black Jack Battlefield on the National Register of Historic Places.

And just as pro-slavery and abolitionists exchanged shots in 1856 - in what area preservationists consider the first shots of the Civil War - this heated battle offers few prospects for a peaceful resolution.

"We're expecting a lot of opposition," said Carolyn Bailey Berneking, who wrote the nomination on behalf of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance. "The Civil War was started over the slavery question, but this one's over money. It's all because they would like to sell their land around the edges and get a lot of money.

"Mostly, they're just looking out for their own interests. They don't see the big picture."

In September, commissioners heard Berneking's pitch for listing the site as a landmark but put off a decision to give surrounding property owners a chance to learn about the issue and consider its repercussions.

All property owners who attended an informational meeting with Dennis Enslinger, the city-county historic resources administrator, said they opposed a landmark listing.

Today the battle lines remain, even though the issues of division essentially are moot.

Property owners worry that a landmark listing would curtail their property rights by requiring that any redevelopment or other major changes on their land be reviewed by the state's historic preservation officer. Such reviews can delay or stop projects in their tracks.

But the heart of the 20-acre Black Jack site - a 6-acre parcel that includes ruts of the Santa Fe Trail - last month was designated as a landmark on the national register. That means all the properties around the Black Jack site already are subject to regulatory reviews.

With regulations already in place, commissioners could consider taking steps to manage the state's historic authority. Lawrence city commissioners, for example, created their own board to review projects near historic properties in Lawrence, negating the need for state reviews.

Tonight's meeting begins at 6:35 at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Mass. Also included on the agenda:

  • Consider a request to spend up to $15,000 to help convene a Heritage Summit next month at the Eldridge Hotel.
  • Discuss fireworks regulations in rural areas of the county.
Friends of Black Jack Battlefield are sponsoring a conference to discuss ways to preserve the site.

The conference will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in the auditorium at Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., and includes a speech at 1:30 p.m. from Ramon Powers, former state historic preservation officer.

To register for the free conference, send an e-mail to info@battleofblackjack1856.org. The group's Web site is www.battleofblackjack1856.org.

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