Douglas County commissioners agreed Wednesday to wait another two weeks before voting on a proposal to establish a county-level historic preservation plan in order to give the public more opportunity to comment.
Commissioner Jim Flory, a Republican, said he was concerned that adoption of such a plan could lead to regulations that could affect anyone who owns property near designated historic properties.
The Douglas County Heritage Conservation Council is seeking approval of a plan so the county can qualify as a "certified local government" with the Kansas State Historical Society. That, in turn, would enable the county to qualify for grants to fund local preservation projects.
The item came up during the afternoon portion of the meeting, which is normally reserved for topics that are not likely to generate public comment. But Flory said he thought the issue was significant enough that it should have been scheduled for an evening session to allow more opportunity for public input.
The proposed preservation plan for the county would allow property owners to voluntarily request their buildings or sites to be designated as county historic properties. Under the proposed county plan, that would have no impact on neighboring property, or the "environs" of the historic property.
But Flory noted that by applying to become a certified local government, the county would also have to agree to enforce state and federal historic preservation laws. And the state law in Kansas does protect the "environs" around state-designated historic sites.
"I think the potential impact is something deserving of a public hearing," Flory said.
Shelley Hickman, a Lawrence attorney who helped draft the proposed document, said it was carefully drawn to avoid putting that kind of restriction in the local plan.
"We didn't want people feeling it was something being shoved down their throat," she said. "That would defeat the whole purpose, which is to enhance people's understanding of what they have, and educate them about what they can do to protect their property."
She said the issue of protecting the environs of historic properties would only come up regarding permits for projects on or near state-designated properties.
But even Paul Bahnmaier, president of the Lecompton Historical Society and an avid supporter of state historic preservation efforts, said rural residents would have reason for concern.
"Does a rural person have to get a permit to demolish an old shed, tear down an building, or cut down some trees," he asked.
On a related issue, the commission split 2-1, with Flory dissenting, and approved a contract extension to continue a project of surveying historic resources in rural portions of Douglas County.
The request by the county's Heritage Commission was to extend a contract with Dale Nimz, a professor of urban planning at Kansas University. He conducted the first phase of the survey in 2012, which covered Eudora Township and portions of Kanwaka Township. The second phase would complete the survey of Kanwaka Township and continue into Wakarusa Township.
Although the second phase of the survey would take place in 2013, it would be funded out of the county's 2012 budget.
Flory said he thought if the county obtains certified local government status, it could qualify to have such projects funded with grants from the state.
"I'm opposed to spending funds when we don't know what we'll have in the future," he said. "We've got roofs to fix and personnel to take care of. These are historic items that have been there for years. They're not going anywhere."