Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Moratorium for Downtown?

Two historic homes on Main Street, near 350 West, have gone down. The homes were demolished to make way for a Good Earth store -- a good addition to our community, to be sure. But will the gain be worth the loss of a piece of our historic identity?

This question was asked by members of the Historic Preservation Committee when developer Danny Richards applied for the demolition permit. But according to American Fork's Historic Landmark Ordinance, applicants to demolish a historic building need only take ninety days to compile a history of the building -- photographs, dates, little more. They are then free to demolish.

In the application for the zone change associated with the development, Mr. Richards was required to state how the change would promote the "health, safety, morals, convenience, or general welfare of the public." He stated that the downtown area has "changed from a residential climate to a higher commercial climate." Homes, by that reasoning, are out of place here.

My neighbors and I dispute the claim that the downtown area has "changed from a residential climate." (On this subject, I have never heard a public comment so masterful as this one made by my neighbor, Ken Draper.)

The Historic Preservation Committee disputes whether the new commercial climate is, in fact, "higher." They, like the members of the board of Downtown American Fork, Inc., envision a downtown that preserves its historic character while promoting smaller, niche-market businesses.

But Mr. Richards complied fully with existing ordinances, so the City Council had no choice but to approve the demolition and new development.

The unmistakable lesson here is that our ordinances are not sufficient to enact the vision embodied in our general plan, which states:

While designated as commercial, the west Main Street area (150 West to 500 West) contains numerous dwellings of historical significance. Current ordinances applicable in this area (CC-2 Zone) provide incentives to preserve the existing structures, including the mixed use of the structures.

Preservation of these structures is a significant planning goal. Accordingly, the Plan recommends a continuation of the policy of preserving the historical residential structures in this area, and of promoting an environment which is compatible with the continued use of these structures for residential purposes.

Fortunately, help is on the way. Mayor Thompson has instructed City Attorney Kevin Bennett to draft an ordinance that will protect our downtown's historic character. But I personally worry that, during the lengthy process of writing and approving such an ordinance, more historic buildings will be lost.

Enter the moratorium. According to the Utah League of Cities and Towns,

A city or town may, without prior consideration, enact an ordinance establishing a temporary land-use regulation within any part or all of the area within a city or town. This is what is commonly called a moratorium. [A moratorium] cannot last longer than six months. . . . Before enacting a moratorium, the . . . council must make one of two findings. It must either find that there is a compelling public interest in doing so (an important reason) or that the area is currently unregulated.

Moratoriums are effective for limited purposes. They do not stop development, they only delay it. They do allow a city or town time to catch up on modernizing their ordinances. (Powers and Duties: A Guide for Utah Municipal Officials, Twelfth Edition, p. 123)

Draper City is in the midst of this process right now. (See Tribune article here.) I think it's a good thing for American Fork, too.


Post a Comment

<< Home