Tackling several issues, such as how best to apply design guidelines and standards and procedure for meetings, the Ste. Genevieve Heritage Commission conducted a 90-minute work session on May 20.
Also attending were Dr. Steven Hoffman, director of the historic preservation program at Southeast Missouri State University and leader of the summer field school that was in town that week; Bob Mueller, a local historian who had addressed the commission on its procedures at a recent meeting; and Dr. Gary Smith, Ward 1 alderman and the new city liaison to the commission.
The Heritage Commission, after years of being criticized for being too strict in its enforcement of design guidelines, began to see their decisions being reversed by the Board of Aldermen upon appeals in 2016. Gradually, the Commission softened its stand on adherence to the letter of the guidelines. This has opened it up to a recent wave of criticism for being too lax or inconsistent in its rulings.
The work session was conducted to find agreement on some basic issues.
Community development administrator David Bova went through a list of seven questions for the commission to consider.
The questions were:
1. Do the decisions of the Heritage Commission support the purposes defined in city ordinance?
2. What specifically is “exterior character-defining architectural feature or appearance” of a building? How should the design guidelines be used to make a criteria-based decision?
3. Should project approval motions specifically cite city ordinance and/or design guidelines? Will changing the verbiage of approval motions make them more or less confusing to the public?
4. Are the “Design Guidelines for the Sainte Genevieve National Register Historic District” a set of rules to follow specifically? Or are they to be followed and applied according to each situation and application?
5. Should the Heritage Commission have a specific procedure for interviewing certificate of appropriateness (COA) applicants and discussing COAs?
6. Should the design guidelines be updated? If so, should more stringent federal guidelines be followed more closely? Should there be separate guidelines for landmarks, contributing buildings/sites and non-contributing buildings/sites?
7. Is a “contributing” building also an “historic” building?
“The commission has had some tough decisions to make recently, as in all years, and has had some feedback,” Bova said, explaining that members had e-mailed concerns to him and expressed interest in having such a work session.
Commission chair Casey Brenner opened discussion on question No. 3, how the commission should word its motions.
“I like the idea of … saying we are looking at, say, a roof, and we go back and we say, ‘In our guidelines, in whatever section it is, this is why we’re going this direction,’” Brenner said. “Do we think it’s going to make it easier, make it more complicated?”
“I kind of like that idea,” commission member LeAnn Waldvogel said, “that you go back to a specific ordinance about the specific material and what’s being done because that would back up the decisions made by the commission if, further down the road, there were objections made.”
See complete story in the May 29 edition of the Herald.