Historic designation process frustrates Prospect Park residents

The processes has taken longer than expected, and some residents think the interim protection is too strict.

Lolla Mohammed Nur

Be careful what you wish for. ThatâÄôs what Prospect Park residents learned after they began the arduous process of becoming a designated national historic site almost 10 years ago. When it became apparent that the designation process was time consuming and national designation wouldnâÄôt fully protect the houses of the history-laden neighborhood, residents decided in 2008 that interim protection was needed. The interim protection would protect historic buildings from being demolished and the neighborhoodâÄôs character from being altered for at least a year, or until the city reached a decision on local designation. But what residents didnâÄôt expect was how strict the protection would be. Recently, some residents have complained that the city is preventing them from making modifications to their houses. âÄúThe feeling is the interim protection is restrictive âÄî that itâÄôs a little too intrusive,âÄù said Dick Poppele, president of Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association. âÄúPeople were told the interim protection is for the neighborhoodâÄôs protection âĦ but some donâÄôt feel that way anymore.âÄù The interim protection, proposed by Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon in 2008, is based on national guidelines but enforced locally through the cityâÄôs preservation and design team of the Community Planning and Economic Development Department. The main benefit of interim protection is that an area is treated like a historic site while waiting for actual designation. Poppele said itâÄôs important because federal recognition doesnâÄôt prevent the demolition of historic buildings unless they were built using federal funds. âÄúWe wanted that process to be taken through the Heritage Preservation Commission, but they didnâÄôt go through HPC because we didnâÄôt have interim protection,âÄù Poppele said. âÄúOr at least that was the excuse.âÄù The guidelines being implemented are used to analyze alterations to 11 other local historic districts and 148 landmarks in Minneapolis, according to senior city planner Aaron Hanauer. Residents have complained the guidelines are too broad, leaving room for strict interpretation by the city. âÄúOne of the biggest issues is windows. Some residents are frustrated because they bought energy-efficient windows and couldnâÄôt get a permit for them because the city says thatâÄôs too much of a change,âÄù he said. âÄúThis has raised the anxiety of the neighborhood. TheyâÄôre wondering, âÄòWell, what if I want to do specific things?âÄôâÄù Daniel Peters is a Prospect Park resident who wanted to rebuild his deteriorating chimney with higher quality bricks. He said he had to pay a $750 fee for a certificate of appropriateness from the HPC, which is required for major building alterations. Peters thinks the fee and certificate are unnecessary because the new brick material heâÄôll use looks similar to the bricks currently on his chimney. âÄúWhy should I pay to preserve this inferior building material? I donâÄôt know a contractor these days that would build an exterior chimney using that subgrade brick. ThereâÄôs no reason to,âÄù he said. Jack Byers, CPED planning supervisor, said the guidelines are applied as defined by the city ordinance. âÄúBy ordinance, we have to administer it âĦ If youâÄôre going to repair something that is a replacement of the original historic material and it wonâÄôt change your property, thatâÄôs a minor alteration. But if it changes it, that requires a certificate of appropriateness.âÄù He said the issue is that many customers still donâÄôt understand the difference between a minor and major alteration. Robin Garwood, policy aide to Gordon, said the protection is a response to past criticisms that the city wasnâÄôt requiring residents to go through the HPC process. But he said a downside is the process can last several months. PPERIAâÄôs anxiety The interim protection was supposed to expire in September but was extended to March 2010 because no design guidelines to determine specific requirements were developed. PPERIA has been working since August on drafting these guidelines. Garwood said his main fear is the interim protection will expire before a decision at the local level can be made. âÄúThere has to be a lot of work that happens over the next three months if itâÄôs going to happen,âÄù he said. âÄúI donâÄôt know that everybody âĦ in the proposed district is really even tracking this very closely.âÄù Poppele said residents have to pay attention and âÄúthink this through.âÄù âÄúThe key is that weâÄôll be able to write guidelines that provide for the protection but at the same time provide the flexibility,âÄù he said. âÄúThat has not yet been answered.âÄù Another issue is that the Planning and Preservation Team can choose to take the communityâÄôs recommendations as advisory, which frustrates residents, Garwood said. âÄúI think thereâÄôs a difference of expectation from both sides,âÄù he said. âÄúEven if we write the guidelines, how do we make sure theyâÄôre interpreted that way by [city] staff? ThatâÄôs the big question.âÄù There is concern that residents will associate their hassles under interim protection with national or local designation guidelines. A majority vote from residents is needed to pass the national designation; if residents opt out, the process will be terminated. After having troubles modifying his chimney, Peters said heâÄôs not certain heâÄôll vote for historic preservation. âÄúWhen you do historic preservation youâÄôre giving up some of your property rights âĦ as a community,âÄù Peters said. âÄúI donâÄôt think thatâÄôs been clearly spelled out. The question is what do we get back to make that worthwhile?âÄù