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Historic district sparks dispute

Panel: Reject opt-out requests from owners

Published: Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

MORRISON – Three Main Street property owners want out of the historic district, complaining about its regulations.

An advisory panel recommends the City Council reject the requests, but the city administrator disagrees.

On Monday, the council is expected to decide.

It’s been a controversial issue for years. Some property owners say the city failed to notify them before forming the district. And they contend the regulations are too onerous, taking away their property rights.

Last year, the city gave property owners until Dec. 31 to apply to opt out of the city’s controversial district. The city got requests from the owners of buildings at 101, 112 and 227-229 E. Main St.

The requests went to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, which advises the council.

At its Dec. 20 meeting, the commission unanimously recommended the city turn down the requests. It later issued a letter signed by all of its members defending the decision.

In the letter, the panel disagreed with arguments that it was impinging on people’s property rights.

“The commission has repeatedly said that it certainly does respect property owners and their rights,” the letter reads. “However, this respect is not only for certain and identifiable individual property owners but for all present and future property owners and their rights within a district – not just those who now object to being subjected to some rules.”

Just like zoning rules, historic district regulations seek to prevent harm to existing residents and businesses, the commission said.

“We may trust any of the present owners to maintain the quality of their structures, but trusting the unknown future buyer is a risk that we urge is not worth assuming,” the panel said in the letter.

City Administrator Jim Wise said the requests for exclusion were reasonable. He noted the case made by Judy Zuidema, the owner of the building at 112 E. Main St., who said the historic district regulations prevent her from selling.

He said in cases such as Zuidema’s, the city must favor reuse and redevelopment.

“Economic development trumps preservation at this time,” Wise said. “I strongly believe downtown is the heart of the community, but you have to find a happy medium between economic development and preservation.”

The commission, however, says that studies have shown that historic districts boost the values of properties, saying the local one will “ensure the stabilization of our historic downtown.”

Wise said that if the city excludes the properties from the district, the owners could still opt in later.

Bob Shambaugh, who represents the Mason lodge, which owns 227-229 E. Main St., said he was glad to hear Wise recommended the city grant the opt-out requests.

“Whether we are in or out won’t affect us a lot,” he said. “We have no reason to change our building, unless a storm rips it up.”

To attend

The Morrison City Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday in Whiteside County Board chambers in the County Courthouse, 400 N. Cherry St.

The council is expected to vote on whether to exclude three properties from the historic district.

For an agenda for this meeting, minutes from past meetings, and more information, go to morrisonil.org or call 815-772-7657.

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