Colonial Gardens then …

Some members of the Louisville Metro Council have proposed a change in the way properties and/or areas are designated as landmarks, and the issue has the city’s preservationists breaking out the pitchforks and torches.

The ordinance, sponsored by Councilpersons David Yates (D-25), Vicki Welch (D-13), Bob Henderson (D-14), Rick Blackwell (D-12), James Peden (R-23), David James (D-6), and Jerry Miller (R-19), would require a landmark designation to be approved by the Metro Council rather than relying only on the Landmarks Commission, as is currently done.

The ordinance would also change the petition requirements so that all residents – both property owners and renters  – living around a proposed landmark would have a bigger say in the decision.

The ordinance would include similar changes for landmark “districts.”

As it currently stands, the process allows something like this to happen:

Let’s say a group decides a building in danger of being razed shouldn’t be razed because of it’s historical value to the city. The group would collect 200 signatures on an official petition, pay $500, register to speak at a public hearing and try to win over the members of the Landmarks Commission.

If the commission is satisfied with the petitioners argument, then the property is designated a landmark.

That’s it.

That actually sounds fairly reasonable. It is the way the process has worked in Louisville for a long time.

But now, for fun, let’s say the petition only included about 30 residents who actually lived in the vicinity of the proposed property, with the rest coming from people who do not live near the building.

Would that be fair?

To have people from Prospect signing a petition to save a building in Iroquois? A building they don’t have to live near or even see on a routine basis? What about the people in the surrounding neighborhood who didn’t sign the petition, who saw no value in the building whatsoever? What if the neighbors wanted a restaurant built in it’s place, instead of a dilapidated eyesore? Shouldn’t their opinion carry more weight than someone living 30 miles away?

While you ponder those questions, try and remember that scenario, because it is exactly what happened in 2009 in south Louisville with a building known as Colonial Gardens, and it is the basis for the change described in this now-revised ordinance.

This is a peculiarly impossible situation for me, personally.

I love Louisville’s preservationists and their community efforts, and count many preservation activists as friends. I believe the Landmarks Commission is comprised of dedicated professionals who are extremely knowledgeable and respected and do not require “babysitters.”

Colonial Gardens now.

But I also live closer to Colonial Gardens than 70 percent of the people who attached their names to the petition. I also want the process to be backed by the force of law to, well, preserve not only the integrity of the Landmarks Commission, but the legality of its decisions.

I supported the designation of Colonial Gardens as a landmark because I thought it deserved to be recognized. The building’s spire and roofline are distinguishing characteristics of a place that once was, among other things, the site of Senning’s Park – Louisville’s first zoo.

But I also understand that I may be in the minority. People living near the building – directly across from Fredrick Law Olmsted’s Iroquois Park – say they wanted a nice restaurant, not an empty, crumbling former nightclub. Some residents of the area say the building should have been demolished.

Since the landmark designation, absolutely nothing has been done with the property on the corner of Kenwood Drive and New Cut Road. This adds to the frustration for people like Ray Whitener, a resident in the nearby Auburndale area who says, “Municipalities across America have battled for reasonable landmark ordinances and the debate has continued for years.  This proposal is a step in the right direction.”

The timing of the ordinance and the intense reaction it has caused caught the measure’s sponsors completely off-guard. Councilman David Yates, who lives near Colonial Gardens, has been the target of most of the criticism. Among the charges leveled at Yates and others is the assertion that local developers “wrote” the ordinance.

Yates called that statement “absurd.”

“We just want to make sure that the people affected by something like this have their voices heard. Therefore, an unelected board that is unaccountable to the public cannot have the last word,” says Yates.

To view the complete ordinance, click HERE.

Some critics have said the Landmarks Commission will end up like the Planning Commission.

I disagree.

The Planning Commission is made of developers.

The Landmarks Commission is made of professionals.

 Let’s save Louisville. But let’s do it better.