The Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission Thursday narrowly voted to landmark a 120-year-old house at 1240 E. Broadway, a property that was set to be demolished as part of a Thorntons gas station development at Broadway and Baxter Avenue.
“I am going to vote yes, in spite of my reservations,” said Robert Vice, chairman of the commission, who was the deciding vote.
Earlier in the hearing, Vice said he personally was struggling to make a decision.
“I don’t think this has the strength of other individual designations we’ve made,” he said.
Vice and other commissioners noted that their decision would have been easier if the petitioners had come before the commission with a petition requesting that the nine remaining houses along that block of East Broadway be designated a local preservation district, rather than asking that the single house be designated a local landmark.
Attorney Steve Porter filed the petition in March on behalf of the Original Highlands Neighborhood Association, Louisville Historical League, Cherokee Triangle Association, OPEN Louisville and Neighborhood Planning and Preservation after finding out that property owner Kennie Combs planned to demolish it to make way for a Thorntons gas station development.
Glenn Price, an attorney with Frost Brown Todd representing Thorntons, told Insider that they were surprised by 5-to-4 vote in favor of the landmark designation.
“Those are the breaks, and you deal with it,” he said, noting that they have not talked about next steps but may appeal the commission’s decision.
In addition to appealing the commission’s decision, Combs also could apply for a special permit that would allow him to demolish the house if he can prove that renovating it for reuse would cause him economic hardship. Louisville’s Architectural Review Committee is the decision-making body in that case.
Combs said at the hearing that he bought the house in 2015 to tear it down, adding that the cost to restore the house would exceed $450,000.
“I certainly can’t afford to put that money into it,” he said.
Combs noted that it shouldn’t be saved for several reasons: it didn’t house significant historical figures, nothing significant happened there, and it’s been altered over the years.
“There is no historical value to the house whatsoever except that it was built with many other houses,” he said. “In my opinion, this is a form of eminent domain.”
Those who spoke in favor of preserving the house at 1240 E. Broadway, noted that it’s one of few blocks with older houses that hasn’t been demolished.
“It’s an architectural jewel because it’s the last remaining row of houses,” said Jim Schorch, a member of the Original Highlands Neighborhood Association board. “We don’t want any more encroachment and destruction of structures.”
Chad Oliver, who identified himself as an East Broadway resident, said that while 1240 E. Broadway is only one house, its demolish would take away from the neighborhood.
“I don’t know that we need to continually chip away at structures that may not be architecturally significant but add to the overall charm of the community,” he said.
Oliver noted that he’d be happy for Thornton’s to redevelop the vacant gas station property next to the house on East Broadway but without tearing the house down.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the law firm that attorney Glenn Price works for. Price is a lawyer at Frost Brown Todd.