Historic district plan mix-up vexes neighbors

For nearly 25 years, the residents of the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District have operated under the belief that a plan was in place to protect their neighborhood from land uses that strayed from traditional single-family homes.

They say they’re just now learning that may not be the case, thanks to the fact the plan apparently is missing.

City planners say a proposed bed and breakfast within the historic district complies with the zoning regulations and could be approved administratively. That view differs greatly from that of residents who thought the project fell outside land-use regulations they thought were adopted in 1984 and would be subject to public hearings in front of the Planning Commission and City Council.

The four-block stretch of Seventh between Grand and Hill avenues gained historic district status and a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The honor recognizes areas worthy of preservation because of architecture, landscaping and other elements that have remained intact. Such a designation, though, doesn’t afford the district any legal protection if a change in land use is proposed.

That protection comes from zoning regulations, something historic district residents thought they had with the 1984 rezoning of the district and a plan they say accompanies the zoning ordinance. The plan emphasized preserving the historical character of the neighborhood and requiring proposed changes in use to be approved by the Planning Commission and City Council.

But city planners say the plan isn’t enforceable because there’s no evidence it was formally adopted with the zoning ordinance. And so, they say they must follow the zoning code, which was adopted in 2000 and allows bed and breakfasts in residential zone districts. The code indicates bed and breakfasts with no more than three rooms can be approved administratively.

Any proposal larger than that would require a public hearing and a conditional-use permit, city Senior Planner Scott Peterson said.

Residents, however, say it doesn’t seem logical the 1984 plan would be drawn up unless it had been meant to be legally binding.

“In theory, there should be a plan that would go along with a planned residential area (the zoning for the historic district), but nobody can find one,” City Councilwoman Teresa Coons said.

Coons, who lives a couple blocks outside the historic district, has suggested the city implement a temporary moratorium on any land-use changes in residential neighborhoods in the area until the city can implement a growth plan for the city’s Original Square Mile, of which the historic district is a part.


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