March 28, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Politicians, city staff
and preservationists say they have been unable to craft a historic
preservation ordinance that balances the need to preserve more
than 4,000 properties in Hartford with the need to protect the
people who own them from undue expense.
"Well, we're stuck," said Greg Secord, chairman of
the task force in charge of exploring the ordinance issue. "Impasse
is probably the right word."
Last May, Secord's task force submitted recommendations to the
mayor. Last fall, Mayor Eddie A. Perez submitted a proposed ordinance
to the council, which has yet to act.
"It's not dead, but we've made our best effort to reach
a suitable conclusion," said John Palmieri, the city's director
of development services, adding that more meetings are scheduled
with preservationists to discuss how to best balance their concerns
with those of Perez.
"The bottom line is, what's in the best interest of the
city of Hartford?" Secord asked. "Do you treat the
reality [of the historic properties] as an asset or a liability?
Traditionally, it's been a liability for us as a city. The whole
point of the ordinance was to change the attitude and treat it
as an economic development tool."
City officials say their frustration has several elements, but
the issue of how to best write an ordinance that would protect
the city's low-income homeowners from new expenses is the biggest.
"The questions are, `Are you going to impose a financial
hardship upon them in addition to regulating them?" asked
Matt Hennessy, Perez's chief of staff.
"That's a big issue,
and the mayor has said, `I'm going to side with the homeowners
City officials are concerned about the cost of implementing
After looking at ordinances from similar cities, city planners
found that a big difference in Hartford was the scope of its
proposed ordinance: It would include 4,000 properties, or about
20 percent of the city's total.
Implementing an ordinance that would be responsible for so many
properties would mean an expense for the city, Hennessy and others
The mayor's office has explored various ways to exempt low-income
These have included loan programs, excusing them from regulation
if the cost of the historic preservation exceeds 10 percent of
the cost of a renovation project, and requiring that property
owners go through a series of meetings with town staff members
to explore all construction possibilities before letting them
choose their own paths, officials said.
None were appropriate, Palmieri said.
City officials have also been concerned that there is little
support for the ordinance from residents throughout the city.
"If we had a number of neighborhoods coming forward and
doing this voluntarily and showing how this could work, that
would be a great first step," Hennessy said.
Building public support is difficult in a city with such a low
homeownership rate, Secord said.
Only one in four city homes is owner-occupied.
"So, most properties are owned by absentee landlords, and
they typically will not support local historic districts," Secord
"I understand where the mayor is coming from, because he
doesn't want this to negatively impact people's willingness to
reinvest in neighborhoods," he said.
"But the mayor's edit
[of the task force's report] is not workable."
Palmieri said the effort to pass a preservation ordinance has
frustrated him and his staff as it searches for a workable solution.
"Of course, everyone knows that helping to preserve properties
is a good way to strengthen neighborhoods," Palmieri said. "We
know that, we understand that."
"The economic hardship language is what we're struggling
with," Palmieri said.
"That's the long and
the short of it."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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