Mayor Randy McClement has said that the role of city staff is to “provide all sides of the story” and let the elected or appointed officials make the decisions. Providing “all sides of the story” means treating the property owner’s case seriously and with respect and speaking to how it can be accommodated, as well as addressing problems with it. An important side of many ‘stories’ is the cost of meeting various Guidelines requirements and the economic consequences.
Economic consequences unfortunately sometimes produce blight. It is usually less dramatic, but still deserving of consideration
What effect will insistence on keeping original single historic pane glass have on heating costs and hence rents as compared with allowing double pane insulated glass?
Will insistence on a smaller rentable or living space really produce historic preservation benefits.
Staff assertions that a building must be “strictly judged” because it is a “contributing resource” and of historic or architectural “significance” are easily made, but telling all sides of a case – as the Mayor’s instruction suggests – involves mentioning the cons as well as the pros of classifying it “contributing.”
Similarly staff claims that a proposed extension “overwhelms” the older historic part of a building cannot be simply asserted, they need to be dimensioned and measured against some objective standard or limit. And does it really matter? Where is it seen from? Does it seriously affect the ‘public realm’ of the streetscape.
City staff and the HPC often expound the notion – contrary to the Mayor’s instruction – that the proper role of staff is to do the “strictest” interpretation of the Guidelines, and that it is for Commission proper to exercise “leniency.”
So far no one we’ve asked has been able to tell us the basis for this is. Nothing in the eight pages of the official Rules of Procedure and Regulations defines the staff role beyond that of consultants to the commission and recordkeepers. Neither the Guidelines nor the Land Management Code support the idea.
We suspect the staff and preservation extremists on the Commission just made it up, and hoped by repeating it, it would become accepted.
Staff-strict/Lenient-Commission is license for staff extremism
Given the elastic subjectivity of the Guidelines the staff-strictest/lenient-commission doctrine provides staff with a handy license to be extremists: to refuse to take costs and consequences into account, to claim small features are ‘character defining,’ to invoke the ‘narrative’ doctrine of preservation as covering all buildings and requiring ‘total preservation etc.
The Mayor is correct, we think, that the proper role of staff is to be neutral and present both sides of cases to the HPC.
He just needs staff who will follow his instructions.
ASIDE: Use of the word “leniency” from criminal justice lingo is telling. It implies that the citizen wanting to build in the historic district is guilty of some offense as outlined by staff investigators, but sometimes deserves a break, the role of the Commission being that of the benevolent monarch who selectively commutes the sentence of a few lucky wrongdoers.
SOURCE: Mayor Randy McClement speaking at M&B Wkshp 2014:04:09 video at 02:17:10: “From Day One I’ve always said staff is to provide the aldermen all sides of the story. And it is our job to make the decision.”