City staff will meet with state preservation officials Wednesday to discuss whether Danville will remain eligible for the federal Certified Local Government Program, a status that allows the town to receive grant money and preservation advice.
CLGs are designated by the National Parks Service in conjunction with state officers with the goal of encouraging and supporting historic preservation. Through the program, cities have access to federal grant money, as well as architectural and other technical expertise. Danville became a CLG in 1994 during the term of Mayor John W.D. Bowling. The move led to the creation of the city’s Architectural Review Board, which is required for participation in the program. The city has received multiple grants directly through the program over the years, including one in 2011 that funded a survey of historical properties. Local preservationists, though, say the CLG designation also has helped the city procure millions in other funds for projects in the downtown area in the past. Correspondence between the Kentucky Heritage Council and the city obtained by The Advocate-Messenger through an open records request shows the state agency, which sanctions the CLG program, first raised questions about Danville’s status in May after learning about changes to sign ordinances. In a May 22 letter, Lindy Casebier, acting state historic preservation officer and director of the Kentucky Heritage Council, said the state recently had learned about amendments to the city’s historic preservation and Planning and Zoning ordinances. Casebier said amendments to Chapter 4, Article 7 of the preservation ordinance and Articles 2 and 13 of the zoning ordinance were troubling to the agency.
“Some of these changes are detrimental to the local preservation program, and they compromise the city’s Certified Local Government status,” Casebier wrote. “If the Kentucky Heritage Council staff had been given the opportunity to review the proposed amendments before adoption, the agency would have made recommendations against making these changes and would have suggested alternatives.”
Casebier goes on to say that the “most harmful change” to the preservation ordinance was the revision of the term “alteration” to make it read “alteration shall not include a proposed sign or changes to an existing sign.”
“In our view, the addition of a sign or change of an existing sign is considered an exterior alteration that could potentially have an adverse effect on that property and the surrounding historic district if not carefully considered,” Casebier wrote.
The addition of the word “not” to the ordinance effectively removed authority for reviewing signage within the ARB district from the ARB and gave it to P&Z. Further changes to the P&Z ordinance with additional definitions for various types of signs and where they can be placed already had been passed by the City Commission.
Casebier said the P&Z ordinance did not provide for a review of projects based on the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines and had no explanations of how to properly fix signs to historic building facades.
Records show the changes to the ARB ordinance passed by a 4-1 City Commission vote, with J.H. Atkins voting against the change on first and second readings. The P&Z ordinance passed by a unanimous vote with Atkins not present for the first reading and Kevin Caudill not present for the second reading.
Another letter from Casebier sent Aug. 23 outlines the process for decertifying CLG cities and calls for an audit of Danville’s historic preservation program. The city is being asked to produce two years worth of information, including ARB meeting minutes, professional qualifications of ARB members, design guidelines, historic preservation plans, annual reports, and all certificates of appropriateness and demolition permits, the primary actions ARB takes.
The letter stated that if the city did not respond to the request for a meeting by Aug. 31, the Heritage Council would proceed with an audit based on the information it had and give the city 60 days to become compliant.
In a response dated Aug. 29, City Manager Ron Scott agreed to meet with the representative of the Heritage Council at the session planned for Wednesday. In his letter, Scott indicated he had responded to the May letter by email June 28 requesting a meeting but did not receive a response.
In the letter, Scott asks for suggestions to “address any compliance issues.”
“Our goal is the same as the Heritage Council, which is for Danville to remain certified, and we want to do what we can to make that happen,” Scott said Monday in a phone interview.
While Scott said the changes to the ordinance will be discussed Wednesday, he indicated it could be a point of contention given the city’s “two-year effort to establish a one-stop-shop” for signage.
Scott said there had been communication between City Attorney Stephen Dexter and the state during the drafting of the ordinances. The Aug. 23 letter from Casebier also mentions recent changes to the makeup of the ARB, which the state regulations say must have a minimum of two “preservation-related professional members,” who are “involved on a regular basis with historic preservation activities as part of their work in that discipline.”
The ARB, which has two-year terms, is currently made up of Chairman Les Letton, Julie Rodes, William Updike, Tom Tye, Vaughn Frey, Barbara Hulette and Thad Overmyer. Records kept by the Heart of Danville noted Updike has a degree in historical preservation and Rodes and Hulette both have experience dealing with local history and preservation, respectively.
The city does not fund the ARB, and the Heart of Danville had handled administrative duties since 2010. In March, Bridgette Lester, the city’s code and financial enforcement officer, took over following the departure of Heart of Danville executive director Julie Wagner.
Wagner, who took the job as head of Harrodsburg’s Main Street Program, said losing CLG status would be a considerable blow to preservation. Harrodsburg is in the process of applying for the program.
In addition to getting grant money directly through the CLG program, Wagner said Danville received more than $4 million because of its designation as a Gold City by the state’s Renaissance Program for historic preservation beginning in 1998. Wagner said the city’s CLG status was one of the major reasons they were positioned to receive the Renaissance money and, should similar funds become available in the future, the same likely would be true.
Roger Stapleton, site identification program manager for the Kentucky Heritage Council, said there are currently 24 CLGs in Kentucky. He said the Heritage Council does annual reviews of all of them and Danville’s apparently had passed muster at the end of the last fiscal year.
Stapleton said CLG cities are able to consult with experts in historic preservation and architecture, are eligible for state and federal tax credits and receive assistance with nominations in the National Register of Historic Places. He said the CLGs and Main Street Programs essentially get first consideration when many federal or state grants become available because they already have the necessary things in place to carry out the conditions of most of the grants.
Stapleton said he understands towns want to make things easier for businesses but believes preservations and commerce can co-exist.
“There’s always a give and take,” Stapleton said. “People want to see growth, so there is an impetus toward business development. Our role is to help them use historic infrastructure that is already in place.”
Letton, who has served on the ARB since being appointed by Bowling about seven years ago, said he believes signs in historic districts should have stayed a part of the ARB’s purview. However, he said he understands the desire to remove a layer of regulation.
“What we don’t need is two groups in charge of signs in the same area,” Letton said. “You had to go both places (ARB and P&Z), and that’s a bad deal. It should probably be only ARB in the historic district and P&Z everywhere else.”