The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 20, 2013

Vonnie Corsini, guest columnist: A joy, not a chore

By Vonnie Corsini
Special to The Globe

PITTSBURG, Kan. — People who care about charming downtown districts need to be aware of the two bills proposed this past week by the Kansas House committee for local governments.

House Bill 2118 would remove review of the environs of a listed building completely, and House Bill 2089 would allow local governments to opt out of 106 Reviews.

Historic preservation guidelines already have little impact on development projects unless the owner of a listed building is provided tax incentives or grants to restore the structure, or the city chooses to enforce an “impact analysis” in a 106 Review by the State Historic Preservation Office.

House Bill 2118, if passed, would take away the limited protection now offered to some historic structures. The current laws requiring review of environs have a distance of 500 feet from a building listed on the State Historic Register in an incorporated area and 1,000 feet in an unincorporated area. An environs review safeguards heritage charm and historic integrity.

The best safeguards happen at the local level. Cities that receive “certified local government” designation have local historic preservation planning councils that maintain and craft their own preservation plan. Planning what we wish to preserve in our community would be much better than scrambling to manage development decisions as an afterthought of a redevelopment or condemnation process. Decisions need to be guided by professional valuation appraisers trained in historic preservation.

House Bill 2089 proposes to allow local governments to opt out of 106 Reviews entirely. Without the 106 Review at the state level or by a certified local government, rural communities are especially vulnerable because they rarely have organized historic societies or preservation councils.

When they do, the groups are often uninformed and only notified, if ever, as a final detail of a project.

Building appraisals ought not to be made without educated specialists working in cooperation with local governments and developers. The environs law and 106 Review could help rural communities manage their historic assets instead of perpetuating a pattern of complacency and permanent loss of historic resources.

Let’s work with developers to explore alternatives that will preserve the charm and heritage appeal of our existing structures. Our future generations count on today’s leaders to preserve and protect their inheritance. Historic preservation should be a joy, not an unpopular chore.

Vonnie Corsini is the executive director of the Colonial Fox Theatre Foundation in Pittsburg, Kan.