The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Fern Greenbank
LOG Staff 

Historic Preservation Plan needs public input

 


The draft of the Seward Historic Preservation Plan is ready for public comment, something Historic Preservation Commission members say it wants and needs in order to perform its required duties.

“The schedule was set, and we are on schedule,” said French. “But I just don’t think we have done enough to solicit public comment or see the draft before the next scheduled commission meeting.”

The Historic Preservation Plan was actually written by a consultant firm, Nuka Research, and based on public comment solicited in the form of surveys and a public meeting April 22, 2014, which French said was poorly attended. He said he doesn’t think the traditional required notice periods work well for a topic like historic preservation. The consultant also solicited input with online surveys and collected approximately 20 completed surveys.

Adopting a plan is a requirement for the city since it became a Certified Local Government. That designation requires the presence of a commission and a comprehensive plan. That designation allows the city to qualify for certain types of grants and expert assistance.

“I think the plan right now is mush,” said French. “We may have to ask for an extension from the State Historic Preservation Office and apply for additional funds to gather more public comment.”

There are three new members to the commission that have never been involved in a formal meeting or a work session about the plan, said French.

“It needs a concrete direction that people, and the City Council, can buy into,” said French. “I still think the community profile reads like a condensed version of Mary Barry’s ‘Manifest Destiny’ oriented community history.”

The draft plan notes several challenges specific to Seward as well as opportunities. The draft written by the consultants focuses on the “fragile” nature of downtown Seward. When it comes to consideration of historic zoning downtown, the draft notes the concerns often expressed by business and homeowners that zoning is seen as too much regulation. The draft also points out that people are concerned about the cost of adhering to strict historic preservation guidelines present in formal zoned areas

Based on the public comments, the consultants noted in the draft that local government “expresses little support” for preservation efforts, in part because there are so many funding needs. Another challenge expressed was the conflict between economic and industrial development and preservation.

Because of the obstacles facing historic preservation efforts, the consultants focused the opportunities portion of the plan on education and public awareness in the hope that more information would result in more support for preservation efforts.

French said he thinks the commission has to be more proactive in its approach which starts with a stronger commitment expressed in the plan because it is this plan the commission will use as a roadmap for at least the next decade.

“I think we have a council currently that might be receptive to recommendations made by the commissioners,’ said French.

One councilmember that has always been a big proponent of historic preservation and planning is Iris Darling, owner of the Brown and Hawkins Building which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“I know some people really dislike the idea of an historic zone, because they don’t like being told what to do,” said Darling. “But honoring the state’s history and the city’s history is good for the city all the way around. It really is time we had an historic district.”

Collecting data about the economic impact of historic preservation is something French wants the commission to consider. For example, programs like Main Street USA, administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, provides financial incentives and grants for business owners in historic areas to comply with regulations when repairs or remodeling is needed. Communities have to quaify for Main Street designation first.

French said there is plenty of evidence that historic tourism helps cities with heavy tourism industries during the off seasons and this is something Seward could benefit from.

From the city’s perspective, said Assistant City Manager Ron Long, there is no preconceived idea or strong perceptions related to the plan.

“We really are waiting for the Commission to provide us and the City Council with recommendations,” said Long. “We don’t want to have an influence over public comment or the Commission’s important work.”

Copies of the draft can be accessed online or viewed the library. This comment period ends Friday, Sept. 5, though commission member John French says that is not long enough.

Public comment can be sent to michelleprior@nukaresearch.com or written comments can be delivered to the Seward Community Library front desk. All comments are due by Friday, Sept 5. The Seward Historic Preservation Commission will review and discuss the draft plan in a work session following their August 27 meeting. The plan can be accessed online at http://www.cityofseward.us/DocumentCenter/View/1997.

 

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