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Thread: Keeping historic preservation board members on-task

  1. #1
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    Keeping historic preservation board members on-task

    I am sure that I am not alone here with having a preservation board that doesn't always stay on-task with the public hearing protocol. We see a combination of debate on the merits of preservation theory, the merits of an application, and other issues between fellow board members and applicants. We also have a highly educated, highly qualified membership that can lead to an over-involvement in a design and tendency to nitpick or require improvements beyond the minimum necessary to meet the guidelines.

    Aside from my selfish desire to not have to sit through long, needlessly drawn out meetings, I am concerned with the legal ramifications if this is ever called out in a court case. How do you train a board to rely solely on the Design Guidelines in making a decision and end the nonsense without just ending up with a hostile board during those long drawn out meetings? Their hearts are in the right place but that won't be enough in the courtroom.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    I think it can be tough to keep any board, commission, or council on point, not just Hist Pres bodies.

    I can think of three things to do:
    1. During the hearing or discussion of a specific item, it's acceptable to respectfully indicate when the conversation has gotten too far off topic, and try to steer things back to the intent of the hearing.
    2. If there are other things they want or need to discuss, then create an opportunity for them to do so. If there is an opportunity to do everything else at some other time, then hearings on specific items can be kept to just that item.
    3. Wouldn't hurt to share with the chairperson of the board that you are concerned about burnout. Both board memders and staff can be discouraged by an inefficient use of the board's time with discussions and debates that don't seem productive, relative to the effort invested. Especially if you have general discussions about theory or policy, but also for specific hearings and application, set time limits and specific goals, so you don't over do it. If not, you risk losing good members and staff just because you consumed all they had to offer.
    JOE ILIFF
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    If the chair isn't a major part of the problem, perhaps you could talk to that person about the need to stay on point. There may be training available for the chair on how to conduct a meeting that would help in this regard.

    Also, ask your city attorney to come to a meeting to discuss the propoer decision-making process, the need to apply the ordinance criteria to the decisions, the need to make findings linking the criteria to the decisions, etc. In my state, and I suspect in most states, there's a raft of court decisions on this aspect of decision-making, so a few examples of boards decisions being overturned on appeal might be helpful too. Boards often won't listen to staff, but will listen to the city attorney, or to an outside consultant brought in to educate them in a workshop meeting.

    Can you address the board directly with your concerns? If not at the beginning of a meeting, with a respectful memo explaining the ramifications of the the issue (time, staff expense, legal fees, etc.).

  4. #4
    Cyburbian graciela's avatar
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    I feel your pain.

    Good luck! That is one of the downfalls of being in a college town.

    I think the idea of having a discussion with the chair would be a great idea as well as having the attorney come in and give them a refresher.

    BTW- Welcome to Cyburbia, nice to see you here.
    Responsible Beverage Server since March 26th, 2008

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PresPlanGirl View post
    I am sure that I am not alone here with having a preservation board that doesn't always stay on-task with the public hearing protocol. We see a combination of debate on the merits of preservation theory, the merits of an application, and other issues between fellow board members and applicants. We also have a highly educated, highly qualified membership that can lead to an over-involvement in a design and tendency to nitpick or require improvements beyond the minimum necessary to meet the guidelines.

    Aside from my selfish desire to not have to sit through long, needlessly drawn out meetings, I am concerned with the legal ramifications if this is ever called out in a court case. How do you train a board to rely solely on the Design Guidelines in making a decision and end the nonsense without just ending up with a hostile board during those long drawn out meetings? Their hearts are in the right place but that won't be enough in the courtroom.
    This is real difficult. Preservation Boards tend to be activists more so than professionals. This means they have a different view of what should be done and less of a concern of the proper protocols for doing so. As the staff member responsible for the Board, it is your responsibility to remind them of the legal ramifications of their decision making process. If they refuse to listen to you, get the city/county attourney in there for a "work session" and let him/her explain it to your board. That may help you out a bit.
    Satellite City Enabler

  6. #6
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    At least yours show up for meetings... I've got a new chair now, so we'll see if she has the Thatchers to start enforcing the attendance stuff. I really don't want to, as staff, send the attendance issue up the flagpole to Council.

    As for keeping them on task, I frequently chime in that things are getting a little off the agenda topic and may be approaching problems with posting requirements of our open meetings act.



    What you are encountering is a common problem in highly educated cities--I'm a college town also and we occasionally have to remind our planning commission (three professors on it) to shy away from deep theoretical arguements that don't relate significantly to the issue at hand.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  7. #7
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    I may need to clarify a little more here.
    The board members are going beyond their job description by determing ways to "fix" or "improve" an application to get something deemed better rather than understanding that their job is to see that the minimum standards- the design guidelines- are being met.
    Because design review is so much more subjective that many other local boards and commissions, the line between what is and is not their job is not always distinct. I have looked at giving them scorecards, for lack of a better word, to keep track of which guidelines are met or not met but was hoping for additional ideas.

    And one of the city attorneys actually attends all of our meetings already. However, he may not be well versed on preservation law specifics or may just disagree with my feelings that they push things too far. Either way he does not seemed concerned about the way meetings have been going. I would prefer that he not have to come around to my way of thinking because of a lawsuit.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PresPlanGirl View post
    I may need to clarify a little more here.
    The board members are going beyond their job description by determing ways to "fix" or "improve" an application to get something deemed better rather than understanding that their job is to see that the minimum standards- the design guidelines- are being met.
    Because design review is so much more subjective that many other local boards and commissions, the line between what is and is not their job is not always distinct. I have looked at giving them scorecards, for lack of a better word, to keep track of which guidelines are met or not met but was hoping for additional ideas.

    And one of the city attorneys actually attends all of our meetings already. However, he may not be well versed on preservation law specifics or may just disagree with my feelings that they push things too far. Either way he does not seemed concerned about the way meetings have been going. I would prefer that he not have to come around to my way of thinking because of a lawsuit.
    Well, I think to some degree the same theory applies. The point of the hearing is to compare the application to the minimum standards, so that is the focus. Discussing design elements beyond the minimum at the hearing should be limited, as it is off-focus, and I would try to make it clear to the board and applicant which parts of the dicussion are minimum "must do's" and which are the board or boardmembers opinions that something is a "would be nice if the applicant did". Try not to let the applicant or public or the board leave the hearing thinking the minimum standards are whatever the board wants.

    If there are regular "would be nice if's" that the board constantly wants applicants to know about, maybe make a handout or printed material that can be given to the applicant describing them, or where to get information about them. Then, when the board wanders over that way during the hearing, you can say you've given the applicant that information in printed form and it doesn't need to be discussed at the hearing. Or, have the board hand it to them right then. That way, that subject is clear to the applicant, the board, and the record as only an off topic, "oh, by the way, did you know, wouldn't it be great if" side comment and not part of the strict terms of the regulations and the permit approval or denial.

    Again, find an avenue for something to be done on those distracting topics, like distributing to the applicants printed material you and the attorney have prepared, or scheduling general discussion items where the board can discuss theory or share opinions without a specific application being considered. If there is a place for that "other stuff", then there is no reason to impurify a hearing with it, and your attorney can back you up with keeping hearings on point.
    JOE ILIFF
    ________________________________________________________________________
    Debt is normal . . . Be weird!
    Dave Ramsey

    "Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

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