July 6, 2009

Southside Historic District is history;
Commission unanimously rejects idea

There won't be a south side historic district.

The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously Monday to "receive and file" a study that mapped out an area from Eighth Street to DeKoven Avenue roughly east of Villa Street for the district. Historic homes in the area would have been subject to heightened city regulations designed to maintain their historic qualities.

The proposal died with a lot of talk and little fight. No one spoke in favor of the proposal during an 90-minute meeting that amounted to commission members explaining why the historic district was a bad idea. Chief among the reasons was a lot of people are opposed to the idea, which sticks the owners of historic (often expensive) old homes with regulations that non-historic homes wouldn't have to follow. The proposal offered no incentives (a.k.a. money) for homeowners to maintain the homes.

That's not to say the idea was without merit. The city was trying to find a way to protect beautiful old homes from being neglected or severely altered. But the historic district was a non-starter with homeowners and the public at large. A public hearing last month brought out aggressive opposition to the plan (26 were opposed, 8 in favor), and a handful of people (all opponents) attended Monday night's meeting to witness the proposal's death.

Some variation of the historic district could resurface down the road. But it's highly unlikely the commission will bring back a proposal like the south side district. Commission member Eric Marcus considered a weaker version that would give the city greater oversight over demolitions and new construction in designated areas.

Alderman Bob Anderson, whose district included parts of the proposed district, said the only way he saw people supporting a historic district was if there was a "carrot" for homeowners to pursue historic restorations. "But my sense is that it's dead anyway," he said, adding he estimated "80 percent" of the people he talked to were opposed.

Commission member Bob Hartman had arguably the best idea. He recommended the city offer "voluntary compliance" with its historic zoning regulations. Under this scenario, the city could serve as a resource for homeowners interested in historic renovations.

It was also suggested historic district proposal struggled because of "communication problems" with residents. That may be true, because no one seemed to offer a need for the district and there was little refutation of strong attacks on the proposal.

But even a well-honed proposal would have struggled to convince anyone of the need to subject home owners with some of the most beautiful homes in Racine to further city oversight.

The proposal left the landmarks commission on the defensive and seemed to leave them little choice but to reject the idea outright and wait for a more palatable way to maintain the city's historically significant homes.

The commission also made it clear, as it did during its public hearing, that the historic district proposal didn't come from them. The idea seemed to originate with an attempt to create a historic district near the former Lochnair Inn near Gateway Technical College. That district was meant to stop a high rise from blocking the lake view, but the City Council rejected it because it was too small. The city planning department came back with the larger district, but the idea never even made it into ordinance form.

Hartman tried to reassure opponents, who suggested the proposal was un-Constitutional and an abuse of power, that the city wasn't trying to implement an "evil plot."

"This was not a Machiavellian plot to get higher property taxes," Hartman said. "This was not an evil city plot to control you as American citizens."

It's something of a local government truism that when you have to defend yourself against being evil, odds are slim of a proposal passing.


  1. Nice story Dustin. However, I think it is perhaps worth noting that Libertea Racine, along with south side residents, played a significant role in defeating this proposed ordinance. I strongly suspect that the commission voted this propsal down rather reluctantly. Yes, citizens can make a difference. It is worth fighting for freedom. Also, watch for some version of this ordinance to come back, a la KRM. Several (all?) commission members suggested that the problem was one of poor communication - as though better communication would have resulted in public support. Nonsense! The public knew full well what this ordiance was all about and they rejected it outright. The commission should recognize this and just give it up, but they won't. Look for a repackaged ordiance proposal in a few months.

  2. Thank you Denis and everyone else who spoke out to stop this.
    Note it is not too late for the public to help drive more nails into KRM

  3. Now if those same people would really take a look at the City's UNIT inspections. Those are unconstitutional. You are fined or charged a fee for an inspection of your property. Some properties more than others. The fee is outrageous. There is no recourse other than pay the UNIT what it demands or you may just be harassed into losing your property.

    Plus they give orders to remove tires, then you find them dumped on your property and now you get a fee too.

    We all need to come together once again and take on the UNIT.

  4. Long live the UNIT! The only weapon many of us have from bad landlords/property owners

  5. George Meyers7/07/2009 10:51 AM

    UNIT is a blatant attack on individual rights to Due Process of Law. UNIT is unequivocally unconstitutional. The problem is it gets support from many in the community. UNIT keeps the grass cut and the yards clean.

    I ask, “At what price?” How valuable are the goals of UNIT, compared to the problems it causes. It builds resentment, intolerance and, ultimately, mayhem. (Colt just demonstrated the first two of these.) Nothing of economic value comes from UNIT activities, despite what its proponents claim. Not one business has come to this town because of UNIT efforts, as former Mayor Becker claimed would happen. Unit costs taxpayers $300,000.00 a year in violations of individual rights.

    There are legal ways, Colt, to achieve the same ends.

    UNIT must be disbanded.

    The Historical District had the potential to heap similar oppression on another segment of the Racine population. As Denis pointed out though, they will be back. It is not over. Jefferson’s admonition, “The price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance” has no greater application than now.

    UNIT and the Historical District both deserve the same resting place, a designated spot many feet below the surface of God's Green Earth.

  6. With respect how? Can I sue the property owner who refuses to clean his yard so I must clean up the trash that blows down the street?
    Can I sue to get rid of the drug dealers who are selling out of there rental?
    For years before unit all attempts to fix these issues failed.
    With Unit at least I have recourse to get aid.

    Sir who do I resent or am intolerant of? A good landlord works with his/her neighbors to fix issues what can anyone do without city help on the ones who will not?

  7. Downtown Brown7/07/2009 12:00 PM

    Colt you have many ways of dealing with these problems without UNIT.

    First off if you know of illegal activity regarding the Drug trade, use the Police to deal with it. and be vigilant. It will change. If the Landlord keeps re-letting to Drug dealers sooner or later he/ She will give up.

    Second offer to buy the property in violation and you become the Landlord, or work to find better tenants to bring to the Landlord yourself.

    Third boycott every attempt to expand low income housing in our community, (Which I know you do). If we continue to bring in "New" low income housing products, the Landlords have no alternative but to get Low quality renters.

    You just have to keep at the trash blowing down the street. Keep intimidating the Druggies, and work with your neighbors. Relying on UNIT is a crutch. The fact that it is unconstitutional and an infringement on our Liberty is not worth the trade off.

  8. All the UNIT is, is a combined department where all complaints of any kind can be filed.

    Prior to the UNIT, if your neighbor had peeling paint, garbage in the yard, long grass, etc., a citizen would have to call 3-4 separate departments and offices. The UNIT was created to make things easier and more efficient not only for the citizens, but it is less costly to the taxpayers. Instead of sending out 3-4 or more city employees, they now only have to send one.

    The only people who complain about the UNIT and inspections are the landlords that really don't give a rip about the neighborhoods.

    It would not make sense to get rid of the UNIT, it is working just fine. Cleaning up the neighborhoods is a big issue despite what some people here claim. It took many years for the neighborhoods to decline the way they have and they can't all be improved overnight, it will take time but it's well worth it.

  9. Colt:

    You play both sides of the fence.

    Your beloved Mayor Dickert-Osterman is infatuated with the KRM and you think he is the greatest thing that ever happened to Racine.

    You speak with a forked tongue sir.

  10. If I am ticketed in my vehicle for not wearing a seat belt or for speeding, a ticket is issued and I can pay it or fight it in the court system.

    If UNIT tickets me I have NO recourse to have a review, or offer an explanation, no judge nor jury. In fact usually no contact with the UNIT inspector. In fact it is in the City's financial interest to maximize fines and violations, since it's virtually impossible to hold the inspector accountable. They are neither elected, and many are not appointed. But City Inspectors recognize violations, equal tickets; which means fines and penalties, which of course means Money for the city, and thus less budget cuts next time around.

    Furthermore it provides an incentive for the City to increase it's rules and thus increase the money pot, all the while pretending not to be raising taxes!! Of course to the citizen it's a tax.. to the Govt. it's another raise, or benefit "perk" fund.

    I suspect the Landmarks Commission was looking for a way to ensure it's continuation with the proposal. It was even referred to, (Sarcastically), as the Landmarks Commission Preservation Act.

    UNIT is it's own "Preservation Act".

  11. The rules are not increasing because of the UNIT, it's that they are being enforced more readily.

    I do not believe that you cannot talk to a UNIT inspector. I know I did when I received a complaint about weeds in my ally.

    Downtown Brown, I suspect if you have such an issue with the UNIT that you are the owner of problem properties. Just take care of them and stop complaining.

  12. Thanks for your comments Anon 5:35.

    I am concerned for those who are or will be property owners. The fact is that inspections are often done on your property when you, the owner, are not present. Thus the citation, (Guilty Verdict) is issued without your knowledge. In many cases the inspections are not done because of a complaint from anyone..merely the Mayor or others are sent out to create "fines" (read revenue).

    Becker used the technique often..I am unclear how Hizhoner Dickert has used the system thus far.

    No I don't own any non-compliant properties at this time. The point is not about whether u own or don't own a property it's about whether it is constitutional to impose a fine or penalty (i.e. a Guilty Verdict), with no possibility for legal redress. "Innocent until PROVEN guilty."
    Sound familiar?

    On a traffic citation you can mark Guilty or Not guilty...with UNIT you are just "Guilty". Tough Luck! Pay here.

  13. I had no idea the UNIT operated that way. Seems to me that if we are criminalizing property owners they should have recourse.

    It is not just rotten landlords who do not like the UNIT. That statement begs the investigation of whether only certain people are targeted. I heard a while back that there might be an investigation to be sure that every property with similar complaints ie. peeling paint was written up on the same block or so. Not just the rental properties. Picking and choosing is also an abuse of power.

    You may love the UNIT. It may make things very easy for the city. But ask yourself this.... Is it okay for police to plant evidence on a criminal to get a win in court?
    I would say no. Because our constitution is serious business and it is meant to protect all of us. Sometimes you take the good with the bad.

    Sometimes a simple word with your neighbor or local landlord works lots better.

    Don't be so lazy as to give up your rights or the rights of others.

  14. "Don't be so lazy as to give up your rights or the rights of others."

    Anon 3:56 - you've hit upon somethimg very important with this statement. The way I see it, people are furious with any loss or abuse of their own rights but will happily participate (or allow through laziness) in the process of the removal of the rights of others. Hey, I don't ride a motorcycle - go ahead and ban them or make the insurance so expensive that only the elite can ride. I don't ride a bicycle, go ahead and ban them because I don't like them. I hate people walking by my house so lets create an ordinace that bans pedestrians. I don't like the fact that others are using my oxygen . . .

  15. Reject this idea - well enjoy that "green" monstrosity that is being built around the 1900 block of S. Wisconsin (not sure of the street) on the lake. That sure fits the historic architechtural style of the neighborhood - NOT!