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.