Local residents looking to preserve city history are taking another run at creating a system that would prevent historic artifacts from being destroyed.
The ordinance would give the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission the power to issue a stop-order for any construction that could compromise a historic item. It would apply to city-owned objects, but not real estate.
For example, it could have been used to protect eight Civil War cannons that went missing from Monument Square. It could also be used to protect items like the Karel Jonas and Martin Luther King Jr. statues, and the historic paintings in City Hall.
Artifacts would be determined by an official list approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which would hold a public hearing on items recommended for inclusion on the list. After the public hearing, the commission would vote on whether to recommend the artifact for protection. If it's approved, the commission would notify city officials, Preservation Racine and the Racine Heritage Museum.
The proposal first came to the City Council in February. It was sent to the Finance and Personnel Committee, which raised questions about a provision that allowed the Landmarks Commission to issue fines for violating the ordinance. The fines have been replaced by the stop-order, which would allow the Landmarks Preservation Commission to halt construction if they discover a historic artifact is in danger of being moved, demolished or altered. The stop-order would remain in effect until the City Council confirms, modifies or overrules it at a regularly scheduled meeting.
Alderman Eric Marcus is the main sponsor of the ordinance. A member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, he actually took up the issue prior to being elected to the City Council in April.
The Finance and Personnel Committee is scheduled to consider the proposal tonight. See the meeting agenda, including wording on the ordinance, here.
Update: The Finance and Personnel Committee deferred action on the ordinance after Public Works Commissioner Rick Jones raised concerns.
"This ordinance makes seven members of the Landmarks Commission more powerful than the (City) Council," Jones said. "Who will pay the cost? This could cost thousands, tens of thousands, of dollars."
Marcus defended the ordinance by saying there are a number of firewalls in the proposal to avoid the Landmarks Commission from gaining too much power. The City Council would approve the inventory of historic artifacts, and the commission could only stop a project if it's clearly damaging an item on the approved list.
Deputy City Attorney Scott Letteney told the committee the stop order only comes into display if city department heads ignore historic artifact list approved by the council.
But Jones said city department heads weren't given enough time to consider the ordinance. That argument swayed Alderman Q.A. Shakoor, who said he couldn't support the proposal without a recommendation from city staff.
Marcus said the ordinance has been in the works since Jan. 4 and asked for an up or down vote on the proposal. But the committee instead chose to put off a vote until city staff responds.
The committee voted 3-0 to defer with Shakoor and Aldermen Jim Spangenberg and Dennis Wiser in support. Aldermen Ron Hart and Terry McCarthy weren't at the meeting.