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Preservation Ordinance, As Crafted, Is Not Needed In City

Jamestown officials need to tread lightly as they discuss a local preservation ordinance.

The city Planning Commission has been discussing the issue for some time. Those discussions continued Wednesday, with several outside speakers discussing the issue with local officials.

We agree with Greg Rabb, Planning Commission chairman, that a preservation policy may be a better alternative than a preservation ordinance. A policy can clarify the city’s goals and provide an overview of incentives to help rehabilitate a historic structure without the hassle of a preservation ordinance.

The policy under discussion includes creation of a new design review board, preservation commission and process that city officials say can secure local historic designations. That can help with tax credits, but also creates more hoops for homeowner to jump through in order to make improvements to their home. The last thing the city needs is another group telling property owners — who we add are paying some of the highest property taxes in the state — what they can do with their homes. Especially troubling would be the fact that the group wouldn’t be elected.

There is good reason to be cautious here. Houses are selling faster, and for more money, in Jamestown than they have in years as outside influences turned the city into a hotbed of buying activity. While the housing market has boomed over the past year, that market isn’t likely to continue. And many of the houses that have changed hands were purchased by people who didn’t factor in the possibility of needing outside approval from a yet-to-be-created city board to sign off on improvements to their home.

Mary Maxwell, Jamestown Renaissance Corp. neighborhood coordinator, said the city needs to approve something that guides homeowners. She has a point, but she’s looking to the wrong group for guidance.

Guidance to homeowners should come from the City Council, which makes policy for the city of Jamestown and who is elected to be accountable to taxpayers. The council has a Housing Committee for just this sort of discussion. Our opinion is to let the council — the people’s representatives — have this discussion.

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