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Murray Journal

Murray City guts historic preservation regulations

Dec 04, 2019 09:54AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Murray City Planning Commissioners Ned Hacker and Phil Markham recommended against some changes to the Murray City Center District code. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

What value is history to a community versus that of the actual property owner? Murray City’s Department of Community and Economic Development (CED) has proposed gutting regulations designed to protect historic buildings in the Murray City Center District (MCCD).

Last year, Murray City lost a lawsuit wherein a judge declared the city violated its historic preservation code and thereby prohibited the demolition of the historic Mount Vernon Academy buildings.

At the Oct. 17 planning commission meeting, CED staff proposed various zoning changes to the MCCD, including building-height restrictions, parking requirements, building curb setbacks, elimination of the Design Review Committee, and drastic changes to historic preservation provisions.

According to the CED’s proposal, “The intent of the changes proposed here is to spur development, restore basic property rights, and limit some of the regulation that hinders redevelopment in the MCCD area.”

One of the core proposed revisions is to remove the list of historically significant buildings from the ordinance; however, the directory will still exist but will no longer be codified. CED staff propose that they will maintain the list of historic properties instead.

“In a full restoration of private property rights, property owners will be able to request removal from the list by submitting a written request to CED or the mayor’s office,” CED’s proposal said.

“Developers should not have rights over citizens that value their history and their architecture,” Historic Murray First Foundation founder Kathleen Stanford said. “Are historic properties the problem here? Are they the real reason that the downtown area is not being renovated? I wish we could just get together and find a way. I think that we could be creative enough to find a way to solve some of these problems.”

Many buyers have looked at purchasing the former Mount Vernon Academy, which includes several buildings that are over a century old, including the Murray First Ward and the Carnegie Library. The Murray First Ward has significant deterioration issues that require expensive repairs.

“My family is very much in favor of the ordinance change. We have suffered great financial strain because of the current ordinance that is in place,” Mike Lambson, owner of the buildings, told the planning commission. “We definitely have felt that our property rights have been violated these last four years. It almost seems that our neighbors have more property rights than we do.”  

Murray’s CED proposes that if the owner of a historically significant property does not wish to keep or renovate a building on the historic property list, a monument noting the historical significance of the property would be required if it is demolished. If the property owner proceeds with this route, the History Advisory Board will be involved with approving the monument. The History Advisory Board rejects the relegated role that the CED proposes.

“According to Murray Code … the major purpose of the History Advisory Board is to advise officials to the city regarding the identification and protection of local historic and archeological resources and to encourage historic preservation by maintaining a local register of historic structures,” explained Rebecca Santa Cruz, chair of the Murray History Advisory Board.

The planning commission voted to recommend to the city council most of the changes, but it voted not to include the proposed changes for eliminating the Design Review Committee (DRC) and the historic preservation section of the code. 

“I have a great concern with eliminating the DRC…. I feel it is important for their eyes to review items in this area,” Planning Commissioner Phil Markham said. “This is an attempt to spur some action (in the MCCD), and I support it for the most part. But my two concerns are the DRC removal, and I am not comfortable with an individual property owner saying that can remove their structure from a historic site.”

At the Nov. 19 city council meeting, the council heard public comments regarding the CED's recommendations including from both Mike Todd, owner of the Desert Star Playhouse, and Susan Wright, who restored and sold several buildings to the city within the MCCD. Both spoke in favor of changing the regulations. In the end, the council sided with the Planning Commission in retaining the DRC, amended the code to encourage environmentally sustainable buildings, but allowed the historic regulations to be changed.