(Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a series of posts about how legislation is crafted, specifically a proposed amendment to Louisville’s Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission.)

By Curtis Morrison

Shortly after lunch on the first Friday in February, Marty Meyer, Louisville Metro Councilman David Yates’ Legislative Aide, sent out an email signed with Yates’ signature and the heading “Historical Preservation Ordinance” to the other 25 Council members.

Attached to that email was a copy of a bill which Yates wrote “brings into account the neighbors and property owners in the surrounding area of structures considered to be deemed preserved, but most importantly this legislation will holds us, as the elected officials, responsible to the voters for final approval of the recommendations of the preservation board.”

Yates gave the other 25 Council Members until Monday at 11 am as a deadline to sign on as an original sponsor. Come Monday, only Members Vicki Welch, Rick Blackwell, Bob Henderson, and David James actually meet that original deadline.

Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch was the first Council member to email Meyer back, just 24 minutes after the pitch:

Welch (1:40 pm): “I want to be an original sponsor of this ordinance since I was such a fighter against our Colonial Gardens fiasco! A question about the ‘district’ – is that a Council District, a Legislative District, or what kind of District? We may want to clarify. Thanks.”

Meyer (1:58 pm): “Vicki, It’s a ‘Historic’ district.” (quotes on Historic by Meyer)

Welch (1:59 pm): “Oh is it defined somewhere else? Do we have those in the South end?”

Meyer (2:03 pm): “None in the south end and probably no more in the works, they are Old Lou, Cherokee Triangle. Original Highlands, Clifton, Crescent Hill, etc.” *

Welch (2:10 pm): “Ok that’s why I am not familiar with it!”

Without being familiar with a “Historic District,” Welch eagerly signed on as the first co-sponsor to a bill that amends Louisville’s Landmark Ordinance.

Ironies ensue.

The reason Welch admits to being unfamiliar with a Landmarks District, is that there are none located in the South end, which is true.

The bill she’s eagerly signed on to co-sponsor, increases barriers to the creation of Landmarks Districts, which she readily admits are lacking in her side of town.

Yep. That happened.

Welch was elected to represent Louisville’s 13th District, which includes Auburndale, Fairdale, Okolona, Yorktown,Valley Station and the 6,191-acre Jefferson Memorial Forest.

What Welch may not realize is, the Jefferson Memorial Forest wouldn’t even exist if it were left to elected officials. Following the lead of Louisville Times Editor Tom Wallace, a Jefferson County Commissioner made a motion in September of 1944 to create the forest. That motion, before elected officials, failed with a tie vote.

The following month the Jefferson County Fiscal Court created a non-political non-profit made up mostly of veterans, which later became the Jefferson County Forest Commission. The land was purchased and Voila! A park born, a forest preserved.

Thanks to the prudence not of elected officials, but to a commission, Welch will be able to sponsor “a day of music and fun” at Forest Fest 12 on Satuday, May 19 from 10 am to 7 pm.

From emails between Council members, the very first mention of the effort to revise Louisville’s landmarks ordinance cited the need to transfer power from the 13 uncompensated members of the Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission, to the Metro Council members themselves.

Ten of the 13 Landmark Commission members are appointed by the Mayor, subject to the approval of the Metro Council.

The remaining members are the Director of the Department of Inspections, Permits and Licenses, the Executive Director of the Louisville and Jefferson County Planning Commission, and the Metro Council has a member too, appointed by the Council President.

The Landmarks Commission was formed as a result of the Board of Alderman’s 1973 affirmation that much of Louisville’s history had been lost by the demolition of specific historic structures, but also by the destruction of the distinctiveness of entire neighborhoods.

Citizens opposing Yates’ ordinance have outnumbered those supporting it 6 to 1 in the two public forums on the issue.

At the last forum, Welch said, “The silent majority is not here. Our constituents, where we live, the silent majority, have talked to us at our neighborhood meeting and already talked to us. And we know how they feel.” (LEO Weekly)

When Councilman Tom Owen was challenged to explain how the ordinance is still alive in face of 6 to 1 opposition, Owen explained, “…members of the Council are ‘independent operatives.'” (Youtube)

The Louisville Metro Council’s Planning/Zoning Committee plans to take up the subject of revising the Landmarks Ordinance, again, at its May 15 meeting.

(*Author’s note: In July of 2011, this author and Neighborhood Planning and Preservation, Inc. proposed the creation of a Downtown Preservation District as a Historic Landmark District, a proposal endorsed by the Courier-Journal’s Editorial Board as a fitting way to honor departed preservationist Ann Hassett on August 5, 2011. And there are those who wish to create a Landmarks District in the Russell neighborhood. Meyer’s representation, “probably no more in the works,” is not shared by this author.)

About Curtis Morrison. Curtis Morrison is a social activist and blogger at Louisville Courant. Morrison is a Democratic candidate for Kentucky’s 35th State Senate District seat.)

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