Colonial Gardens then …

Some members of the Louisville Metro Council have proposed a change in the way properties and/or areas are designated as landmarks, and the issue has the city’s preservationists breaking out the pitchforks and torches.

The ordinance, sponsored by Councilpersons David Yates (D-25), Vicki Welch (D-13), Bob Henderson (D-14), Rick Blackwell (D-12), James Peden (R-23), David James (D-6), and Jerry Miller (R-19), would require a landmark designation to be approved by the Metro Council rather than relying only on the Landmarks Commission, as is currently done.

The ordinance would also change the petition requirements so that all residents – both property owners and renters  – living around a proposed landmark would have a bigger say in the decision.

The ordinance would include similar changes for landmark “districts.”

As it currently stands, the process allows something like this to happen:

Let’s say a group decides a building in danger of being razed shouldn’t be razed because of it’s historical value to the city. The group would collect 200 signatures on an official petition, pay $500, register to speak at a public hearing and try to win over the members of the Landmarks Commission.

If the commission is satisfied with the petitioners argument, then the property is designated a landmark.

That’s it.

That actually sounds fairly reasonable. It is the way the process has worked in Louisville for a long time.

But now, for fun, let’s say the petition only included about 30 residents who actually lived in the vicinity of the proposed property, with the rest coming from people who do not live near the building.

Would that be fair?

To have people from Prospect signing a petition to save a building in Iroquois? A building they don’t have to live near or even see on a routine basis? What about the people in the surrounding neighborhood who didn’t sign the petition, who saw no value in the building whatsoever? What if the neighbors wanted a restaurant built in it’s place, instead of a dilapidated eyesore? Shouldn’t their opinion carry more weight than someone living 30 miles away?

While you ponder those questions, try and remember that scenario, because it is exactly what happened in 2009 in south Louisville with a building known as Colonial Gardens, and it is the basis for the change described in this now-revised ordinance.

This is a peculiarly impossible situation for me, personally.

I love Louisville’s preservationists and their community efforts, and count many preservation activists as friends. I believe the Landmarks Commission is comprised of dedicated professionals who are extremely knowledgeable and respected and do not require “babysitters.”

Colonial Gardens now.

But I also live closer to Colonial Gardens than 70 percent of the people who attached their names to the petition. I also want the process to be backed by the force of law to, well, preserve not only the integrity of the Landmarks Commission, but the legality of its decisions.

I supported the designation of Colonial Gardens as a landmark because I thought it deserved to be recognized. The building’s spire and roofline are distinguishing characteristics of a place that once was, among other things, the site of Senning’s Park – Louisville’s first zoo.

But I also understand that I may be in the minority. People living near the building – directly across from Fredrick Law Olmsted’s Iroquois Park – say they wanted a nice restaurant, not an empty, crumbling former nightclub. Some residents of the area say the building should have been demolished.

Since the landmark designation, absolutely nothing has been done with the property on the corner of Kenwood Drive and New Cut Road. This adds to the frustration for people like Ray Whitener, a resident in the nearby Auburndale area who says, “Municipalities across America have battled for reasonable landmark ordinances and the debate has continued for years.  This proposal is a step in the right direction.”

The timing of the ordinance and the intense reaction it has caused caught the measure’s sponsors completely off-guard. Councilman David Yates, who lives near Colonial Gardens, has been the target of most of the criticism. Among the charges leveled at Yates and others is the assertion that local developers “wrote” the ordinance.

Yates called that statement “absurd.”

“We just want to make sure that the people affected by something like this have their voices heard. Therefore, an unelected board that is unaccountable to the public cannot have the last word,” says Yates.

To view the complete ordinance, click HERE.

Some critics have said the Landmarks Commission will end up like the Planning Commission.

I disagree.

The Planning Commission is made of developers.

The Landmarks Commission is made of professionals.

 Let’s save Louisville. But let’s do it better.


Brian Tucker is a lifelong Louisvillian. He is the founder of The Valley Report, and has been writing on Southwest Louisville's political environment for several years.

14 thoughts on “Proposed landmark ordinance draws ire from Louisville preservationists … but should it?

  1. Even if we assume that those pressing the need for action with regards to this ordinance are pure in their hearts, the ordinance still has many problems.

    One, while one might argue for community residents in the vicinity of a landmark target having more of a say, weighting it toward property owners in any way is pre-Jacksonian, and anti-democratic in the modern context of democracy.  Tenants and other citizens in the community must have rights equal to that of property owners, or else you can’t call it democratic, even with democratic-sounding language (“51% of”) in the ordinance.

    Two, the people throughout the city of Louisville have a right to have a say in the cultural development of the city throughout the whole city.  To quote a preservationist friend, “Many parts of the city have an affect on more than just their immediate
    neighbors and the history of the city belongs to all of us.”

    Third, everyone in the community of a landmark target indeed has the full power to contribute to the landmark process.  Nobody is stopping them from attending landmark hearings and giving voice to any counteracting facts they wish to present.  This is why I say this ordinance is largely about correcting a problem that doesn’t exist, at least the way it’s written now.

    If the sponsors of this ordinance really want to push fixes, they have to identify real problems that are not born of misconceptions that have been created by certain figures in the South End.

    If I were to identify a problem with landmarking, it would be a problem that was solved by zoning — People claiming they weren’t informed about the process.  I agree that people who live around a landmark target are not properly informed of what’s going on.  But zoning provides a away for people to sign-up their e-mail addresses and physical addresses so they can receive alerts about what’s going on in their areas.  Why can’t we do this for landmarking?

    As for the petitions themselves, why can’t the percentage be related to general residents (not just property owners) inside the neighborhood plus all adjacent neighborhoods?  Instead of making it unnecessarily more difficult to build a petition, why not just say more about where a number of the signatures come from, but without an arbitrary radius length, which could leave out a lot of people who consider themselves living near the landmark target?

    That the ordinance puts emphasis on property owners is what creates the biggest negative stir.  And it didn’t have to be that way.  This ordinance was clearly a rush job, and if it wasn’t ordered up by developers, it sure does look that way.

    As a final note, I don’t see a necessity for the Metro Council to add oversight.  Yes, I said “add”.  The Council already has oversight, via confirming nominees to the Landmarks Commission.  As long as the commission is packed with professionals (people who actually understand what they’re doing), what’s the point of changing that?  Because a few whiny South End developers didn’t get their way?  Really?

  2. Even if we assume that those pressing the need for action with regards to this ordinance are pure in their hearts, the ordinance still has many problems.

    One, while one might argue for community residents in the vicinity of a landmark target having more of a say, weighting it toward property owners in any way is pre-Jacksonian, and anti-democratic in the modern context of democracy.  Tenants and other citizens in the community must have rights equal to that of property owners, or else you can’t call it democratic, even with democratic-sounding language (“51% of”) in the ordinance.

    Two, the people throughout the city of Louisville have a right to have a say in the cultural development of the city throughout the whole city.  To quote a preservationist friend, “Many parts of the city have an affect on more than just their immediate
    neighbors and the history of the city belongs to all of us.”

    Third, everyone in the community of a landmark target indeed has the full power to contribute to the landmark process.  Nobody is stopping them from attending landmark hearings and giving voice to any counteracting facts they wish to present.  This is why I say this ordinance is largely about correcting a problem that doesn’t exist, at least the way it’s written now.

    If the sponsors of this ordinance really want to push fixes, they have to identify real problems that are not born of misconceptions that have been created by certain figures in the South End.

    If I were to identify a problem with landmarking, it would be a problem that was solved by zoning — People claiming they weren’t informed about the process.  I agree that people who live around a landmark target are not properly informed of what’s going on.  But zoning provides a away for people to sign-up their e-mail addresses and physical addresses so they can receive alerts about what’s going on in their areas.  Why can’t we do this for landmarking?

    As for the petitions themselves, why can’t the percentage be related to general residents (not just property owners) inside the neighborhood plus all adjacent neighborhoods?  Instead of making it unnecessarily more difficult to build a petition, why not just say more about where a number of the signatures come from, but without an arbitrary radius length, which could leave out a lot of people who consider themselves living near the landmark target?

    That the ordinance puts emphasis on property owners is what creates the biggest negative stir.  And it didn’t have to be that way.  This ordinance was clearly a rush job, and if it wasn’t ordered up by developers, it sure does look that way.

    As a final note, I don’t see a necessity for the Metro Council to add oversight.  Yes, I said “add”.  The Council already has oversight, via confirming nominees to the Landmarks Commission.  As long as the commission is packed with professionals (people who actually understand what they’re doing), what’s the point of changing that?  Because a few whiny South End developers didn’t get their way?  Really?

  3. By the way, Council Member Dan Johnson announced yesterday that Colonial Gardens has a buyer.  Those who have been upset about the slow process for making this happen (including me) can breathe a little easier now.

  4. By the way, Council Member Dan Johnson announced yesterday that Colonial Gardens has a buyer.  Those who have been upset about the slow process for making this happen (including me) can breathe a little easier now.

  5. While more deeply perusing the latest changes to these amendments, I noticed that it lightens the language by changing “property owners” to “property owners or residents”, even though I don’t see why these amendments need to make that distinction — why not just say “residents”? It also maintains the problematic, arbitrary one-mile radius, which in my hard opinion, is too exclusive, as many people who consider themselves living in a
    neighborhood near a landmark target could find themselves not qualifying. This is not to mention that interested parties in the remainder of Louisville Metro are still being somewhat shut out.

  6. I definitely agree that the people who live in the vicinity of a structure should be the ones that determine if it is a landmark or not, not somebody from the other side of town. There is certainly an argument against the property owner section of the ordinance but the reality those are the people with the biggest interest in the determination. People who are not owners may or may not live in the same neighborhood in the future and if all those supporters moved it would be very difficult to undo the landmark designation.

    Overall this appears to be moving the right direction even though it’s not perfect.

  7. I definitely agree that the people who live in the vicinity of a structure should be the ones that determine if it is a landmark or not, not somebody from the other side of town. There is certainly an argument against the property owner section of the ordinance but the reality those are the people with the biggest interest in the determination. People who are not owners may or may not live in the same neighborhood in the future and if all those supporters moved it would be very difficult to undo the landmark designation.

    Overall this appears to be moving the right direction even though it’s not perfect.

  8.  I think it should just say “residents”. That is who makes up the neighborhood. Although I can’t imagine many landlords getting on the preservation bandwagon, I can understand the concern some have with the “property owners” declaration. And as for Dan Johnson’s last-minute speech saying there’s a buyer for Colonial Gardens, I say “tell us who it is and what they are going to do”.

  9.  I think it should just say “residents”. That is who makes up the neighborhood. Although I can’t imagine many landlords getting on the preservation bandwagon, I can understand the concern some have with the “property owners” declaration. And as for Dan Johnson’s last-minute speech saying there’s a buyer for Colonial Gardens, I say “tell us who it is and what they are going to do”.

  10. Sorry I didn’t stumble across this article more timely, but I had a few things about which I’d like to comment. 

    First, your explanation of the designation process, “Let’s say a group decides a building in danger of being razed
    shouldn’t be razed because of it’s historical value to the city. The
    group would collect 200 signatures on an official petition, pay $500,
    register to speak at a public hearing and try to win over the members of
    the Landmarks Commission.  If the commission is satisfied with the petitioners argument, then the property is designated a landmark.”, leaves out a rather important step…or two.  Once a group has applied (along with the required petition and fee), the Landmarks Commission does an extensive expert review of the property based on guidelines and standards set in place by the National Register for Historic Places.  Once that review is completed, a public hearing is conducted and input from all Louisville residents is invited. 

    Second, when I learned about this proposed ordinance change, I attended the February 14th Metro Council committee meeting, where I heard one committee member comment that the majority of signatures on the Colonial Gardens’ landmarks petition were from the east end.  I have since learned that that information was inaccurate and have seen a breakdown (by zipcode) of the petition.  Roughly half of the signatures were from south end zipcodes, with the majority of any zipcode represented being the zipcode in which Colonial Gardens resides.  Councilman Tom Owen further indicated that a review of the past several landmarks applications revealed that the majority of signatures HAVE been coming from the immediate area where landmarks are located. 

    The current ordinance, as written, is completely open and transparent.  It is objective and balanced.  Consequently, our landmarks process has been used as a model in large communities throughout the U.S.  By stripping ANY percentage of Louisville citizens of their right to participate in this process, and by giving Metro Council the authority to override the objective review process will deeply and negatively impact historic preservation in our community.  I am not a historic preservationist, and, humbly disagree with another commenter who feels that the people living in the vicinity of the proposed property be the ones to decide if it’s a landmark.  These decisions have to be made by people who have the knowledge to know which treasures are worth saving and which are not.  We must trust the experts we have put in the position, to do their jobs.  Taking away the final authority, disregarding the extreme importance of the national standards and guidelines, in favor of a political body with a lack of expertise in this area, is a mistake. 

  11. Sorry I didn’t stumble across this article more timely, but I had a few things about which I’d like to comment. 

    First, your explanation of the designation process, “Let’s say a group decides a building in danger of being razed
    shouldn’t be razed because of it’s historical value to the city. The
    group would collect 200 signatures on an official petition, pay $500,
    register to speak at a public hearing and try to win over the members of
    the Landmarks Commission.  If the commission is satisfied with the petitioners argument, then the property is designated a landmark.”, leaves out a rather important step…or two.  Once a group has applied (along with the required petition and fee), the Landmarks Commission does an extensive expert review of the property based on guidelines and standards set in place by the National Register for Historic Places.  Once that review is completed, a public hearing is conducted and input from all Louisville residents is invited. 

    Second, when I learned about this proposed ordinance change, I attended the February 14th Metro Council committee meeting, where I heard one committee member comment that the majority of signatures on the Colonial Gardens’ landmarks petition were from the east end.  I have since learned that that information was inaccurate and have seen a breakdown (by zipcode) of the petition.  Roughly half of the signatures were from south end zipcodes, with the majority of any zipcode represented being the zipcode in which Colonial Gardens resides.  Councilman Tom Owen further indicated that a review of the past several landmarks applications revealed that the majority of signatures HAVE been coming from the immediate area where landmarks are located. 

    The current ordinance, as written, is completely open and transparent.  It is objective and balanced.  Consequently, our landmarks process has been used as a model in large communities throughout the U.S.  By stripping ANY percentage of Louisville citizens of their right to participate in this process, and by giving Metro Council the authority to override the objective review process will deeply and negatively impact historic preservation in our community.  I am not a historic preservationist, and, humbly disagree with another commenter who feels that the people living in the vicinity of the proposed property be the ones to decide if it’s a landmark.  These decisions have to be made by people who have the knowledge to know which treasures are worth saving and which are not.  We must trust the experts we have put in the position, to do their jobs.  Taking away the final authority, disregarding the extreme importance of the national standards and guidelines, in favor of a political body with a lack of expertise in this area, is a mistake. 

  12. Sorry I didn’t stumble across this article more timely, but I had a few things about which I’d like to comment. 

    First, your explanation of the designation process, “Let’s say a group decides a building in danger of being razed
    shouldn’t be razed because of it’s historical value to the city. The
    group would collect 200 signatures on an official petition, pay $500,
    register to speak at a public hearing and try to win over the members of
    the Landmarks Commission.  If the commission is satisfied with the petitioners argument, then the property is designated a landmark.”, leaves out a rather important step…or two.  Once a group has applied (along with the required petition and fee), the Landmarks Commission does an extensive expert review of the property based on guidelines and standards set in place by the National Register for Historic Places.  Once that review is completed, a public hearing is conducted and input from all Louisville residents is invited. 

    Second, when I learned about this proposed ordinance change, I attended the February 14th Metro Council committee meeting, where I heard one committee member comment that the majority of signatures on the Colonial Gardens’ landmarks petition were from the east end.  I have since learned that that information was inaccurate and have seen a breakdown (by zipcode) of the petition.  Roughly half of the signatures were from south end zipcodes, with the majority of any zipcode represented being the zipcode in which Colonial Gardens resides.  Councilman Tom Owen further indicated that a review of the past several landmarks applications revealed that the majority of signatures HAVE been coming from the immediate area where landmarks are located. 

    The current ordinance, as written, is completely open and transparent.  It is objective and balanced.  Consequently, our landmarks process has been used as a model in large communities throughout the U.S.  By stripping ANY percentage of Louisville citizens of their right to participate in this process, and by giving Metro Council the authority to override the objective review process will deeply and negatively impact historic preservation in our community.  I am not a historic preservationist, and, humbly disagree with another commenter who feels that the people living in the vicinity of the proposed property be the ones to decide if it’s a landmark.  These decisions have to be made by people who have the knowledge to know which treasures are worth saving and which are not.  We must trust the experts we have put in the position, to do their jobs.  Taking away the final authority, disregarding the extreme importance of the national standards and guidelines, in favor of a political body with a lack of expertise in this area, is a mistake. 

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