Jefferson City to discuss measure to better protect historic sites

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JEFFERSON CITY - Jefferson City officials and residents will discuss a proposal at a special meeting Tuesday afternoon that aims to better protect the capital city's historic properties from demolition.

The Jefferson City Historic Preservation Commission will host the special session after its regular meeting, to review an ordinance submitted by the Historic City of Jefferson, an organization that wants to preserve the city's most precious sites.

The plan aims to empower the Historic Preservation Commission to be able to reject future demolition applications. 

The president of the Historic City of Jefferson said the new proposal would require approval from the city before anyone could demolish a structure. Right now, Steve Veile said, it is too easy for owners to do that.

"If you are a property owner and you want to tear down the oldest building in town, there is nothing that can stop you," Veile said. "This new ordinance would put some brakes on that process and require hearings and approvals."

The proposed bill would concern designated city landmarks, properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places and sites 50 years and older. It includes county and city buildings, both private and public places.

Other changes would also extend the commission's application review time from 60 to 90 days, and increase punishments for violators, from the current 500-dollar fee and 180 days of jail time.

The measure could add additional fines and also punish those who allow historic properties fall into disrepair.

Part of the need for the a tougher ordinance, Veile said, comes from the fact that many owners neglect their old buildings. 

"We've seen a terrible problem in Jefferson City lately in the last 20 years of historic structures that are falling down because property owners aren't keeping them up," said Veile, "And that's a real problem right now."

Demolition applications have also gone up lately. The Jefferson City Historic Preservation Commission, which issues the permits for demolitions, said it saw an uptick of applications in the last year.

In 2014, the agency issued 39 demolition permits for 31 residential properties and 8 commercial sites. From that, 17 permits were issued to MoDOT and Lincoln University, which own several buildings in town. 

"I do believe that there has been an increase in demolition applications and that may have been to the abandoned registry listings being issued in the property owner's taking care of those vacant and abandoned properties to get them off the list," said Jayme Abbott, Jefferson City's neighborhood services coordinator.

The initiative comes after Cole County wanted to demolish the jail and sheriff's house adjacent to the courthouse last year.

The meeting is open to the public and starts at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.