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Louisville lawmakers update landmarking process with shorter petition window, required notices

A red sign on leaf-littered lawn in front of a brown apartment building
Jacob Munoz
LPM News
A sign for landmarks commission public hearing sits outside the Yorktown Apartments on Nov. 28, 2022.

Louisville Metro Council unanimously passed two ordinances last week revising local rules for landmarking buildings. The sponsor said they would discourage late landmarking petitions that interfere with development plans.

Local historic buildings and structures can be designated as landmarks to protect them from demolition and redevelopment. There are more than 100 individual landmarks recognized in Louisville.

This process can be started by residents, who have to gather signatures and submit a petition to the city’s Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission.

If the commission decides the building or structure meets the necessary requirements — such as having enough “character, interest or value” to the city, state or country — it will recommend Metro Council approve it as a landmark.

But until recently, there wasn’t a specific timeframe around when petitions could be filed, meaning they could be submitted even after formal development plans were finalized.

That concerned Markus Winkler, a District 17 Democrat who is president of the council. He introduced the two ordinances changing the process.

Last month, he told LPM News that residents are sometimes “weaponizing” landmark petitions to try shutting down proposed developments even after they’ve been approved by the city’s Planning Commission and Metro Council.

“That can be fairly disruptive to somebody who feels like they've worked through the process,” Winkler said.

Metro Council members unanimously approved the measures last week. They previously amended the city’s Landmark Ordinance in 2019.

If residents want to submit petitions to the landmarks commission in response to a proposed development, they now have to be received before a public hearing takes place or, if that isn’t required, before a wrecking permit is issued. The waiting period for a wrecking permit is at least 30 days after a city preservation official confirms a building’s significance.

At least 200 residents must sign the petitions, and a minimum of 101 signers have to live or own property within a mile of the proposed landmark or in the same council district.

The changes allow officials to extend the 30-day permit period by another 30 or 60 days. They still require a petition early in the process, within 20 days, but it only needs 10 signatures. The goal is to give people more time to collect signatures to file the full landmarking petition.

Louisville Metro previously notified residents through opt-in email subscriptions about proposed historic demolitions and the 30-day periods. The approved legislation requires the city to continue that practice consistently.

It also mandates developers to put up signs about demolition plans on the properties for at least 30 days.

A clear process?

Savannah Darr is the historic preservation officer of Louisville Metro’s Office of Planning, serving as a supervisor for a small team that serves as staff for the landmarks commission. She’s also in charge of determining whether buildings qualify as historic.

She said landmark petitions are rare, with only one or two landmark petitions per year over the past eight years. Very few were filed after developments obtained approval, she said.

“Most of our petitions come from notification of an actual wrecking permit,” which happens earlier in the process, Darr said. “And those aren't always tied to a development plan.”

But Darr said Metro Council’s changes to the landmarks ordinance are important to make the process clearer to everyone, from neighborhood preservationists to property owners.

“I think that once a lot of people start to get used to these, they will appreciate that everything is coming before big decisions are made,” Darr said.

Jennifer Chappell, a District 15 Democrat on the Planning and Zoning Committee, said she agrees with what the changes are trying to accomplish.

But she also said she’s heard from residents that they are often late to find out about potential demolitions and redevelopments, including the planned demolition of the Lawton Court houses just outside her district.

During a mid-October committee meeting to discuss the ordinances, Chappell said she preferred seeing a 60-day period to file landmarks petitions.

“Those notifications don't really reach the people that they need to, or might not reach the people that might be passionate about that certain thing,” Chappell said in an interview last week.

She said she wants to explore how to strengthen and expand the notification system. Chappell also thinks city lawmakers like herself should be more involved with the landmarking process before properties are considered for new developments.

Metro Council can pass resolutions to initiate that process, and she said she wants to use it for structures in her district.

In an emailed statement, Darr said the Office of Planning recommends its email subscription service for residents and groups interested in “developments, upcoming meetings, demolitions, and more.”

Roberto Roldan contributed reporting.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.

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