Editorial: Get the historic district rules right the first time

Published Aug 24, 2014 at 12:14AM

The Bend City Council was caught in an awkward position Wednesday night. And it needs to follow up to ensure its rules for historic buildings and homes in historic districts get fixed.

There has been a lengthy process to revise those rules, with several public hearings and meetings. But as the council was set to adopt them Wednesday night, Bend lawyer Bruce White raised some important concerns.

One issue is fencing. New fences or replaced fences can be a contentious issue for neighbors. The proposed new rules don’t seem to address fencing.

The new rules also don’t seem to allow homeowners to plant more drought-resistant plants to save water. Homeowners are locked into existing landscaping. White raised a concern about the laxity of rules for the location and design of garages, too. The new rules are more suggestion than anything else because the language says “should” instead of “shall.”

Those are all legitimate concerns. You can debate whether historic districts and designations are appropriate. But if Bend is going to have rules for them, these proposed rules have clear problems.

The City Council went ahead and moved forward on passing the rules. The justification seemed to be that the Landmarks Commission, which developed the rules, had a deadline — which nobody at the meeting seemed to know — to get the rules done. If the commission didn’t complete the rules by the deadline, it might lose access to $2,000 to $5,000 in state funding and lose its “Certified Local Government” designation under state law.

That’s sloppy governance to be in such a hurry to pass flawed rules.

Mayor Jim Clinton and Councilor Sally Russell objected. Clinton wanted the council to take more time to fix the problem. Russell expressed concern that if the council passed the rules, the council might never get back to fixing the problems.

Councilor Jodie Barram tried to find a compromise. She moved to proceed with the first step in adopting the rules, but also asked the Landmarks Commission to review concerns raised about the rules and get back to the council by March 2015.

We’d rather see the council get the rules right before adopting them. The council is going to create a window of opportunity for changes in fencing and garages that may be inconsistent with the historic district.