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City looks to expand historical building protection

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Athens City Council has moved forward on preserving and restoring historical and architecturally-pleasing buildings around the city.

Ron Luce, Executive Director of Athens County Historical Society and Museum, was pleased with the council’s newest step in historically prominent buildings in the Athens area following Monday’s meeting.

“Tonight is a very important night,” said Luce when asked about the new ordinance. “This has been in the making for about 20 years, and it is marvelous for the city as a whole.”

The council moved to amend the city code and establish Title 45. The title will be the first step in creating a historic preservation board of five voting members and two alternate members. This board will be responsible for fleshing out historic and architectural guidelines that will help the council with situations affecting older buildings. The board will act as a liaison between administrators, contractors, city council members and the historical society. Members for the preservation board will be selected by the mayor and approved by the council.

Fourth Ward Rep. Chris Fahl gave details about the move and what it would mean for the city.

“This board will complement the zoning board,” Fahl said. While the preservation board will not act as a zoning board of appeals might, it will ascertain which buildings or areas throughout the city will take precedence in matters of restoration or preservation. “The board will change decisions if zoning is changed or strengthened,” said Fahl.

The move to create this new preservation board will also help the city in another way.

“It [the ordinance] will help the city advance to becoming a Certified Local Government,” Council President Jim Sands said. “I would not say that the push for this new board was led by the historical society, but they certainly will not mind it. Support came mostly from City Planner Paul Lobe.”

Sands also mentioned Lobe had wanted to establish a preservation ordinance since he came to serve Athens.

Sands continued to say he hopes the ordinance to create the board will help to prevent “regrettable incidence[s]” like Bella Vino’s destruction in the future, but there will be limitations to the board’s influence.

“The board cannot restrict actions taken by contractors or owners, but we hope that it will add to the discussion surrounding historical buildings. And by adding to the discussion, we hope that [the board] will draw in more people interested in preserving history,” Sands said.

Luce hopes the board will be able to preserve more historical buildings in the Athens area. One locale he is especially worried about is Ohio University’s older buildings located at the Ridges.

“Because they belong to the university, there is not anything the city can do to preserve them,” Luce said. “Those buildings are some of the biggest tourist attractions Athens has to offer, so we should work to save them.”

The historical society in Athens County is very interested in saving historical city landmarks, and is very glad with the new proposal of the preservation board.

“It is too late for some buildings, and if such a board had existed in the past, it surely would have made a difference,” said Luce.

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