Friday, November 28, 2008

Standard-Examiner: City Council, Landmarks Pledge to Work Closely Together

The Council and Landmarks Commission arrive at a kumbaya moment

The Standard-Examiner finally gets around to reporting this morning about the earlier-heralded City Council/Landmarks Commission pow-wow which occurred during a council work session last Tuesday night:
OGDEN — The city council and Ogden Landmarks Commission will work together more closely in the future to avoid controversies such as the one involving renovations at the historic Windsor Hotel.
The two groups attempted to iron out their differences over the Windsor, at 166 Historic 25th St., during a twohour work session Tuesday night.
The tone of the meeting was both conciliatory and confrontational.
But in the end, city council and Landmarks Commission members agreed the discussion was beneficial.
“It gives us a starting place (to keep the lines of communication open),” City Council Chairwoman Amy Wicks said.
Mr. Schwebke goes on to provide us a glimpse into the confrontational part:
Judy Lohmueller, vice chairwoman of the Landmarks Commission, said during the work session the city council should have contacted the commission if it had a problem with the ordinance amendment. [...]
Seems to us that the council had already "contacted the commission" with its objections, (in a formal manner,) by rejecting the recommendation to broadly increase Historic 25th Street District height limits. If there are those on the commission who still believed that Ogden Properties' nonconforming plans were in the best interest of Ogden... and the 25th Street District a a whole, why didn't they just go back to the drawing board and come back to the council with a narrowly drafted "variance" ordinance, applicable to the Windsor structure alone? Hmmmmm? easier to raise a stink, and bitch to the press, we guess.

There's even more reported griping from Lohmueller:
Lohmueller also said she resents untrue statements from some city council members made during public meetings that Landmarks Commission members are susceptible to political influence from Ogden’s administration.
“It’s embarrassing to Landmarks,” she said. “It’s tarnished our reputation.”
So long as the the Landmarks Commission continues to be populated with the likes of Sue "G-Train" Wilkerson, and Boss Godfrey's Uncle Bernie, the Landmarks Commission will continue to suffer similar embarrassment, we suspect.

We'll also note a slight improvement in the accuracy of Mr. Schwebke's reporting of the circumstances leading to the council's rejection of the Landmark Commission's recommended broad zoning ordinance revision:

In Tuesday's article Mr. Schwebke provided this:
Ogden Properties has abandoned its plans to renovate the hotel because the city council has refused to amend a height restriction ordinance to enable the addition of a fourth-floor penthouse.
Here's the pertinent text from this morning's Scott Schwebke story:
The Landmarks Commission requested the work session to voice frustration surrounding a city council decision in September to reject an ordinance amendment that would have allowed exemptions to a 45-foot height restriction for Historic 25th Street buildings.
The amendment would have allowed the Ogden Planning Commission to grant a height variance once the Landmarks Commission had reviewed and approved building plans. [...]
Several council members have expressed concern that waiving building-height restrictions and adding another floor at the Windsor would jeopardize 25th Street’s National Historic Registry designation and eligibility for federal funding.
Still a mite fuzzy, we think; but an improvement nevertheless.

And for those readers who aren't completely burned out on the Windsor Hotel discussion, the floor remains as open as ever.

12 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

There just wasn't much meat to the story. We learned that some members of the Council were unhappy with some members of the LC, and some members of the LC were unhappy with some members of the Council. [Sun Rises In East! Film at 11!] That some thought politics were involved in deciding how some members of both groups voted, and some thought politics were not involved. No kidding, really?

The two things I did want to know about the meeting, the story didn't tell me: [1] Did the LC members have good and substantial reason to believe that changing the height limits downtown would not endanger 25th Street's Historic District status? And if so, why did they think that? That concern, after all, was what drove the Council's rejection of the LC's recommendation. What was said about that matter at the meeting? Anything? Nothing? Much? Little? Story doesn't say. [2] Were any new procedures worked out to insure better communication between the LC and the Council in the future to avoid another nasty name-calling head-butting contest down the road? If so, what were they? Story doesn't say.

Not one of the SE's, or Mr. Schwebke's, finer efforts.

Curmudgeon said...

Rudi:

Well, on this one, I think the LC has a reasonably good point. The Council denied the recommendation after it received two letters from highly credible people and organizations warning that changing the height limits over the whole Historic 25th Street district might endanger its status as a Historic District. Had I been on the Council, I would have had to take those letters very seriously.

The Council, however, could have... and I think probably should have... once it received those two letters, allowed time before taking a final vote, to ask the LC to respond to the concerns raised in the letters. It would have cost the Council little to have done that. If it did not find the LC's reasons for discounting the concerns compelling, it could have gone ahead and denied the change. But it would have been prudent, I think, to have sought the LC's response to the letters first.

The Council erred again, I think, when Mr. Stephen's moved to delay a reconsideration vote for two weeks to allow time for the LC to respond to what the letters and the Council's refusing the change. Again, it would have cost the Council nothing. The project was not going forward in the interim, because the Council had voted "no" on the change. If the LC's response was not convincing and compelling, the Council could simply have reaffirmed its earlier decision. What would have been lost by agreeing to Mr. Stephan's motion to allow the LC time to meet with the Council and respond? Nothing that I can see.

As for your asking why the LC didn't come back to the Council with a zoning variance for the Willard property alone... well, as I understand it, no one had requested a variance for the Willard property alone. I don't think the LC could have, without someone requesting it and it having gone through the Planning Commission as well, proposed a spot variance for the Willard on the LC's own initiative. The Willard owners could have started that ball rolling, but they'd jumped ship on the project already so that was a non-starter. I suppose the Administration could have made the proposal, but it didn't do it either. The LC could not have done it on its own. Nor should it have.

Finally, the gratuitous swipe at Mr. Schwebke in the opening of your post --- "Ace Reporter Schwebke finally gets around to reporting this morning about the earlier heralded City Council/Landmarks Commission pow-wow which occurred during a council work session last Tuesday night." --- was uncalled for, I think. This was not one of Mr. Schwebke's better efforts [see my comment above]. But Mr. Schwebke does not, I think, decide when the stories he writes will appear in the paper. The SE's news editors do that. If you want to thump someone for the story running three days after the meeting it described, go after the editors, not the reporter.

RudiZink said...

"Finally, the gratuitous swipe at Mr. Schwebke in the opening of your post..."

Point well taken. I've now amended the opening paragraph to read "The Standard-Examiner finally gets around to reporting...etc."

As for the rest... either the mayor, the developer or the LC could have asked for an amended recommendation sua sponte. The telling point is that none of these entities or parties did that, leaving us to wonder "Why?"

My best guess is that at least the administration and the developer already knew that the developer's commercial borrowing resources had already dried up as a result of the national "credit crunch."

It's likely, I believe, that the main object of the broad proposed ordinance amendment was to serve other un-named 25th street property owners' interests, as various readers have suggested in earlier comments.

dan s. said...

Curm:

You suggest that the Council should have communicated more thoroughly with the Landmarks Commission before taking its vote on the height restriction ordinance. Perhaps they should have. But it wouldn't have been as simple as you seem to think.

The Landmarks Commission is part of the executive branch, as are the Planning Commission and the planning staff who support and often speak for both commissions. It would be highly unusual, I think, for the City Council to bypass the staff and try to communicate directly with the volunteer commissions. Instead, the usual protocol for such communications is to go through the staff.

I've never attended a Landmarks Commission meeting, but I was present at a Planning Commission meeting a couple years ago when the staff told the commissioners that they are prohibited from having any outside communications with anyone regarding commission business. Let's assume, then, that Landmarks Commissioners have been told the same thing. In that case, the only way for the Council to implement your suggestion would have been to formally ask to put an item on the agenda of an upcoming Landmarks Commission meeting. But even that would be unusual, again because the Commission is part of the executive branch so the legislative branch has no control over its agenda.

Of course, if the council wrote a nice letter asking the commission to put a discussion item on its agenda, the commission would probably oblige. But even then, so what? The commission had no incentive to revise its recommendation on the height restriction ordinance because that ordinance would have given them the power to authorize taller buildings--and they certainly trust themselves to make the right decisions. The concerns raised in the letters dealt specifically with the Windsor (not Willard!) Hotel, and the Landmarks Commission had no authority to revoke the Certificate of Compliance that it had already granted to the hotel (despite the fact that the certificate was issued in violation of the ordinance that outlines the standards for compliance).

My question at this point is the same as yours: What new procedures will be adopted to ensure that the Landmarks Commission adheres to the proper standards in the future when it grants these certificates?

Curmudgeon said...

Dan: you wrote "Of course, if the council wrote a nice letter asking the commission to put a discussion item on its agenda, the commission would probably oblige. But even then, so what? The commission had no incentive to revise its recommendation on the height restriction ordinance because that ordinance would have given them the power to authorize taller buildings--and they certainly trust themselves to make the right decisions."

The point would not have been to get the LC to revise its recommendation.The point would have been to provide the Council with additional information before it made its final decision on changing the height limits by giving the LC a chance to address the concerns raised in the two letters, which the Council received after the LC made its recommendation.

Some LC commission members were then and are now convinced that changing the height limit over the whole street would not have endangered the Historic District designation in any way. If they have good grounds to believe that, and could provide evidence the Council found convincing, there was nothing to be lost, and potentially something to be gained, by the Council's giving the LC commissioners the opportunity to explain why [in their view] the streets Historic District designation was in no way endangered. This was especially true after the Council voted "no" on the change, and Mr. Stephans moved reconsideration not be taken up until after a meet with the LC commission. Still seems to me the Council would have risked nothing, and possibly learned something significant, by agreeing to Mr. Stephen's suggestion.

ozboy said...

The reality of this situation is being covered up by the smoke screen engineered by the Little Lord.

The deal was already busted by the economic situation. There was no way that these hustlers could make the hotel renovation pan out financially even with the requested height changes and addition of the luxury pent house. The highly speculative market for these condo's had dried up a long time before this BS came up. The wanna be developers knew this, Scott Brown knew this and for sure the Lil' Lord knew this.

This whole fiasco was created by the Lil' Lord in order to cover his buddy's butts and lay the blame on the council to further weaken them in relation to the administrative branch. Sort of a "how do we make lemonade out of lemons". Take a losing situation (the Windsor), stoke up the smoke machines, create a situation where he and his sycophants at the Standard could raise a huge diversionary cloud and blame it on the council and then have the wanna be developers lay a million buck claim on the city because the council acted "political". I have no doubt that Godfrey would gladly have the city tax payers pay these scoundrels a million bucks ransom in order to keep his pals from losing money from their amateur and poorly timed slum rehabilitation efforts, especially if he could weaken and embarrass the council at the same time.

Once again the evil Lil' Lord has outfoxed the sleeping council and made them look stupid, clumsy and darkly motivated - just like he did with the Ernst Health fiasco.

When will the Ogden City council ever learn to quit taking their pocket knives to a gun fight with the little bastard? As long as they continue in their totally unrealistic expectation that the punk will somehow act honorably with them, they will continue to be outfoxed, outsmarted and out maneuvered by him.

Bottom line - Lord Godfrey has no integrity, never did have any and certainly never will. Dealing with him is akin to handling a rattle snake and that ain'ta gonna change.

Curmudgeon said...

Oz:

You wrote: The deal was already busted by the economic situation. There was no way that these hustlers could make the hotel renovation pan out financially even with the requested height changes and addition of the luxury pent house. The highly speculative market for these condo's had dried up a long time before this BS came up.

I suspect that's true. But it's also irrelevant with respect to the question that was before the Council: should it ratify changing the height limit throughout the 25th Street Historic District to 55 feet from 45 feet? This is either a good idea or it's not; that either would endanger the street's Historic District designation or it would not. And those two questions are valid ones, even if the Windsor was dead as a doornail by the time the Council voted on the zoning change.

As for this, Oz.... "When will the Ogden City council ever learn to quit taking their pocket knives to a gun fight with the little bastard? As long as they continue in their totally unrealistic expectation that the punk will somehow act honorably with them, they will continue to be outfoxed, outsmarted and out maneuvered by him." --- well, what would you have recommended the Council do? Once the zoning change recommendation came down from the LC and Planning Commission, that Council had to do one of two things: approve the change or reject it. Do you think they should have approved the change? I don't think they could have... I would not have... once the two letters came in cautioning about how that might affect the street's historic district status, particularly since that meant projects up to 55' would henceforth go only through PC and LC [not the council] if the zoning was changed.

So I'm hard put to see what you think the Council should have done, other than what it did do--- reject the zoning change --- under the circumstances existing at the time .

dan s. said...

Curm:

I agree that it would have looked better for the council to forward those two letters (from SHPO and UHS) to the Landmarks Commission and ask for their formal response.

However, we pretty much know what that response would have been, because the council did hear spoken comments from more than one member of the Landmarks Commission--not to mention the planning staff--at the meetings where they voted on the matter. The dominant voices on the Landmarks Commission would have given the same arguments that Godfrey and the planning staff gave: (1) the height restriction ordinance has nothing to do with the Windsor Hotel so the two letters about the Windsor are irrelevant; or if you won't buy that argument, then (2) the Windsor Hotel renovation will be an enhancement of 25th Street and is supported by 100% [sic] of the business owners on 25th Street and in any case it's better than tearing the building down or leaving it vacant for years to come.

But again, I agree that a more formal back-and-forth between the council and the LC would have looked better. It also would have served to formally notify the LC that when they granted the certificate to the Windsor, they violated the standards in the city ordinance (which are the same as the federal standards referred to by SHPO and UHS).

howell,schwebke said...

We are not gay. We have never been gay.

Libby N said...

When I was on Landmarks the city administration would research the petition for change and "recommend" how to vote on it. Of course, they were usually small things like paint color or changes to a porch on a home. There are three people I know are in the Mayor's pocket for sure. There are some I don't know about, but I can't imagine the little Mayor would throw me off and not replace me with someone to do his bidding. Two of the Commissioners are very vocal about how to vote on issues and will bully people if necessary. It is a corrupt commission and I stand by that statement! Judy Lohmueller can be offended all she wants, but she is naive if she thinks Landmarks is not tainted. I believe Judy could be a good Landmarks Commissioner if she follows her inner voice and does not let the Mayor's minions influence her decisions. Obviously the most important issue is to do what is historically appropriate on our beautiful 25th street. The Commission is there to watch over our three historic districts not to actively campaign for inappropriate changes.

My Great-Grandfather started the Ogden Standard Examiner and I am sure he would be horrified, just like my father would, at how bad the reporting has become. They constantly miss the big point and skirt around the main issues.

disgusted said...

to dan s

off topic for a second.

a lot of helicopter activity up on the mountain this last week. maybe its work being done on the communication towers at mt. ogden or maybe there are more tree clearing going on in malan basin. dont know.
have you been up to malans in a while.

dan s. said...

disgusted,

I just heard a report from an independent and very reliable source. Yes, there's been a crew clearing trees on the Malan's Basin property. From what I heard, they've cut a 30-foot-wide path that traverses from Malan's Basin into upper Strong's Canyon. I hope to learn more soon.

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