Council members clash over change to landmarks ordinance

Last night was the final public hearing on the proposed changes to Louisville’s historic landmarks ordinance, which would give the full Metro Council final say instead of the Landmarks Commission, and require that the majority of signatures on petitions to protect a landmark be from citizens within a 1-mile radius of the property.

Proponents of the amendment, sponsored by David Yates and seeming to have a large amount of support on the council, say that moving this responsibility to the council would be a more accountable and transparent process. They also argue that the 1-mile radius rule would assure that people who live next to the property in question would have more say than those who live far away from it. The move likely stems from the decision of the Landmarks Commission to save the Colonial Gardens property, which many in that area are unhappy about, as they see it as a longstanding eyesore.

But the overwhelming majority of citizens who spoke at the hearing last night — 48 out of 52 — did not see it that way. Speaker after speaker strongly condemned the changes, to healthy applause from the crowd. One common complaint was that the commission has experts in this feild who understand the issue, and council members are not only lacking such knowledge, but might be tempted to side with developer/business interests in order to block a site from being landmarked. Many others also felt that the 1-mile radius on petitions was blocking people from joining the process arbitrarily, as everyone in the city should have a voice. But the overall theme of the dissenters could be summed up in this one-liner that was used: “Let’s remain Possibility City, not Parking Lot City.”

Dan Klepal at The Courier-Journal has a good round up of the hearing here.

While the comments from citizens at the hearing were lively, the real fireworks came after the meeting, as Yates and Councilman Tom Owen (who opposes the change) got into a rather heated discussion about the make-up of the crowd, and whether people have been misinformed about the proposed amendment. Council members Rick Blackwell and Vicki Aubrey Welch also jumped into the lively discussion, joining on the side of Yates in favor of the change.

Here’s a transcript of the full exchange (including taunting and accusations), starting with Klepal poking Yates with a stick about the overwhelming opposition to his legislation from the crowd:

Klepal: “Has your mind been changed?”

Yates: “Obviously, anybody upset with these changes has been given the opportunity to voice those concerns and give information. I think a lot of the people who are happy with those proposed changes obviously aren’t out voicing concerns. But I think we heard some things that were brought up today that we’ll possibly consider, like extension of the notification process. We talked about that. Obviously, there are some financial problems and we want to keep the threshold of (inaudible) people landmarks very low. That was brought to our attention that maybe we need to try to work to extend the notification process as well.”

Klepal: “So the extension isn’t in there now, but that could be accomplished?”

Yates: “We could do that on the floor.”

Klepal: (But your mind hasn’t changed on big areas: the petition and that council has the final say.)

Yates: “No. But it’s always good to hear people’s opinions. And there were a couple of good ideas…”

Klepal: “It was literally 10 to 1 against it tonight. 4 to 1 last time. What’s the point of open process if you’re not going to listen to them?”

Yates: “Remember Dan, this is an open process per law. I’ve had countless meetings in my office. I’ve talked to people on all sides. I’ve asked for experts to sit down and talk to me. I mean this has been going on for months and months.”

(Welch comes over and interjects)

Welch: “The silent majority is not here. Our constituents, where we live, the silent majority, have talked to us at our neighborhood meeting and already talked to us. And we know how they feel.”

Yates: “And we’ve reached out to people all over. This is an open process. This is one meeting, but you heard several speakers say today, they were sent an email by their councilperson that it was very important for them to be here today to voice their concern. I’m an open door if they want to voice their concern. But I didn’t call up and say ‘I need you to be here, to voice your positive feedback on this.’ I’ve provided an open door to talk to me, I’m always listening. And this process has changed a lot along the way. We’ve worked together as a council, and I think we’ve come up with some really good legislation we’re going to consider. We’re going to sit back and consider some of the things we’ve talked about. I think we heard over and over again though, the notification process would be a good change. I think everybody agrees with that.”

Klepal: “But a clear majority don’t agree with council having final say?”

Yates: “Remember, the people that are out here who spoke in opposition…. Look at the numbers. You’ve got certain clusters who were here, and it’s all a part of the record.”

(Tom Owen walks over and joins in.)

Owen: “The most telling thing is the Iriquois Neighborhood Association, 30 people in attendence, voted unanimous (against the amendment). And that’s where Colonial Gardens is!”

Welch: “The Scottsdale Association is totally for this.”

Owen: “But that’s more than a mile out of the way.”

(Crosstalk between the three)

Owen: “All I’m saying is, that in terms of who should make the decision, if you went your way, and Dan Johnson made the decision, local landmarks would have been designated…”

(More crosstalk)

Yates: “But if you look at the record, you’ll see that 95 percent of the people are from two or three districts.”

Klepal: “So that disqualifies them?”

Yates: “No…”

Klepal: “It de-legitimizes the process?”

Yates: “If you’re telling me that the people are against it, I’m telling you that there are limited people…”

Owen: “Well, where are your people?”

Yates: “My people are for it.”

Welch: “They’ve already told us.”

Owen: “But they didn’t show up to speak.”

Yates: “If they’re happy with the way it is, why would you come up to give me ideas about how to change it?”

Owen: “Because this is a community testimony. And the whole community testified!”

Yates: “And I’m in my community all the time…”

Owen: “Where’s your community!”

Yates: “I’m with them all the time. I work in my community, I live in my community.”

(Blackwell walks over and joins in)

Blackwell: “Look at the ZIP codes of the people who testified. And compare that to the ZIP codes of the people who are on the landmarks commission right now….”

Owen: “And he (Blackwell) just defeated one person last week, because they had committed the sin of living in St. Matthews…”

Yates: “Let somebody else talk…”

Blackwell: “30 percent, that would have been 40 percent, of the landmarks commission would have come from District 7, had we left that person on it. Tom’s people are here, and Tom’s people are represented on the Landmarks Commission.”

(Crosstalk between the four)

Yates: “That man said that you said it was imperative that he come to this meeting. On the record, what did he say? He said that I got a thank you from a councilman, he got some (inaudible) coming back, he wanted, couldn’t read between the lines…”

Owen: “No I didn’t. I really don’t. People that had sent me a note… I sent them a note saying thank you, there is a hearing. If you feel strongly about this issue – and it was people from your district as well as my district – I said if you feel strongly about this issue, attend the hearing.”

Yates: “This isn’t a competition at all, this is an opportunity for a hearing.”

Owen: “No no no. I’m just saying, I’m just saying I think you’re telling me that I somehow tried to round up people to attend…”

Yates: “That’s exactly what I’m doing.”

Owen: “…well… who said that?”

Yates: “You didn’t try to round up people to come?”

Owen: “No! I told people who had sent me notes…”

Yates: “So you did.”

Owen: “…anybody who sent me a note, pro or con, I sent them a note saying that I hope you’ll show up at the hearing.”

Yates: “Alright. So you just said that you didn’t round up people to come.”

Owen: “No no no. I thought you said that I rounded up….”

Welch: “The recent emails I got said we couldn’t respond back to you. I tried to respond back to all those inundated emails that were sent over the weekend, that flushed into our email system, about 200 of them….”

Yates: “From the same ZIP code.”

Welch: “…and it did not even allow a response from us. Which is not…”

Owen: “Well I responded… all I can say is that I have I think 225 emails in my system…”

Welch: “You couldn’t respond.”

Owen: “Not to those. I couldn’t respond to those.”

Welch: “You couldn’t respond, it didn’t allow you to.”

Owen: “I responded to the people I wrote personally when the issue first came up.”

Yates: “One thing that made me sad was the lack of information. There was still so much misinformation. One lady said that she was upset that this disenfranchised non-property owners. It’s obvious that they haven’t read the most current bill. The majority – I asked you to make that statement after about 15 people in a row – they were still concerned about how this was going to affect their districts. This ordinance doesn’t affect the districts. That’s one of the reasons why we want to try to get that information out there. And I think it’s important. And I’ve done that in my district. I know Rick’s done that, Vicki’s done that, and that’s our job as a councilperson. To get the correct information out, not misinformation.”

Owen: “People feel like you all are angry at the Landmarks Commission and want to change it…”

Yates: “Because of misinformation….”

Owen: “…that’s why people stepped forward to speak, because….”

Welch: “Because at the other public meeting that we had on Colonial Gardens, by far, people wanted that place demolished. By far! The Landmarks Commission did not listen to them. They even presented a petition…”

Owen: “And the councilperson from the district testified?”

Welch: “Well that doesn’t matter! It’s the region, it’s our corridor…”

Owen: “I thought we were focusing primarily on geography, and the councilperson for that district wanted Colonial Gardens saved.”

Yates: “That not what it is at all.”

(crosstalk)

Yates: “When Colonial Gardens was being designated, I as a citizen went there to speak. Afterwards I went up and talked to Tom. And I said, ‘Tom, you mean to tell me that even if it meets these certain criteria, even if it means the world will fall down around us, you cannot consider anything other than these criteria.’ And you responded to me, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t.’ And at that point I said, ‘Well, we have a problem.’”

Welch: “And we do.”

Owen: “And what is the problem?”

Yates: “That we can’t consider… all we can determine is whether or not it meets this certain criteria…”

Welch: “It’s not up to voters.”

Owen: “The first woman, when we first started talking about this, I brought the history book of your area, and that’s on the cover. That’s on the cover of the history book.”

Welch: “Which history book?”

Owen: “Of the Auberndale Iroquois Kenwood neighborhood. That’s on the cover.”

Welch: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Democrat on Democrat violence.

I then went to jot down the ZIP codes of the people who spoke. And it’s true that most are from the same one or two districts (and most identified themselves as members of either River Fields or Preservation Kentucky), but less clear if that really matters, after it’s all said and done.

Nevertheless, the amendment appears to be safe at the moment, as far as council support. And Councilman Kelly Downard, who attended last night’s meeting, made this comment at this morning’s Vacant and Abandoned Properties meeting:

“This morning’s topic is infinitely more important than last night’s.”

The Planning and Zoning Committee will come back to the issue in two weeks.

3 Comments

  1. curtis morrison
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Yates is just bitter because Owen took an unexpected election-year-motivated stand against the dirty work he’s doing for Mayor Fischer’s anti-preservation agenda.

    Oh wait, now it’s Democrat on Democrat, Democrat, Democrat violence. But ya know what, we have to debate amongst ourselves because the Republicans in the Council are so smitten with our pro-corporation, anti-preservation, anti-environment leadership, they’re not going to rock the boat.

  2. Steve Magruder
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to Joe for capturing all this useful information.

    I’m going to attempt to respond point-by-point a lot of the “stuff” that was said on my site tomorrow. There’s too much here I just can’t let go.

  3. Emily Miles
    Posted April 9, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the details of “the meeting after the meeting”! The invisible “silent majority” will need to show up at he polls as well.

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