Newport held a first reading of an ordinance Thursday to help move forward historic preservation activities in the city.
Newport Planning and Building Director Brian Steffen said there had been rumors and speculation surrounding the ordinance, with people thinking it had to do with adopting Buena Vista as a local historic district. While he said the changes strictly enable all historic preservation activity within the city, it did begin with conversations regarding Buena Vista earlier in the year.
Steffen and Newport City Manager Tom Fromme said they had encountered inconsistencies within the city’s ordinances and state statutes. They decided to contract with Compass Point Planning to work on guidelines for the new district and fix existing procedures. Fromme said at a May meeting that the city had to create new regulations instead of copying existing ones from the East Row Historic District.
Buena Vista consists of the areas between the north end of West 8th Street, the south part of West 12th Street, the west ends of Brighton and Lowell Streets, and the east side of Putnam and York Streets.
Steffen said most of the changes are housekeeping items comporting to state statutes and the certified local government program, Kentucky Heritage Council. He said the most significant change is defining the management structure on historic preservation.
“There’s a definition of the management structure—this original ordinance was drafted in the late 80s, early 90s, I believe, and really was silent on how historic preservation was run and who it reported to and all those things, it cleans that up,” Steffen said.
He said the most critical part of these adjustments is they will change how the city adopts its local historic districts. The Buena Vista Neighborhood is already a National Historic District; it needs local designation for complete protection. Steffen said this inserts the Newport Planning and Zoning Commission into the process.
“After the historic preservation commission would review a potential local historic district, it would then send that to the planning and zoning commission for inclusion into the city’s zoning maps as an overlay district,” he said. “What that does as a benefit is it solidifies the importance of the historic district as a recorded land use restriction.”
Currently, the county has no recorded land use restriction for the city’s historic districts. Steffen said that while there isn’t a threat to any of the neighborhoods, it tightens the process.
Should the ordinance changes be approved, Steffen said the intention is to bring along the existing historic districts as a map amendment overlay to the zoning map, along with restarting the Buena Vista local historic district and moving that forward.
“I know there’s been a lot of speculation, a lot of comment in the public about why that (Buena Vista) stopped or slowed or whatever, that we’ve all heard,” Steffen said. “It is directly related to this ordinance. This is the enabling function to that. We wanted to make sure that we got this right 100%. This was a long process to get this change done.”
Newport Commissioner Mike Radwanski called the changes a success.
“I think it’s nicely done a lot of work in this space, and I know that’s a reflection on staff to make sure that we’re doing this right and that it’s a city-wide approach that we’re going down,” he said.
Newport Commissioner Ken Rechtin said an essential piece of the law is when someone purchases a home in a historic district, they will be aware of it, which hasn’t happened in the past. He said he sees that as the biggest benefit to the delay.
Steffen said they are trying to get an ordinance regarding the Buena Vista Historic District on the city commission’s agenda in November or December. The naming of the historic district would first have to be approved by the historic preservation commission, planning and zoning commission, and then to the city for final approval.
Newport Commissioner Julie Smith-Morrow said she was eager to approve the changes at their next meeting to get the ball rolling on Buena Vista.