MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

November 25, 2012

Preservation rule change before council

Proposal stems from dispute over demolition permit for Kress Building

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— City councilors will consider today whether to amend an ordinance that outlines the certification process for those who plan to renovate or demolish historically significant buildings.

The proposed amendment would require Muskogee’s Historic Preservation Commission to consider “economic feasibility” when confronted with a decision to approve a “certificate of appropriateness.” It also would impose additional burdens on property owners seeking demolition permits.

Owners of property designated as historic, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or located within a historical district are required to obtain certification as part of the city’s permitting process. Commissioners, in determining whether to issue a certificate, now use criteria established by the federal government.

Mayor Bob Coburn requested the amendment in October after city councilors overturned the commission’s decision to deny the certificate needed for the demolition of the former S.H. Kress Building. The building is within the Downtown Muskogee Historic District, a factor that required heightened scrutiny of the demolition plans.

Commissioners initially denied the application by the building’s owner, Dr. Timothy Robison, stating it was their opinion the “building had historical and architectural significance and was structurally salvageable.” Robison appealed the decision. His lawyer argued that the cost of restoration made the option economically impractical.

Jonita Mullins, executive director of Downtown Muskogee Inc. and a commission member, told city councilors the denial of Robison’s application was based upon established criteria. Commissioners recognized the structural needs of the former Kress Building, but Mullins said its condition was no worse than other historic landmarks that have been renovated and re-opened.

City councilors overturned the commission’s ruling, giving private property rights and economic feasibility priority over the building’s historical value. Mullins cited the building’s architectural style and the significance its formerly segregated lunch counter had during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ’60s.

Besides requiring commissioners to include economic feasibility in its equation for certifying the appropriateness of an application for restoration or demolition, the amendment would impose new burdens for property owners.

In the case of a demolition permit, applicants would be required to present “documentary evidence” that “tends to establish” at least one of three things:

• The structure contributes nothing to the integrity of the historical district, and demolition would have no adverse effect.

• The structure poses an imminent threat to public health and safety, and demolition would remove the threat.

• The structure has no viable economic use, meaning it is incapable of providing a reasonable economic return, cannot be adapted for any use that could provide a reasonable economic return, and the owner is unable to find a third party who could help the owner realize a reasonable economic return.

Documentary evidence sufficient to prove any of those factors would include reports from structural engineers or other professionals with expertise necessary to make such determinations or detailed affidavits submitted by the owner.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

If you go



WHAT: Muskogee City Council meeting.

WHEN: 7 p.m. today.

WHERE: City Council Chambers, Muskogee Municipal Building, 229 W. Okmulgee Ave.