Sunday, May 20, 2018
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A not very appealing idea

The proposal to eliminate the Toledo Plan Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals as appeals bodies for homeowners unhappy with rulings from the city's historic district commissions - substituting instead costly court procedures - is elitist, undemocratic, and untenable. Other than that, what's not to like?

First there is no need to muscle citizens of the city's historic districts, who are represented by three historic district commissions. They aren't creating pandemonium by rushing to the plan commission at every disappointment. In 20 years, there have been only 27 appeals from historical commission decisions, no big deal by any estimation.

Second, it is elitist to limit appeals to costly court action. It offends democracy and establishes the historical commissions as arbitrary and aristocratic bodies which, as a result, will become more extreme. It's human nature.

Third, given that the plan commission has voted against the historical commissions and with residents on 70 percent of the appeals, efforts to circumvent that process suggest a wish to squelch opposition and establish more clout for the commissions at the neighborhood level, particularly in the Old West End.

It is worth noting, too, that the volunteers on the city's three historical commissions - Old West End Historic District Commission, Vistula Historic District Commission, and the Toledo City Historic Districts Commission - while of good heart and good intent, are not always proper arbiters of historical propriety.

City Council would err in forfeiting the rights of Toledoans to special interests like the Old West End Association, which went to court against the city and its own historic commission to fight two changes allowed after a project was approved, and to the historic commission itself, miffed that people have managed to circumvent its dicta, which wants its decision appealed only to courts.

The ramifications reach beyond the city's three historic district commissions with which residents must clear building changes.

If the plan commission on April 12 gives up its right to hear appeals, as a misguided and short-sighted staff suggest because appeals are often contentious, a precedent would be set for removing the commission from other appeals. That's dangerous.

The issue blossomed over OWEA's pique that garage roofs at an apartment complex, planned as flat, were allowed to be changed to gabled, far more fitting for this snowy region, after appeals to the proper bodies.

The OWEA sued the city and its historic commission for allowing the change, never mind the good sense behind it. To settle, the city regrettably guaranteed that the roof will revert to flat.

Councilwoman Edna Brown, who represents the Vistula area, is rightfully leery of the change on grounds it would cause economic hardship. She's right. The Vistula Commission voted for the status quo. The Toledo City Historic District opposed change.

The plan commission and subsequently city council should follow her lead. We are for preservation, but not for taking review out of the hands of properly designated reviewers. The OWEA might enjoy unencumbered power, but can the community be assured it won't be abused?

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