Nevada City’s government is looking to renovate its demolition approval process after outraged residents decried the razing of a vintage home in the downtown historic district.
“It was a memorable icon,” sad Stacy Harr, a Realtor and one-time Nevada City resident. “I know it sounds silly, but too many of us knew that house. It’s like taking a Monopoly board and pulling Illinois Avenue off.”
A nearly 150-year-old, three-bedroom, two-bath residence at 502 Spring St. was demolished approximately two months ago after the new owners’ structural engineer declared their original renovation plans were not feasible because of the structure’s degradation, reported City Planner Cindy Siegfried.
After conferring with the city, a demolition permit was granted for the owners to build a replacement home of similar design.
“This isn’t any mistake of the applicant. They didn’t do anything wrong,” said Mayor Sally Harris at a Nov. 20 City Council meeting. “I think it is important that the public understand that it is not these people’s fault what happened. It was the process and an aspect of staff and the planning commission.”
In the months since the historic home’s demolition, Nevada City’s planning commission has met three times to re-evaluate its demolition approval process. The matter then percolated up to the City Council, where a parade of former elected officials lambasted the approval process that allowed for the destruction of the building.
“I think this sets a precedent for what I think would not be a good thing for NC at this point,” Harr said. “I think it should have been thought through more.”
Siegfried noted that in the seven years she has worked as Nevada City’s planner, four major demolitions have been approved among 127 applications. Most notable of them is the ongoing renovation of the old sheds behind the Nevada City Theatre that will become the new KVMR community radio headquarters. Beyond Spring Street, two demolitions have been approved on Factory Street and on Zion Street, which Siegfried said were the moving of sheds.
“If you compare, real estate-wise, a house that is just a replica and a house that has been restored, that restored house holds a lot more value,” said former Councilman David McKay. “This city is the way it is because of intent, not by accident. Let’s keep up with the intent and not let these accidents happen again.”
Council members directed staff to re-examine a program whereby a planning commissioner acts as a liaison on such projects, as well as implementing a mandatory council approval for demolitions. Council also agreed to hold a joint meeting of the planning commission with the City Council to further discuss how demolitions are approved.
“There is a problem that goes beyond the solution that has been proposed,” said Paul Matson, a past member of the City Council. “Somewhere along the line, our attitude toward historical preservation has become weak.”
The planning commission also met Nov. 21 to debate a resolution regarding demolitions, but with two of its five members absent, the topic was continued to the commission’s Dec. 19 meeting, said Greg Wolters, who chairs the commission.
“It was too big of a deal to tackle with just three of us,” Wolters told The Union Monday.
“It happened. It was a mistake,” said Councilman Duane Strawser. “Let’s make sure it never happens again and let’s move past it.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.