Historic district issues continue for Nevada City | TheUnion.com

Historic district issues continue for Nevada City

John Orona
Staff Writer

In light of public participation limitations, the Nevada City Council is holding off on a decision about a large, painted sign that could affect the city’s historic district.

The council was set to decide on a sign variance appeal for the National Exchange Hotel that, if allowed, would enable the hotel to paint a sign about 100 square feet in area on its east-facing exterior.

The city’s municipal code prohibits painted signs on building exteriors and does not allow signs greater than 24 square feet in areas within the historic district, making a variance necessary.

In February, the Planning Commission denied the variance, finding the historic use of the building and its size as the largest in the district did not warrant the exception based on its reading of the municipal code. However, the commissioners were generally in support of the proposal, but found it would be difficult to approve it without also allowing large signs on other buildings throughout the district.

At the Wednesday meeting council members had the option to uphold, overturn, or modify the commission’s decision.

Hotel representatives argued the decision should be overturned because the size of the building requires proportionate signage, that the hand-painting has historical relevance to the building and that it would serve as an entrance to the historic district, promoting tourism.

Public commenters, including a contingent of former commissioners and council members, identified about a dozen large buildings in the district that may also benefit from painted signage and could request variances if the precedent is set. But proponents say the council could overturn or modify the decision in a narrow way that would not apply to other properties.

Commenters on both sides of the issue asked the council to delay the decision.

However, because the appeal goes against the letter of the municipal code and the commission’s previous decision, Vice Mayor Erin Minett and council member David Parker were ready to move forward.

“People have worked hard on this ordinance and kept it intact,” Minett said.

A motion by Minett was seconded by Parker, but council member Duane Strawser and Mayor Reinette Senum abstained. Council member Valerie Moberg was not in attendance.

The vote failed, leaving the commission’s decision standing, and allowing the appeal process to continue to a meeting that could accommodate in-person public participation. That meeting date is unknown.

City officials are looking at when in-person meetings could take place, with the topic scheduled for a call today with state officials.

The council could also consider rewriting the ordinance.

A similar issue came up in February when the council overturned a Planning Commission decision to deny a renovation request that went against a historic zoning code that contradicted the building code. The council decided that going forward conflict between the historic zoning and building codes should defer to the architecture of the building’s time, if it is not a Mother Lode-era style.

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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