The Rolla City Council last week heard the first reading of an ordinance that would set up a Rolla Historical Preservation Commission.
"Why would anybody do this?" Councilman Louis Magdits asked.
"What's the cost?" asked Councilman Don Morris.
Similar questions were asked by the Rolla Planning and Zoning Commission, which on July 9 voted to recommend the council adopt the ordinance. That could take place after the council hears the final reading, which will likely occur at the Aug. 5 meeting.
Community Development Director John Petersen, who said he prepared the ordinance at the request of City Administrator John Butz after months of research into what other cities do about historical preservation, told the council that the commission will be a voluntary organization and the participation by property owners in historical designations and preservation will also be voluntary.
Petersen said the reason for participation, at least initially, will be pride and prestige.
And right now, he said in response to the questioning, there is no money allocated to the proposed commission and none foreseen. There will likely be some use of paper and staff time, but that would come out of the community development budget.
Mark Stauter, treasurer of the Phelps County Historical Society, said that once a city has a historical preservation committee and achieves the designation of "certified local government," it becomes eligible for grants from the Missouri State Historical Preservation Office.
Petersen stressed to both the planning commission and the city council that participation in historical preservation will be voluntary.
"No property owner can be compelled to have their property designated or listed as an historic property," he wrote. "No owner shall be required to follow any restriction on the use, modification, maintenance, disposition or demolition of their registered historic property unless agreed to as part of the designation process."
Property owners may register their property as historic, and they may then seek to be released from the program after four or five years, Petersen said.
That, councilmen indicated, might be a point where participation is no longer voluntary. Council members indicated unease at the prospect of allowing property owners to designate their properties as historic, receive money to renovate and restore their properties and then be released from the program.
"A primary duty of the proposed Rolla Historic Preservation Commission is to maintain an ongoing survey or inventory of historically significant buildings/places along with the task of advising the city council about historic property designation," Petersen wrote.
The ordinance further sets out how a Rolla Historic District will be determined.