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Bill eases land-use rules near historic sites

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, May 16, 2013, at 6:14 a.m.

TOPEKA – After a lengthy debate over the balance between historical preservation and private-property rights, the Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would rescind state restrictions on land use near historic sites.

A provision of House Bill 2249 repeals state restrictions on the development or renovation of buildings within 500 feet of a historical building in a city, or 1,000 feet around sites in unincorporated areas.

Under current law, property owners must give the state Historic Preservation Office advance notice if they’re planning to make substantial alterations to properties near a building that’s on the state or national Register of Historic Places.

Preservation officers can investigate and comment on a project’s impact on the nearby historic site, although their recommendations can be overruled by the local or state government.

Proponents of HB 2249 said the state involvement in the development process infringes on private property rights.

“To give the authority to someone to restrict or scrutinize your property, because their property is on the national registry, is not just,” said Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, who carried the bill on the floor. “In my opinion it is injustice.”

Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, said people can unwittingly violate the law because the state isn’t required to notify buyers when they acquire a property near a historic site.

“Right now you get no notice and you may go to build a chain-link fence around your place and find out you’re in violation, because somebody within 500 feet of you has been designated a historic property,” Holmes said.

Opponents of the provision pleaded with their colleagues to hold off on changing the historic-protection statute, to give the Realtors who support change and the preservationists who oppose it time to work together on a compromise.

Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, a history teacher, quoted from the statute itself in trying to sway his colleagues to remove the historic-protection provision from the overall bill, which also included taxation and landfill provisions he supported.

“The Legislature hereby finds that the historical, architectural, archeological and cultural heritage of Kansas is an important asset of the state and that its preservation and maintenance should be among the highest priorities of government,” Smith said. “The highest priorities of government. We don’t even say that about education.”

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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