Ashland hones its historical heritage

ASHLAND — City leaders hope a revamping of rules governing historic districts will help broaden their boundaries, recognize more homes as historic and encourage appreciation of the Downtown, Railroad, Siskiyou Hargadine and Skidmore Academy districts.

Members of the City Council and Historic and Planning commissions met in a joint session Tuesday to discuss a proposal to update Ashland's Historic Preservation Program.

"In terms of the historic districts, just generally, I think they're very important to Ashland and to our economy," said Terry Skibby of the Historic Commission. "Maintaining our historic districts as much as possible will benefit Ashland and our base economy. I think everyone can kind of understand that."

The proposal is the result of a study by Kimberli Fitzgerald, a historic preservation consultant contracted by the city to revamp Ashland's preservation program. The city received an $11,000 grant in 2007 from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office for the project.

Beginning in May, Fitzgerald surveyed city officials, building experts and local residents to flesh out problems and assessed the building code for inconsistencies.

"It's a balance. You want to be sensitive to the owner of the building and also try to preserve as much as you can. That's why the best codes are a balance. You don't have a heavy stick," Fitzgerald said.

The 10-year-plan would create a new homeowner handbook, increase the number of walking tours of historic properties and provide funding for maintenance and restoration of historic properties.

The city's inventory of historic buildings would be updated and officials would try to designate additional properties as historic under the plan.

Planning Commissioner Michael Dawkins suggested some of Ashland's farmhouses could be assessed and listed in the inventory.

Thirty Ashland properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. About 900 buildings in the city's four preservation districts are designated as historic.

Funding for the preservation programs likely will come from state grants, said Maria Harris, city planning manager.

City Councilwoman Cate Hartzell said the revised plan should include provisions for homeowners who want to use green technology, such as solar panels.

"It's that interface between retaining our history and at the same time bringing people into a period where other things are also important," she said.

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