New Castle News

August 1, 2013

Our Opinion: Is New Castle committed to preserving valuable district?

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — So why does New Castle have a historic district and a zoning ordinance designed to protect it?

We presume the reason is that the historic character of much of the community has value and is appreciated. We also surmise that along with seeking the preservation of the city’s architecture and its historic character, existing rules are designed to entice businesses and individuals interested in seeing these qualities protected.

In short, zoning rules related to the city’s historic district are supposed to provide assurances that the look of buildings and neighborhoods will be protected. While much has been lost over time, significant portions of the community’s historic character remain intact.

As we repeatedly have argued, the historic nature of so many of New Castle’s buildings is one of its major assets. If handled properly, the historic district can provide a unique development draw for New Castle that surrounding municipalities don’t enjoy.

But “handled properly” is the key term here. Like any other asset, the historic district needs to be embraced, promoted and marketed. And perhaps more than anything else, the city needs to demonstrate its concern with the district, along with a demonstrated desire to protect it.

Unfortunately, an ordinance is before New Castle City Council that would dramatically weaken standards related to the district. Essentially, rules intended to protect the historic character of buildings that undergo renovations would be replaced with what amounts to suggestions that can be ignored.

The language is part of a broader list of proposed zoning changes, and at least two members of city council oppose those dealing with the historic district. There are indications the current measure will be voted down and then reintroduced in parts to allow council members to vote on them individually.

We suppose that makes sense. But what doesn’t make sense is yet another apparent attack on the city’s historic district.

This is the second time council has considered changes related to the district and the Historic Architectural Review Board since measures were passed in 2009. Yet the rationale for changes appears to be complaints about how some members of the review board aggressively seek to protect historic buildings.

Maybe these people do cross the line. Yet if so, the city needs to deal with them, not undercut the historic district.

We think the city needs to do more to promote the district. And officials need to ensure the public that the district will receive full municipal support. If New Castle isn’t committed to its historic district, why would anyone else be?