When: Columbia Borough Council meeting, Sept. 8.
n What happened: Council president Heather Zink said she would postpone accepting the resignations of four Historic Architecture Review Board members until the Sept. 22 meeting in hopes they can be convinced to stay. The board members submitted resignations following council’s recent decision to override their recommendation for buildings at 24-26 South Second St. Their exit would leave the HARB without a quorum.
Background: At the Sept. 1 meeting, Mayor Leo S. Lutz cast the tie-breaking vote allowing real estate developer Cimarron Investments, led by CEO Don Murphy, to use composite material rather than wood on the historic building’s dilapidated balconies. Council members Zink, Sharon Lintner and Howard Stevens voted in favor of the HARB’s recommendation to deny the developer’s request, while Eric Kauffman, Fran FitzGerald and Todd Burgard voted to allow the composite material. Councilperson Pamela Williams abstained. A previous vote at the Aug. 25 meeting had resulted in a deadlock.
Resigning HARB members: Chair Glen Schaeffer, Vice Chair Theodore Vedock, Elaine Beckley and Jeff Siebert submitted their resignations. Their resignation letters cited a lack of respect for historic preservation, bad precedent for future decisions and special treatment given to certain applicants.
Quotable: Referencing a controversial comment councilperson Todd Burgard made at the Sept. 1 meeting that Murphy’s application should be approved because he had “invested so much in the downtown district,” Schaeffer wrote, “I ... can’t believe a councilman declared that a landlord should get a free pass, because they have more invested.” Schaeffer offered to resign immediately “out of respect for every previous HARB applicant” who didn’t have the benefit of a friend on council.
Resulting problems: Borough Manager Mark Stivers said the effective dismantling of the HARB would impact the borough’s ability to get historic grants. Zink further said it would be difficult to replace the resigning members due to ordinance requirements that an architect, real estate broker and building inspector sit on the board. Vedock and Siebert represented the architect and real estate broker positions.
What’s next: Without a functioning HARB, Zink said there are three options: pass an ordinance suspending the historic ordinance, have council hear all historic architecture requests or leave decisions with Suzanne Stallings, the HARB’s historic consultant. However, Zink said she had reason to believe Stallings may also resign.