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In a community as endowed with historic properties as Sitka, handling requests to build on or modify those properties, or even near those properties, is a big, busy job.  Assembly member Phyllis Hackett describes it this way: If someone wants a building permit within a certain radius of a historic property, it needs to go before the Historic Preservation Commission for review.


“But the problem that has come up is that what if the building permit comes up the day after the commission meeting, and the commission meets once a month?” Hackett said.


Hackett said it’s potentially a two month delay to find out whether your building request would have an impact on a nearby historic property.  The proposal defeated on Tuesday night would have paid someone to screen the requests and determine whether they needed historic review.


“There’s a couple of problems with this model,” says Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams. “One, I think it blurs the line between what governance is and even advisory governance, and the execution of city services.”


The second problem, McAdams says, is that it uses public dollars to perform a public service outside of the city’s agreement with its full-time public employees.


McAdams, like other members of the Assembly opposed to the measure, thanked the preservation commission for its work and said he understands how hard it is for them to get their job done.


It’s become harder in the last week, with the resignation of Chairwoman Anne Pollnow and Vice Chairman Bill DeArmond. That leaves three active members of the commission – less than a quorum. So for now, the commission can’t even meet.


Pollnow testified before the Assembly that she regretted her decision to resign.


“It came about because there was no city staff support,” Pollnow said, “and this commission has taken on duties and responsibilities that are above and beyond a volunteer service.”


Those duties include investigating easements, writing plat notes, and knowing a body of historic preservation law and language. Pollnow drew a comparison to the Planning Commission.


“There’s a planning and department staff person who goes to a planning commission meeting and informs the commission of their professional opinion,” Pollnow said. “That hasn’t happened with the Historic Preservation Commission, and we do tackle some very major issues.”


She says paying someone to carry out the duties required in the review process is essential to keeping both the commission and historic preservation efforts moving. Assembly members didn’t rule out the possibility of addressing the matter in the future.


Hackett said the proposal to establish a “paid agent” came up because of the urgency surrounding Sheldon Jackson College, whose historic campus closed in 2007.


“Because of the way this commission has been expected to function, it has become dysfunctional,” Hackett said. “That is something we should all be concerned about.”


Hackett joined Mim McConnell and Jack Ozment in supporting the idea of a paid agent position. McAdams, Reber Stein, Larry Crews and Cheryl Westover opposed it.


In the meantime, applications are being taken for the Historic Preservation Commission at the municipal clerk’s office.

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