By Fred Mohs
During the past twelve months, Mansion Hill residents have confronted issues that far transcend its neighborhood boundaries. In one way or another, almost all of the activities engaged in this year had to do with encouraging, or defending against changes in ordinances, laws or regulations having to do with historic preservation.
In the past year the neighborhood celebrated the restoration of several historic homes including the moving of and total restoration of the Steensland House undertaken by the Bethel Church community.
Mansion Hill issues continue to revolve around development pressures to demolish buildings that contribute to the Mansion Hill local or National Register Historic Districts. A high priority for the neighborhood is the preservation of these structures to maintain the fabric and integrity of these districts.
After dozens of meetings and an immense amount of work by the five alder members of the Landmarks Ordinance Review Committee (LORC), city staff, and concerned neighborhood and city residents, an updated Historic Preservation Ordinance was unanimously passed by the City Council on July 21, 2015. Updating the individual sections devoted to each of Madison’s designated local historic districts will be the next task for the LORC. The Mansion Hill Historic
District section will be the first to undergo review and revision. Research to identify nationally recognized state of the art design guidelines for local historic districts is currently underway.
Neighborhood residents joined with CNI members, students, MATC faculty and other interested parties to lobby the Madison College Board to maintain a downtown presence in its current location as it pursues a larger facility and expanded programing on Madison’s south side. Although the Board voted to close the downtown campus, the eventual outcome remains uncertain.
Regarding AB #568 and SB #445: The first public notice of these impending bills was published on Dec. 4, 2015 with the first public hearing scheduled six (6) days later on Dec. 10. Statewide opposition including the Madison Trust and neighborhood residents attended all hearings and lobbied against proposed changes to Wisconsin’s historic preservation statute.
One of the devastating changes buried in the proposed legislation that dealt with landlord/tenant issues was the following provision: Political subdivisions ((cities, towns, villages, or counties) may not designate historic districts without 100% of all property owners agreeing to the designation. No historic district in this country would have been created with this proposed burden. As it turned out the impetus behind this provision was one (1) owner of one (1) property on Langdon St. When this was discovered, support for this and several other statutory changes relating to historic properties faded.
The bills also proposed to strip political subdivisions from local control over building inspections that exist to prevent substandard housing and neighborhood blight. This would have been a disaster for housing stock located within Madison’s oldest neighborhoods and historic districts. Substandard housing as the result of leaking water, mold, pests, lead paint chips and dust, unsafe stairs and handrails, rotten wood, windows that won’t open or close, etc. is a threat to the health and safety of anyone living in such an environment. Systematic building inspections benefit everyone—tenants, landlords, neighborhoods, surrounding neighborhoods, and the community by preventing blight so property values are maintained and existing housing stock is preserved.