The RRBlog team was in Plainfield last month to observe how a historic preservation commission handles administration of awards to its community members. Instead, we got much, much more.
In addition to the awards being given out to Nancy Piwowar and M&M Investors that lovely Tuesday night, we got to observe how the commission handled a couple whose house was historically designated but wanted modifications. This is what we found:
- The entire commission was not situated in a courtroom, but a ‘library’; this library was essentially an immaculately-preserved conference room with red carpet and a nice, long wooden table with chairs to match. The committeemembers would all sit down at the table and the presenting couple stood at the head with their materials to discuss. This gave the floor to the speakers without and superiority complex of the committeemembers being seated in a formal courtroom setting.
- The ordinance mattered! These individuals not only cited their ordinances for preserved houses, but it appeared as if this was memorized and the individuals could offer knowledge to the couple that presented in a way that encouraged and informed the homeowners.
- This commission was diverse. There were males and females of all different cultural backgrounds and cohorts; this allows for ideas to be circulated and to prevent ‘stasis’ from occuring within the chamber. It is always vital to avoid being stuck in a cycle of sameness so that new methods and meaningful dialogue can be reached.
- During the meeting, there was discussion among the members about different components of the couple’s modifications. Discussion is the vehicle for compromise and efficient outcomes that meet the needs of both the homeowner and the chamber.
- Most impressively, there was human spirit. Not only was the conversation cordial and oriented toward the homeowners, but there was encouragement and humor. The best quote all night was when the chairman expressed concern for the greater issue of the case citing that “We have a very strict anti-discrimination policy here. You (the homeowner) have mentioned that there is not one, but three man doors that you will be changing or modifying. We have to ask that you refer to them as people doors instead.” Well played, Plainfield. We all smiled ear-to-ear
The reason that I bring all this to the attention of our readers is that it was a surprisingly heart-wrenching experience. Sometimes it is easy to take advantage of these kindnesses; not every town has a cordial interactions with their HPC. Sadly, not everyone has an approachable commission. Some towns are crippling themselves with stasis in their commissions and gridlock themselves from real community engagement while others do this intentionally for a sense of control over their residents. Plainfield, if you are reading this, you are a model for excellence in our books for what a preservation commission should look like. We hope you are CONTAGIOUS!!!