Ordinance was put into effect to protect investments made downtown

After more than an hour of discussion at Monday's work session, Mayor Kristey Williams threw a curve ball that forced the governing body to reconsider its options on the downtown building ordinance.

After programs like Main Street and Save Our State St. and the City of Augusta invested millions of dollars in efforts to revitalize the downtown area, city leaders at the time codified the requirements for how businesses could be renovated. Those requirements control the colors of paint that can be used, the type and size of signs and how windows can be replaced among many other things.

Some on the council believe the restrictions are too specific and unnecessary.

Mayor Williams said the ordinance was put into place to protect the investment that was made in the area. Because she believes in protecting the investment, she said she would do all she could to make sure the ordinance was not rescinded.

“I don’t think we want to go back to the way downtown was before,” Williams said. “Because of the investment we have made and how important I believe the ordinance is, if the council were to rescind the ordinance, I would veto that and you would need six votes to override my veto.”

At Monday’s meeting, Matt Malone, Mike Martin, Mike Huddleston and Sue Jones were solidly behind rescinding the ordinance with Matt Childers and Mike Rawlings in favor of keeping the ordinance and Ron Reavis listing himself as undecided. Mike Wallace was not at Monday’s work session.

Longtime Augusta business owner and volunteer Bill Morris opened the discussion Monday night by giving some history on how and why the city’s ordinance came about.

He told the council about how historic preservation and revitalization can sometimes go hand in hand.

But some on the council weren’t convinced that the ordinance had been effective or necessary.

“Do strict ordinances guarantee success downtown?” Huddleston asked. “Half of the businesses downtown could be anywhere. They could even be run out of homes.”

Huddleston pointed out that no other Main St. town in Kansas has a separate ordinance to regulate its downtown buildings. He asked why Augusta needed something that other towns have survived without.

“I just don't buy it that if we remove these rules that it will go to junk,” Malone said in support of Huddleston. “

Williams answered those concerns that she has spoken with some downtown business owners who have stayed in the area because of the plan Augusta has in place.

But Martin and Malone didn’t have a good experience with the regulations.

“I talked to two business owners who want the area to stay protected,” Martin said. “But I was upset that I had to hang a sign a certain way when I moved my business downtown. Government has its hands in too much.”

At that point, Williams recognized a few visitors for comments.

Trudy Jacobson worried that downtown business owners voting on whether or not to keep the ordinance was a conflict of interest.

“How many of you own buildings downtown?” she asked. When Martin, Malone, Huddleston and Williams all raised their hands, Jacobson said. “It sounds like the fox guarding the hen house if you ask me. I hope you keep the ordinance.”

Deann Triboulet said the discussion Monday night sounded to her like the council members who didn’t like the ordinance had personal problems with it.

“You shouldn’t think about how it affects you,” she said. “You should think about how it affects the whole city.”

While overriding the Mayor’s veto would be difficult, everyone on the council agreed to consider the ordinance for potential changes to make it less onerous while still protecting the city and volunteer groups’ investments.

City Manager Bill Keefer was asked to send a copy of the ordinance to the council and the downtown design committee members for input.

Keefer will compile the results and the council will decide what action, if any, should be taken in the future.