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City council considers conservation district

Richard Darling likes to think of his home in Matlock Heights as a unique little neighborhood. Surrounded on both sides by the State Road 45 46 Bypass and North Walnut Street, Matlock is home to about 80 properties, all built within a short time after World War II, Darling said.

On Wednesday, the Bloomington City Council will vote on an ordinance to create the Matlock Heights Conservation District, according to a council legislative packet.

Richard Darling and his wife, Carol Darling, have been working for a few years to get Matlock Heights established as a conservation district. In November 2011 Darling submitted 45 letters signed by 56 property owners in support of the district, said Nancy Hiestand, program manager for Bloomington Housing and Neighborhood Development.

“We think this nice, quiet, little neighborhood we live in is something that is worth preserving,” Darling said. “And what becoming a conservation district would do would be to stop people from tearing down a house, moving a house, or building something that’s totally out of character with something that’s already here, which is just a method of preserving what we are.”

The legislation was introduced Feb. 5.

A preliminary vote was held to gauge community support, passing 5-3.

After the creation of a neighborhood subcommittee, three locally required public information meetings and a series of neighborhood discussions about guidelines, the
Historic Preservation Commission recommended the designation of the conservation district Feb. 28,, according to the packet. On Feb. 6, the commission granted the

The Commission found the neighborhood was significant “as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the city (and) is associated with a person who played a significant role in local history,” according to the packet.

One concern of the community is that, if established, Matlock Heights property owners will have to prevent the conservation district from elevating to a historic district in the future, said Hiestand.

“Without any kind of district regulation, an owner could apply for demolition and do that within 10 days,” Hiestand said. “Within a conservation district, the neighborhood would be regulated against demolition, but, within a historic district, it’d also be reviewed for a bunch of other things as well.”

According to state law, if a majority of property owners within a conservation district do not object in writing 60 to 180 days before the third anniversary of its establishment, it will automatically become a historic district, Hiestand said.

Darling gave the example of energy-efficient windows. As a conservation district, he said, these windows would be acceptable even if they didn’t look exactly like the windows already in the houses. In a historic district, they might not be, because regulations are more rigid.

For the time being, the neighborhood is focused on gaining conservation status.
Bloomington City Council member Chris Sturbaum said he is convinced the ordinance will receive City Council support on

Wednesday because of the strong neighborhood agreement behind it.

“Built in the ’60s makes it 50 years old and, you know, when I started preservation, old was a different category of housing,” Sturbaum said. “To recognize the importance of these post-war houses and that boom when people came back from the war and they wanted a new world and they had children and built suburbs, well this is a kind of museum piece of that moment of time in Bloomington and in the country.”

— Kate Starr

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