Members of the Westminster City Council should not waste any time in changing the filing fee -- now set at $1,250 -- to have downtown properties included in the new historic district zone. If they don't, it is a safe bet that not one property owner will petition the city to be included in the new zone. At that cost, why would they?
Since the city has created a voluntary historic district, the application process should be simple and cheap. After all, these property owners are voluntarily agreeing to put restrictions on their properties. To make significant changes in the appearance of their buildings, they will have to get another city permit in addition to the normal building and zoning approvals.
What is absolutely amazing is that during the lengthy, detailed debate over the historic district, the whopping size of the application fee was never discussed. Since changing the city's zoning map was the focus of the council's discussion from the early stages, the process for applying for zoning map changes should have been examined at some point.
A number of council members recognize the problem and are working to correct it. They would like to set the fee between $5 and $25, a more reasonable level, although zero fee would be more of an incentive yet. The council's finance committee chairman, Stephen R. Chapin, has put the matter on the agenda for the next meeting. Mr. Chapin said he favors waiving the fee entirely for historic district applications. Since the council can change the fee by resolution, Mr. Chapin said there should be no trouble getting approval.
Because inclusion in Westminster's historic district is voluntary, the city should do everything in its power to encourage property owners to participate. While property owners benefit from the district, the public at large also reaps benefits from preserving the city's pleasant ambience and scale.
The application process should also be made simple. Property owners should be able to apply without the need for lawyers, planners, architects and others who normally get involved in zoning map amendments. This time around, the city council should try to ensure that no hindrance exists to any property owner who wants to abide by the restrictions of Westminster's historic district.