City commission demolishes downtown roof issue with vote
By DAWNE LEIKER
The roof of a historic downtown building now is history after Hays city commissioners voted 4-1 at Thursday night's meeting to allow its permanent removal.
Commissioners first were approached at May 3 work session concerning the roof by Adam Comeau, acting as developer for Dave Gray, owner of Singers music venue.
At that meeting, Comeau asked for commission support of a project to remove the roof of 116 E. 12th, the property adjacent to Singers, to create an outdoor courtyard area. Since the property lies in the historic district of downtown Hays, a request from Comeau, which subsequently was denied, already had been made to the State Historical Preservation Office.
City commissioners then had the authority to override the SHPO decision. However, they tabled the item and asked Comeau to return to the SHPO to plead his case. After doing so, to no avail, the issue was brought back before commissioners Thursday night.
Commissioners Barbara Wasinger, Henry Schwaller IV and Kent Steward spoke in support of the project.
"It would be a much better looking building as a whole once the project is complete," Schwaller said. "And no one from the street will know the roof is missing."
An issue Schwaller said he would like city staff to address is how the city should proceed with construction and demolition permit requirements in the historic district.
That issue had come to light due to the fact the roof of 116 E. 12th had been removed not only prior to receiving approval by SHPO, but also prior to receiving a city building permit.
"It's interesting that one has to pull a permit to install a roof, but one doesn't have to pull a permit to demolish a roof," Schwaller said. "It seems rather odd.
"So I hope that going forward we can change our building ordinances to accommodate this and be a little more aggressive in our inspection process."
Commissioners' prior hesitancy to approve the roof removal was cause for concern from some of their constituents.
"I've gotten some unhappy emails about the city trying to control the historical district," Wasinger said. "And that's incorrect.
"We aren't. When it was made a historical district, it was made with the realization that the state historical society was going to have control over these properties. So we have to learn how to work with them."
The historic area designation, City Manager Toby Dougherty said, is a "double-edged" sword, allowing for financial incentives for redevelopment but also requiring compliance with terms of the district.
"You guys have a duty to be careful how we manage the district as a city, because you don't want the state stepping in and somehow trying to yank out that designation because the city wasn't complying with what they felt was the intent of that district," he said.
Commissioner Ron Mellick, who voiced objections to the Singers project at earlier meetings, was the lone dissenting vote. He said he had lost confidence in information received from Comeau.
"We have got conflicting stories from him, and I believe he will tell us anything to get this project accomplished," Mellick said.
He said he was concerned 116 E. 12th had been owned by the Liberty Group for 10 years prior to its sale to Gray, and the roof had been allowed to deteriorate during that decade. He also revisited the issue that a demolition permit was not obtained for the project.
In other business, commissioners:
* Unanimously approved the low bid from Smoky Hill LLC to reconstruct runway 16-34 of Hays Regional Airport along with other improvements included in the project contingent upon Federal Aviation Administration grant approval. The bid of $6.8 million will be subject to a 90-10 cost share with the FAA, bringing the city of Hays' contribution to $700,358.
* Approved a work authorization from Burns and McDonnell for an engineer's inspection of the runway project, contingent on FAA awarding a grant for federal funding.
* Voted to transfer from the City Commission Financial Policy Projects $1.4 million to the Capital Projects Fund to pay cash for the second phase of the Vine Street reconstruction project.