Better communication may have led to better outcome

The fiasco surrounding the demolition of a 180-year-old building in Lisbon could have been avoided if the parties involved had communicated better with each other.

Mayor Joe Morenz’s confusion over the issue opened the door for Architectural and Historical Review Board chairman Stevie Halverstadt to write a letter, allegedly without authorization, which ultimately sealed the fate of the old building located on Beaver Street.

The issue first arose 10 days ago at an impromptu meeting between the mayor, zoning appeals board member Peter Wilson and AHRB members Halverstadt and Dennis Roberts. Wilson, Halverstadt and Roberts expressed concern about JN Leasing’s plans to tear down a two-story brick home at 129 N. Beaver St., that JN had recently purchased. JN, which also owns the Numbers Brewery building next door, had applied for a permit to demolish the house to turn the area into an outdoor beer garden.

The mayor felt that the village could not legally deny the permit and also believed that by not taking action within 10 days of the permit request’s filing, the permit would automatically be denied. The trio recommended that the village not act on the permit, but instead Morenz had newly appointed zoning inspector Zach Barkley sign the permit, with Morenz believing that he had a verbal understanding with JN that no action would be taken immediately.

Also brought up during the discussion was the belief that the AHRB was not officially empowered because the members had only recently been appointed and no informational letters explaining the law had ever been sent to owners of older buildings within the historical district. During the impromptu meeting, the AHRB members said they already had a draft form letter prepared to mail to property owners and the group decided to send one to JN immediately by certified mail. Morenz was standing among the group and did not object.

Here’s where things get a little fuzzy.

Morenz said he thought the members were discussing the draft letter in general terms and he did not realize they were sending one directed at JN. Halverstadt and Roberts, however, believed that the mayor was OK with mailing a letter to JN and sent it without a formal vote of the AHRB and without the letter being vetted by the solicitor.

Meanwhile, Morenz talked to JN Leasing later in the same day and they agreed to try to work with the village, but that was before the AHRB letter arrived by certified mail the following day.

As a result, JN, with signed permit in hand and feeling they had been backed into a corner, began demolition the next day. And council, at Morenz’s request, removed Halverstadt from the AHRB.

The whole thing could have been avoided had the parties involved been more careful to communicate clearly. Instead of holding an impromptu discussion, an emergency meeting of the AHRB could have been called. After discussing the matter the board could have voted on whether or not to send the letter. Perhaps if official action had been taken, not just an informal discussion, everyone would have been clear on which direction the matter was heading.

Instead, a 180-year-old building that may have been saved is gone, and Stevie Halverstadt, a woman who genuinely loves Lisbon and is dedicated to preserving its history, has been dismissed from a board where she could do the most good.