City council takes first step to change rules on designating historic sites

OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s a tug-of-war over historic preservation rules in Oklahoma City.

The iconic First Christian Church highlights the issue. Rules that have been in place for 40 years could be changing thanks to the efforts of two city council members.

“I want one voice to speak to say to the state court and the federal court. This is what we did and why we did it,” Ward 8 Councilman Mark K. Stonecipher said.

An item on the city council agenda that wants to put preservation and landowner rights front and center.

“It’s none of our business. It’s private property,” Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell said, echoing the request to remove the historic preservation commission and planning commission from designating a building or district for historic preservation – if more than half of the property owners are against it.

It will take three more city council meetings before it can be approved.

If approved, they can’t designate a building or district for historic preservation — if more than half of the property owners are against it.

Instead, the city council will get the final say.

“But, in the case where an owner objects to the initiation, as what happened with First Christian Church, only city council would be able to take that first step,” said Katie Friddle, historic preservation officer.

“You already have the evidence of them taking a contrary position,” Stonecipher said.

This in response to recent discussions where the Historic Preservation Commission took the first move – to make the iconic “egg church” a designated landmark. They’ve had the power to do that since 1979. This ordinance changes that.

“It looks at historic significance, architectural significance, archaeological resources could potentially be designated,” Friddle said.

Stonecipher wrote the new city rule. He’s worried the city will be sued and lose to angry property owners who want to sell or tear down their property.

“We are the elected officials to be held accountable to the people that voted for us and, number two, I want to present the best care I can in the courthouse to win,” Stonecipher said Tuesday morning in city council.

It wasn’t unanimous, but Stonecipher had enough support to pass the measure, which is a disappointment to preservationists.

“This seems to be kind of a trend in Oklahoma City. We continue to lose historic structures, and I don’t think this was a step in the right direction,” said Executive Director of the American Institute of Architecture Oklahoma Chapter Melissa Hunt.

“And, that puts a burden on city council and also kind of degrades the way that they treat the other commissions,” said Executive Director of Preservation Oklahoma Cayla Lewis.

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