A year ago, RPS President Don Bright submitted the ordinance to the city staff, and the Economic Development Commission (EDC) agreed to send it on to the Planning Commission. But nearly a year later, nothing had been done to enact it, and so Bright brought the issue to the City Council at its Aug. 14 meeting.
"I expected a dialogue between the Rivertown Preservation Society and staff," Bright told the council. "Unfortunately, there was no dialogue or exchange of ideas. I'm kind of disappointed."
Tina Wehrmeister, deputy director of Community Development, wrote in a staff report to the council that "a historic preservation ordinance is not necessary and may be detrimental to the Rivertown Revitalization effort."
In a March 2 memo to the EDC in which she agreed that "(p)reserving our resources is very important to the City and important to a revitalized downtown," she also noted that the city's General Plan and associated environmental report already contain information on local historic structures and provide guidelines to protect them.
Adding another ordinance with restrictions on what can and cannot be done to preserve or upgrade historic buildings could lead to delays in those rehabilitation projects as more environmental studies are required, and could make the projects vulnerable to legal challenges from outside interests.
Wehrmeister noted that such a legal challenge was made last year in Pittsburg. The Pittsburg Society for the Preservation of Historical Resources filed suit in Contra Costa Superior Court, unsuccessfully attempting to block construction of Marina Vista Middle School, which is on the site of the now razed 92-year-old Black Diamond Elementary School.
But Bright told the council that the General Plan inventory of historic structures is out of date and inaccurate. He said a new listing of what should be preserved needs to take place along with better enforcement procedures.
"What we are really trying to achieve is a new local protection with an oversight mechanism that is (currently) lacking," he said, adding that the city needs to "protect vintage homes and ensure compatibility and longevity for the entire Rivertown district.
"I don't want to think about a future with an entire cemetery of historical markers telling our children and grandchildren of what once stood here."
A couple of residents at the meeting agreed.
"We must make it a priority to preserve Antioch's unique history," said Mary Dodson.
William Leroy said that the refurbished Fulton Shipyard area features structures designed by Carr Jones, a California architect known for his storybook Hansel and Gretel style. The Fulton Shipyard area just east of Rivertown is being looked at as a possible site for a ferry landing and associated residential and commercial development.
"All of that is going to be demolished for condos," said Leroy. "If anyone cares about Antioch at all, about its history … it should be preserved. Antioch has a history of letting bums move in, start fires.
"Carr Jones has one of the finest styles of architecture in the state of California. Roger's Point no longer belongs to the city of Antioch; we were all promised that would be a park. That whole area was precious. It is the gemstone of Antioch. It just doesn't get any better."
Mayor Don Freitas noted that every old building, just because it's old, might not be worth preserving, but that it's worth discussing and looking into further.
"The task really is to find some balance," he said. "The city does not want to have more bureaucracy. On the other hand, there are citizens who want to protect the buildings. I think the request is to begin a dialogue and a process."
Freitas said the first step is to produce an accurate accounting of what old structures in Antioch are worth preserving.
Councilman Arne Simonsen agreed that just because a house is old it might not necessarily fall under the historical category unless there's some special significance. "Unless someone slept there like Washington, I was questioning" some of the houses on the inventory list in the General Plan.
Simonsen also agreed with Wehrmeister that adding possibly burdensome restrictions on how to refurbish older structures can be counterproductive.
"Nevada City has a preservation area - they can't do anything unless they use the exact same materials," said Simonsen. "My concern is whether we are going to put a deed restriction … on what people can and cannot do to their property."
Bright agreed with Simonsen's concerns, saying, "We don't want to be so restrictive that we get into the limbo that the Hard House is in."
Freitas responded, "The Hard House is going to fall. We've got to address that issue of a safety hazard. The fact that it's next to a school scares me even more."
The R.B. Hard House at 815 First St., next to the Lynn House Gallery and behind Prospect High School, was built in the 1860s by the first chairman and later president of the Antioch Board of Trustees. It's been boarded up for years, neglected and in disrepair.