EDITOR’S DESK: Questions about overlay plan

       We have before us a modest proposal from the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN). Based on residents' responses to a 2002 survey, the neighborhood advocacy group is suggesting a “historic overlay” for this side of town. OWN has already hired a photographer to start documenting 4,000-some designated houses.
       Implementing this overlay would be like making a zone change. People in the overlay zone would face a new set of rules. Those rules don't seem too onerous. Based on those that apply in the current historic zone in the Old North End (north of downtown), if a change is proposed and the Historic Preservation Board deems it historically incorrect (but the homeowners still want it), there's a 90-day wait, and then they can proceed. On the other side of that coin, projects that do meet historic requirements could be eligible for 20 percent tax credits.
       In its latest newsletter, OWN asks for feedback on this idea. Certainly, questions could be asked. How about the size of the proposed overlay? It is tremendously larger than the Old North End's. Would the city have to hire another planner to administrate it? And how scientific are the zone boundaries? Initially, the near Westside got left out, until the OWN board member for that district argued successfully with other board members to include it. But the old Midland area, which has of late nominated no one for the OWN board, is still left out. The survey itself only drew 130 responses (out of roughly 8,000 mailings) - albeit they were 96 percent in favor. But is that enough to go forward?
       My thinking is the overlay is a grand vision, but could use some hashing out. OWN's stated mission is to respond to area "concerns and needs"; here's a chance to give them yours.

- K.J.