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Holmes, city at odds over historic designation

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The State Historic Resources Commission is backing a bid to place the Old Auburn Library on the National Register of Historic Places. But the designation is being opposed by the building’s owner, the city of Auburn. The commission – a State Office of Historic Preservation panel – gave its approval to the nomination last week at a meeting in Santa Rosa. William Burg, Office of Historic Preservation historian, said Monday that the application will now be forwarded to the federal registry for review and possible approval. Auburn City Councilman Mike Holmes has been working with historical preservationists in the Auburn area on several potential national register designations. Holmes attended the Santa Rosa meeting with a local contingent of library supporters that included Placer County museums administrator Melanie Barton, Dave Allen of the Auburn Native Sons of the Golden West and Michel Otten, Placer County Historical Society president. Holmes was on the losing end of a 4-1 City Council vote last June to endorse the Old Auburn Library designation, as well as another that would not specify any particular buildings but provide a historical context for future Auburn registry applications. Holmes said that he told City Manager Bob Richardson after the vote that he was prepared to move forward with the application in spite of the lack of support at the council level. Council members had been warned by staff that a listing on the National Register of Historic Places would result in increased costs to maintain the library building, he said. But Holmes disputes that contention. “The recommendation of non-support was based on erroneous information,” Holmes said. “In the case of Auburn, there were only two letters of opposition and eight to 10 letters recommending approval.” Holmes said the only difference he can see with the registry designation in place would be an additional process in applying for federal funds on the library. Mayor Bill Kirby said he understands that any citizen has the right to propose a building for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places so isn’t objecting to Holmes’ support of the library bid. Kirby said that while he supports maintaining the historical ambience of Auburn, he and the city will officially continue to oppose the registry application. “The City Council didn’t feel it was in the best interests of the city to have a designation at this time because of potential costs – and I understand the owner has a significant say in that decision,” Kirby said.