Burlingame resident seeks county’s help to save historical buildings

The “Burl” of Burlingame stands guard over two buildings on Santa Fe Avenue slated for demolition, in this 2010 photo.

Monday, a Burlingame resident made two simple requests to the Osage County commissioners – stop the planned demolition of two historical buildings in downtown Burlingame, and become leaders in the state for developing local plans for preservation of historical structures.

Eileen Smith said she had lived in Burlingame since October and had since become aware of the city’s plan to demolish two condemned buildings on Santa Fe Avenue. Smith said she holds a master’s degree in architecture and has an interest in historical preservation, and the history of Burlingame and its location on the Santa Fe Trail were one reason she chose to locate there.

She said once she became aware of the plans to demolish the buildings at 107 and 109 E. Santa Fe Ave. she conducted a photographic survey of the two-block downtown historical district.

Smith said the condition of the two buildings and the connected building at 105 E. Santa Fe Ave. does not warrant demolition. Instead the buildings should be stabilized and restored as part of the downtown historical landmark, she said.

“Those buildings have a lot of value, not only historical value, but that is important to the community,” Smith said. “It picks up morale and makes people more energetic. A community understanding their history is an important thing. Also, structurally these buildings could be taken and rebuilt and last another 100 years.”

She said the city should take responsibility for the decline of the buildings’ conditions, which resulted from neglect, or “engineered blight”.

“Really negligence on the part of the city, because they should have had the back of this building covered up,” she said.

Covering openings in the buildings would have kept them from deteriorating, she said.

“This is going on all over the state in these small towns,” she said. “All of these historic buildings that are really solid buildings, but we don’t have the craftspeople to repair them, and don’t have the agenda to rebuild.”

“This is interesting, but what are you asking us as county commissioners to do here,” asked Osage County Commissioner Gaylord Anderson.

Smith said that decaying buildings were a problem in Osage County’s towns, and commissioners should set an agenda regarding historic preservation.

“In this particular case, I guess what I would like the county to do would be to get an injunction to stop the demolition of these buildings,” Smith said.

She said the three buildings have been together for 100 years, “so you will have a hard time demolishing one or two buildings without damaging the other building.”

She said the city of Burlingame has threatened that if the building at 105 E. Santa Fe Avenue, which belongs to Al Nika, is damaged during demolition of the other two buildings, the city would not be responsible.

“Which I think is one of the reasons they initiated the condemnation,” she said. “The building is not in that bad of condition, so for them to condemn this building to me looked like an attempt to illegally take this building and demolish it.”

She said the historical significance of the buildings is the reason to save them.

“If they are demolished, or if any of them are demolished, it will reduce potential of Burlingame’s downtown area ever being declared a historic landmark,” she said. “There is no other streetscape like that in the state of Kansas. It’s 75 feet wide. It was the heart of a lot of trade and commerce (on the Santa Fe Trail). This is where they weighed out the loads; this is where the nitty gritty of trade happened. If you take away these three buildings there are no other historic buildings on this side (of the block). You can feel the heart of the commerce that went on this area.”

She said that during current economic times, jobs are needed and the business of historic preservation can create jobs.

“Maintenance and protection of historic buildings is a huge amount of commerce,” she said.

She said the city of Burlingame would be spending the same amount of money to demolish the buildings as it would cost to stabilize them.

She said Burlingame had conducted a historical survey of its downtown in 2009, “but they didn’t do anything with it.”

Anderson said, “That sounds like a problem for Burlingame to deal with.”

“It’s a problem statewide,” Smith said. “This is perfect time for counties to come in and say we understand this problem.”

She suggested the commissioners should use Burlingame as an example for beginning a plan to preserve the county’s historical buildings.

With Anderson asking where the money to repair buildings would come from, Smith said developers would be enlisted to plan for restoration.

“These groups come in, or take the buildings if given to them, they get the financing to restore them, and either sell them or lease them,” Smith said. “There’s no reason for there to be this huge disparity between historic preservation and the money.

“We don’t pay for it; the developer will pay for it.”

“You send a developer down here that wants to spend that kind of money on some housing, and wants to talk to us about tax abatement, we might talk to him,” Anderson said.

Smith again asked the commissioners to issue an injunction to allow developers to bid on rebuilding the buildings.

County counselor Caleb Crook told Smith the county could not issue an injunction, only the court could. Crook suggested that Smith should hire an attorney to help her with an injunction.

In other business during Monday’s meeting, Anderson and Osage County Commissioner Carl Meyer signed a resolution expressing support for a housing project that would construct up to 18 senior housing units in Burlingame, Osage City, Melvern, and Harveyville, and four housing units on a site outside of the city limits of Lyndon. The county’s support for the project allows OWC Senior Apartments, LLC, to apply for tax credits for the project.

The commissioners also met with Jim Foster, of rural Carbondale, who offered his research and assistance to the county to begin proceedings to revoke the permit of current operators of the Landon Nature Trail and the Flint Hills Nature Trail. Foster said the trail operators have failed to fulfill the contracted responsibilities of their permit. The commissioners noted that negotiations were under way with the trail operators for the county to lease a portion of the former railroad right of way at the location of two bridges on 229th Street and 221st Street. The commissioners have expressed intent to rebuild the two wooden bridges using a bridge bond enacted last year, if funds remain after other identified deficient bridges are repaired or replaced. Crook told Foster he would review the documents Foster previously submitted to the county.

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