Medford city leaders have resolved their portal predicament, though not in the way they might have preferred. Now they should revisit the portion of the city code that deals with historic preservation to make sure it is serving the community's best interest.
The City Council last week voted with a decided lack of enthusiasm to restore the doorway of the old Greyhound station as an entryway of sorts to the north park block of The Commons. Several councilors objected to the project's estimated $50,000 price tag, saying they would have preferred to spend the money on something else. But Medford's municipal code apparently tied their hands.
Because the bus station was considered a historic building in a federally recognized historic district, the city was required by its own code to commemorate it after it was torn down.
Exactly how that was to be accomplished appears to have caused some confusion. Saving the entryway and restoring it as a "portal" to the park blocks was first approved in 2007.
When the matter came up again last year, some councilors objected to spending $50,000 on something they didn't find aesthetically appealing. The other option in the city code was to replace the portal with a "reasonable facsimile," but what would qualify as reasonable was not clearly defined.
In the end, the council decided the lowest-cost option, and the one that would not delay completing the second park block, was to proceed with the original plan. But they made it clear they were not thrilled with the idea, and the vote was not unanimous.
The $50,000 expenditure is not huge in the context of a $14 million project, but it's not pocket change either. City leaders ought to be able to get the most out of public money without being stymied by vague legal language.
The Commons is the largest public project in Medford in some time, but it won't be the last. Other historic buildings remain, and it's likely the city will contemplate demolishing one or more in the future.
Before that happens, the council should order a review of city ordinances regarding historic preservation and amend them if necessary to provide clear direction to future city councils that may face similar choices.