Zoning Advocacy Stalls Bronin Nomination to Federal Preservation Council

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The vote on Sara Bronin’s nomination for chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation was delayed this week by a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources who said he was concerned about Bronin’s work as the founder of Desegregate Connecticut, a nonprofit zoning reform group. 

“While Ms. Bronin has experience in the historic preservation field, I’m concerned about the types of reforms to historic preservation programs that she may pursue,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Ranking Member of the committee, at its Nov. 2 meeting.

“If her record as a leading advocate for progressive zoning reforms in Connecticut is any indication she’s likely to attempt to alter the character, nature and scope of the Advisory Council,” he said. 

The purpose of the meeting was to consider nominations for seven positions, from Under Secretary for Science, Department of Energy, to Commissioner of Reclamation, Department of the Interior, and five others.

Barrasso objected to two nominations — Bronin, as well as Dr. Asmeret Berhe, who is nominated as Director of the Office of Science, Department of Energy — and asked for a roll call vote on both. 

Due to a lack of a quorum, the committee did not proceed with the roll call vote on the nominations of Bronin and Berhe. No date was given for reconvening the committee. 

Bronin testified at the Sept. 21 meeting of the committee where Barrasso questioned Bronin’s criteria for historic designation that she wrote about in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times. 

“You concluded your writing by saying preservationists have started to see past the formalities that have too long prevented us from recognizing diverse histories but we must go further to tackle the legal structures that devalue the stories we all need to hear,” Barrasso said.

He asked Bronin how she would advise the president and Congress to reform programs like the National Register of Historic Places, the Secretary of Interior’s standards for the treatment of historic properties and the Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit.

Bronin answered that the responsibility of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is to advise the President, Congress and other agencies about what opportunities they might have to change the rules.

She said that, for example, the Secretary of Interior’s standard is used to judge historic tax credits and on federal projects, and that it had not been modernized in decades in any significant way to address challenges, including disaster response. 

“As for the National Register, the criteria have been in place for many, many years and actually it turns out to be increasingly expensive to get a property listed on the National Register. So, in rural communities and underserved communities, you might need a little more flexibility and that’s one of the things as chair of the Advisory Council, I hope to convince my fellow 24 members that that might be something that we look at  — and of course work with the Department of Interior and the National Park Service to take a look and open up those criteria.” 

Bronin presented opening remarks at the Sept. 21 hearing. She also answered written questions for the record from a number of senators, including Barrasso, who asked whether she stood behind her New York Times editorial positing that “the problems of housing inequality and segregation are too big for localities to tackle piecemeal.”

Bronin wrote, “Yes, in that I believe, as a former local official, that federal intrusion into local decision-making is not preferable, yet I also recognize that the federal government has long played an important role in tackling housing inequality and segregation.” 

In the written questions, Barrasso asked Bronin about zoning language changes advocated by Desegregate Connecticut, her stance on oil and gas production, and her tweets concerning the environment and climate change, among other topics.

Bronin answered a range of written questions from six other senators on topics from her stance on nuclear power to the preservation of the internment of Japanese Americans at the Minidoka National Historic site to her top priorities if confirmed as chair. 

Bronin was introduced to the committee on Sept. 21 by Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Chris Murphy, who both were upbeat about Bronin’s confirmation as chair. 

“I’m confident Sara Bronin will be voted out of committee soon with a bipartisan majority and I look forward to supporting her nomination on the Senate Floor,” said Blumenthal in a statement on Friday.

Murphy said Bronin is a nationally-recognized expert in historic preservation law and policy.

“I am proud of the work she’s done in Connecticut to advance affordable housing, end housing segregation, and make our state a more equitable place for all. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation will benefit greatly from her passion and expertise and I will continue to push for her confirmation,” he said.

At the time of publication, Sen. Barrasso’s office did not provide further comment and Bronin did not return a call from CT Examiner.

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