Bob Perrin bought the 98-year-old building at the corner of 18th and Howard Streets for $470,000. He said he wants to restore it and convert it into condominiums or offices eventually.

A downtown building that Douglas County may demolish for a proposed justice center should be declared a local landmark, the Omaha Planning Board decided Wednesday.

The board voted 7-0 to recommend that the City Council grant a request from preservationists to declare 420 S. 18th St. a local landmark. The city’s Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission had voted in August to recommend landmark status for the property.

The Planning Board vote followed the City Planning Department’s recommendation. In an interview after the meeting, City Planning Director David Fanslau said the Planning Board vote and his staff’s backing of the landmark status do not constitute a position on the county’s proposed justice center project.

“It is strictly their opinion, and our opinion, on the building as it sits right now, its historical significance,” Fanslau said. “And if it’s worthy of local designation.”

Planning Board member David Rosacker, who has done historic renovations during his career as a builder for more than 45 years, said it bothers him when “good old buildings get torn down.”

“When you see an old building that has character, whether it’s a building you particularly like or not is really irrelevant. They have character,” Rosacker said. “It’s a valid thing for us to be able to consider opportunities to protect them.”

The county wants the building as part of the site for a proposed justice center. The proposal calls for two buildings and a parking garage. A 10-story courthouse annex would be built at the southwest corner of 18th and Harney Streets. And a new juvenile detention center would be built next door on land that includes 420 S. 18th St.

The owner, architect Bob Perrin, doesn’t want to sell the property. He says he wants to preserve and renovate the building into retail space and apartments. He has filed a lawsuit to try to stop the county’s eminent domain action. A judge issued a temporary restraining order in September that prohibits the county from taking title to the property until after the judge can hear Perrin’s arguments.

The landmark designation could go to the City Council in about four to six weeks. Because of Perrin’s lawsuit, it now appears likely that the council would consider the landmark designation before the county could take possession of the building and demolish it.

But the designation might be moot, legally. Typically, a landmark designation offers a building some protection from being demolished. But it’s unclear what effect, if any, landmark status would have on the county’s legal ability to tear down Perrin’s building, because the county’s eminent domain case was already underway when the landmark application was made.

However, Perrin is hoping the designation will help his cause in the court of public opinion. He said in September that he hoped a landmark designation would help convince county officials and the public that his building has historical value.

Brian Whetstone, with the preservationist group Restoration Exchange Omaha, applied for the landmark status. He contended that the building qualified on grounds of its historical uses: as an automobile dealership in the early days of cars in Omaha and later for soil and concrete testing by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Perrin called the building a historical gem “that has been hiding in plain sight.” He urged the Planning Board to endorse the landmark status as “recognition that we do have an historic property that we just didn’t know about.”

Rosacker enthusiastically concurred.

“It’s got its own character, but it’s got the flexibility for it to become a vibrant part of the downtown,” he said. “So I think it’s really worth our consideration as a landmark to be able to help preserve that opportunity.”

Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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