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Citizens object to historic district law

January 23, 2013


Multiple area residents expressed concerns about the effects of proposed local historic districts on their rights as property owners during a public hearing the Starkville Historic Preservation Commission hosted Tuesday at City Hall.

Commissioners also announced plans to vote at their February meeting on recommending the proposed districts to the Starkville Board of Aldermen for final approval. The city plans to hold two more public hearings on the proposal with the aldermen, but Starkville Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill said she does not anticipate those public hearings taking place in March. The city will still have to write ordinances corresponding to the historic districts and their standards for historic buildings, she said, so the next public hearings will wait until after that process is complete.

“We’ll have to craft those (ordinances),” Spruill said.

Before the discussion began, commission chair Michael Fazio gave citizens a brief overview of the commission’s purpose and process, beginning with the commission’s creation in 2010. He also explained the extent of the control the HPC would have over property within the historic districts if the city approves them.

“Any changes to a property in the historic districts — and there are exceptions to this — would have to be approved by this commission,” Fazio said. “If (a property owner wants) to change the interior, it’s not covered; it’s got nothing to do with it. Paint color is not covered. Otherwise, what’s covered is the exterior of the building and then two site features: either walls or fences. If you’re just doing normal maintenance ... you don’t fall under the (HPC’s purview).”

The first citizen to raise concern was Tom Carskadon, who said he has lived on Greensboro Street for nearly 40 years. He said he would prefer for the building standards the HPC created for the districts to be advisory instead of having the force of law.

“I want to recognize the hard work and good intentions of commission ... but I do think this is an extraordinary abrogation of property owners’ rights,” Carskadon said. “To reach the point of telling homeowners what their front doors can look like really seems extreme even for socialist Scandinavia, let alone Starkville, Miss. I don’t see why government should be dictating to any homeowner at this level.”

One of the rationales Fazio gave for creating local historic districts was their strong track record of increasing property values in other cities statewide and nationwide where they have been enacted. Carskadon questioned this rationale, saying he perceived no current problems with properties in the proposed Greensboro district in particular.

“I’ve lived in Greensboro for a long time. What’s wrong with it?” Carskadon asked. “It seems to have done very well over the last 40 years.”

Fazio said one of the first steps in the HPC’s process was to re-survey historic properties in each of the three Starkville districts already on National Register of Historic Places, and he surveyed Greensboro himself. He said he agreed largely with Carskadon that few changes had taken place, except for a few instances of metal and artificial siding.

“If Greensboro became a local district, (that siding) is not going to come down, and (the HPC will not) tell anyone ‘You’ve got to take it down,’” Fazio said. “But, if someone wanted to add it, they couldn’t.”

Carskadon said he was also concerned about the safety issues that could arise around the restriction the district standards place on metal security doors. Commissioner Tom Walker said the HPC does not intend to create rules that put people’s safety at risk.

“If our rules conflicted with one of the city’s professional safety and health organizations, such as the fire department or the police department, I don’t want to say they would be able to overrule us, but that’s what the effect would be,” Walker said. “What you’re mentioning may or may not be necessary in the eyes of the fire or police department.”

Some citizens expressed interest in having their properties removed from the historic district maps. Patricia Butler asked if affected property owners could opt out of the historic districts, and when Fazio said they could not, she said she, too, opposed the districts. Dan Craig submitted a request for the HPC to exclude duplex property he owns on Lafayette Street from the proposed district maps, but Fazio said changes to the maps could be made even after the city ratifies the districts, and at this stage, such changes would likely wait until that point.

“We do not, at this point, plan to go back and make any changes,” Fazio said. “This would have to go before the board of aldermen as is. What they do, of course, is up to them.”

Not everyone at the meeting opposed the districts, although they did have questions. Robert Leach said he was curious about how the districts would affect his plans to start a bed and breakfast business, and Fazio said that would primarily be a zoning issue.

“I very much appreciate what (you) are doing,” Leach said. “We’re finally doing something proactive in Starkville.”

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