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Supporters of HPC proposal address citizens’ concerns

January 28, 2013

Citizens within the local historic district boundaries proposed by the Starkville Historic Preservation Commission are expressing support for the districts and addressing concerns citizens raised during the HPC’s public hearing on the districts Jan. 22.

If approved by the Starkville Board of Aldermen, the city would enact legal standards for exterior alteration of buildings within three historic districts — Greensboro Street, Nash Street and Overstreet — aimed at preserving the historic character of the buildings and the neighborhoods as a whole. Commission chair Michael Fazio said citizens raised a valid and common concern in the meetings about these standards infringing on their rights as property owners.

For instance, as a Greensboro Street historic property owner himself, Fazio said the standards would require him to get prior HPC approval before installing a carport on his property. In exchange for that extra step, he said, the city serves a greater good.

“You can count on the fact that if I own ... or buy a piece of property, that someone across the street from me is not then going to make changes to (his or her) property that are inappropriate, unseemly and would decrease the value of my property and decrease the character of the neighborhood,” Fazio said. “I’m willing to give up a small amount of my property rights in return for a larger good.”

Robert Leach, one of the citizens who spoke in favor of the districts at the public hearing, said he can understand the perspective of the HPC proposal’s opponents, but he, too, sees historic preservation as a greater good.

“I’m not exactly a fan of big government, but at the same time, when we want an interstate highway that goes through Jackson, we have some homeowners that lose their property in the process of doing something for the greater good,” Leach said. “I can think of a hundred examples of that, (like) health care, where you have to provide immunizations to every child in order to get the immunity for the group as a whole.”

Nash Street resident Pete Melby said historic neighborhoods actually have less protection than newer neighborhoods without the HPC proposal, because historic neighborhoods predate and lack covenants. Newer neighborhoods’ covenants may not necessarily be written into city law, he said, but they are enforceable.

Melby said he knows several citizens who came to Starkville with the specific intent of living in historic neighborhoods, who have no interest in moving to newer housing. He said historic neighborhoods also hold strong appeal for visitors in Starkville and other cities, such as New Orleans.

“For the city to lose the character of the neighborhoods would be to lose a major attraction to the city,” Melby said. “When we make changes and make additions, it needs to blend with that historical character. A community has to work together to make the community strong, healthy, safe and attractive.”

Jamie Mixon said she has lived in two of the proposed historic districts. First, she and her husband renovated an Overstreet home and lived there for 18 years, she said, and the two now live in a Greensboro Street home that was renovated before their purchase. She said she does not see the HPC standards as infringing on her rights as property owner, because she has future owners in mind.

“We feel like we’re keeping it for the next generation that will move into the house,” Mixon said. “We’re just protecting it. We put a lot of effort into (the Overstreet) home and saw the value of that home go way up from the time we bought it. There were no guidelines at that time, but it was something we did because we cared about the historic character of the house.”

Mixon said she has read multiple articles attesting to historic neighborhood ordinances’ power to boost property value. Melby said such regulations are common throughout America.

“I lived in Atlanta for 10 years, (and) the old neighborhoods got together and established historic districts. Those properties were worth $30,000 when I left,” Melby said. “Now they are worth $500,000, because they’re protected, because people know it’s going to (remain) as good as it is, or it’s going to get better.”

Mixon said she believes the legal regulations the HPC has proposed are necessary because they protect homeowners’ investments. She said she has seen first-hand how one neglected house in a neighborhood can devalue properties throughout the neighborhood.

“I’ve seen what people do without an ordinance with historic houses,” Mixon said. “They are often neglected, especially rental property. It’s very definite that they are using these houses to make a profit and they are not interested in putting any money back into these houses, and that is to the detriment of the whole neighborhood.”

Leach said he supports the idea of restoring old homes for student rental, and most such developments he has seen have been tasteful. He said the Cotton District also illustrates how new developments can still preserve a neighborhood’s historic character.

“I have seen historic districts elsewhere around the country,” Leach said. “With proper guidelines in place, both history and property values can be preserved.”

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