By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville Historic Preservation Commission suggested significant changes to a draft of “quick start” design guidelines for historic neighborhoods at its meeting Tuesday.
At the commission’s request, Mississippi Heritage Trust Executive Director David Preziosi created a sample of a quick reference section for a larger, in-depth set of historic neighborhood guidelines. In an earlier meeting, Commissioner Cyndi Sullivan compared the section to the “quick start” guide featured with several modern electronics, and the name has stuck ever since.
A schedule for these guidelines’ development calls for the HPC to provide comments and suggested changes to the draft to Preziosi by Jan. 30. Commission Chair Michael Fazio was absent, along with Commissioner Jason Barrett, leaving Maxine Hamilton acting as chair pro tempore.
Commissioner Tom Walker was the first to pose a question about the “quick start” guide draft.
“Will there be something in the overriding document that says these quick references don’t preclude anybody from having to meet the full requirements of the big document?” Walker asked. “The problem is that you’re dealing with people’s property. People will read things however they want to read them. If you put something in that’s general, it may make it easier 90 percent of the time, but that 10 percent of the time will make it a huge headache for everybody.”
Commissioners agreed with Walker on the need for a clause clarifying the document at large’s power to override the “quick start” guide. Commissioner W. Briar Jones also drew agreement when he said he wants to re-evaluate Preziosi’s format.
Preziosi’s draft, as seen in the HPC e-packet on the city’s website, organizes the guidelines into three columns: one for changes to historic buildings owners might propose, one for actions the HPC would take in response to those proposals and one for more information where applicable. The draft often uses the “More Information” column to direct readers to pages of the guidelines containing specific details.
The draft covers several guideline topics the HPC discussed in-depth Nov. 24, and Jones said the commission made a point of wording their suggestions on each topic with specific verbiage, ensuring City Planner Ben Griffith had the suggestions transcribed as the commission intended. Jones said the draft does not adhere as closely to the verbiage as he would like, he said, and he believes the chart format may interfere with the adherence he seeks.
“We took some pains to get the verbiage,” Jones said. “I don’t think it’s going to be spelled out to a T, and that’s what makes this extremely difficult.”
Sullivan then suggested a “quick start” guide written in the exact format Griffith used to transcribe the commission’s suggestions — headings for each potential design request with concise sentences explaining the city’s response. Walker, in turn, said writing the guidelines at large in this manner would negate the need for a “quick start” guide entirely, but Sullivan said a “quick start” guide could still be useful to highlight the most common questions.
“I do like having a cheat sheet in front of me,” Sullivan said. “I do want to reference other parts of the guide.”
Hamilton said she did not take issue with the grid format Preziosi presented, but she acknowledged she was examining the grid from an engineer’s perspective.
“We have to appeal to the general public,” Hamilton said. “A very small percent are engineers.”
Ultimately, the commission decided to ask Preziosi to attempt to emulate their verbiage more closely within the draft’s grid format.
Finally, Jones said he wanted Preziosi to excise multiple references in the draft to “staff approval,” and other commissioners agreed. Jones said all renovation and redesign requests in historic neighborhoods need to either come before the HPC or be automatically permitted by the guidelines.
“Some of these issues are going to be sensitive, and we don’t want the staff or the city of Starkville to be tied up with these burdensome problems,” Jones said. “Hopefully, this commission will be made up largely of people who reside in these districts... so that to some degree, tough decisions will be mitigated by peers.”