Lewisburg drafting preservation standards

Friday, March 28, 2008

Preservation standards are being drafted by Lewisburg officials for what may be described as a downtown development district.

The proposed ordinance, to be discussed by planning commissioners at 4 p.m. April 1 in City Hall, is, in part, a result of Mayor Bob Phillips' consultation with Lisa Keylon, who's served as the city's planning adviser from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

Phillips spoke with city planning commissioners last week, saying he wants to prevent further downgrading of the public square. The mayor did so after noting that a couple of downtown buildings have been put up for sale, thereby raising questions about what might fill the spaces.

The purpose of new controls over downtown land use is, according to Planning Commission Chairman Jim Bingham, "not just to discourage unwanted businesses, but also encourage others."

Phillips endorsed such a view.

"Not only encourage, but embrace" certain land uses, the mayor said.

Such government policies are embodied in the tax code. A Federal Investment Tax Credit is available to certain income producing properties that have depreciation schedules, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Historic preservation of buildings is embraced by the Interior Department through the tax code.

Another use of the tax code helps property owners in downtown districts such as those around the courthouse in Murfreesboro who participate in low cost renovations financed through income tax-free bonds sold by the municipality.

Meanwhile, the mayor here is more specifically concerned about the prospect of another title and loan office, or a bail bond business being established downtown. Phillips has expressed dismay over big "plastic toys" on display in the front of one bail bond business.

Councilman Robin Minor, a member of the planning commission, commented, "I don't want to run anybody off, but we don't have people knocking on the door to develop on the square."

The mayor has also spoken recently about the old post office building. It was seen as a likely location for a restaurant, but such plans have not materialized. More recently, another landmark enterprise, the jewelry business at East Commerce Street and South Second Avenue is going to move to what was a bank's branch office on East Commerce Street.

Central downtown areas -- the public square around the courthouse, and one block on the eight streets emanating from the core -- were identified as the logical area for special protections by an "overlay district," Keylon said.

Overlay districts are created with additional land use regulations that are laid over parts of a municipality where the basic zoning is continued. It's a frequently used tool for control of land use by planning officials.

Having identified the size and shape of the proposed district, Keylon then asked area residents about what's a desirable use for the buildings in the district. Typical public square uses have been retail shops, restaurants, offices and the traditional "mixed use" of a building with a storefront on the ground floor and the proprietor's residence on the second floor. Other versions of such mixed use have included second floor rental, such as the apartments over what was a Chinese restaurant on Lewisburg's square.

One plan for the overlay zoning ordinance here is to specify uses. Anything that's not expressly stated, would not be permitted, according to a presentation at the city planning commission meeting held last week.

Discus-sion of these concepts has been held during recent meetings of the city's Community Development Committee, Keylon reported. That revealed a perception that innovative parking regulations might be included in the proposed ordinance.

Some 140 parking spaces have been counted around the square, Phillips said.

Keylon suggested that merchants and other business managers around the square be encouraged to have their staff park in spaces behind their buildings.

Another aspect of parking that might be brought about by these discussions could be changing the parallel parking spaces along one block of West Commerce Street to spaces that are at an angle. Discussion during last week's planning commission meting indicated that could increase the number of parking spaces downtown. Such spaces could be in front of a law office and recently-closed women's clothing store.

The location of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems might also be addressed by the proposed ordinance, according to discussion on March 18. Placement of HVAC units on roofs has been seen as a location that leads to leaks. And, window units are rarely part of a historically accurate building.

As various other aspects of historic preservation and design standards are part of what's to be discussed April 1, Phillips said he'd like to have a recommended ordinance ready for city council's consideration during its meeting on April 8.

"The longer it waits, the more it's likely for someone to buy the old post office," the mayor said. That's not necessarily rushing adoption of a new law, he said, adding that "It would still have to pass three readings of the council."

Typically, that would take 90 days.