Downtown group drafting plan for historic district

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior ­Staff Writer

The Lewisburg Downtown Alliance is working this year on an historic overlay, a set of additional rules for protection of buildings that have contributed to the original appearance of, for example, a public square.

"I've started working on the wording of it," LDA secretary Andrea Childress said of what might eventually become a city ordinance administered by a Historic Zoning Commission. What the LDA would develop could be submitted to the city planning and zoning commission for a recommendation to the city council.

The Rev. Leland Carden, president of the alliance, noted that Childress "was familiar with what they did in Fayetteville and brought it to the board meetings" of the alliance which met a couple of weeks ago in the '50s and Ice Cream restaurant.

Lewisburg property owner Ron Maggi had been working on the overlay, so-called because when such an area is defined by an ordinance, that area is illustrated on a map showing the underlying land use zoning that classifies land for residential or commercial use. An historic district is then displayed with a transparent plastic sheet with colored areas to show where, for example, properties restricted for single-family homes are defined by the color overlay.

Maggi released that task to Childress because he is "working on the sign project and has a lot going on with his business," Carden said. "He suggested that Andrea be allowed to continue with it."

Maggi was trying to set up guidelines, but a commission is to be established to draft guidelines for an historic overlay ordinance. Initially, the idea didn't sit well with at least one downtown property owner.

Matthew Hancock said that his experience, "from having grown up in Franklin," developed his opinion that such government regulation would limit what landowners want to do with their property.

Franklin, Murfreesboro and other Middle Tennessee cities have historic zoning commissions. Some can prevent a homeowner from changing the color of their house.

Hancock sought confirmation that Lewisburg already has an ordinance creating a downtown district, and it's true.

However, Carden pointed out that "With an overlay, the city is in a position to qualify for more grants to fix facades of the buildings, something like they did in Winchester when they redid their square. A lot of the organizations that provide money want to be sure you have some oversight."

Furthermore, such an ordinance might include a section similar to Franklin's law against "demolition by neglect," meaning owners of property in a historic district are required to maintain their structures.

Such an ordinance might have applied to the red brick building that's in an extreme state of disrepair on 1st Avenue North near Rock Creek Park, Carden said.

An historic overlay "could have prevented a previous owner (of the building at 1st Avenue South and East Commerce Street) from gutting the building," Carden said. "You need those things if you're going to preserve what you have."

What was done to the building on the southeast corner of the square was legal and did not conflict with the downtown ordinance. However, a historic zoning code, administered by a commission, could have prevented that, although it would depend on how the ordinance is written.

LDA members plan to have a draft for an ordinance to take to their board and then the city planning commission in hopes that it would be recommended to the city council.said.