Historic District commissioners devoted a segment of last week’s meeting to addressing the ballot initiative seeking to dissolve the commission. Voters will decide the issue Nov. 3.
City Historic Preservation Officer Glenna Booth explained that the commission cannot engage in any political activity, but they can provide educational information, such as the brochure prepared last year for property owners.
With 950 people on the voter registration list, some commissioners suggested a direct mailing of the brochure, with an insert briefly explaining the importance of the HDC to the city. Commissioner Marty Cogan thought the brochures would go directly in the trash and suggested a town meeting “to air mistaken notions about the perceived power” of the commission. The voters also need to know how the HDC has protected property values, promoted historic tourism, and brought in millions of dollars in grants.
Commissioner Magi Hayde agreed with Cogan that mailing the brochure would not be effective, however, she thought a mailing that lists the commission’s benefits might still carry some weight. Booth explained again that any type of advertising would have to be educational in nature.
Commissioners hoped to see articles in local newspapers and encouraged letters to the editor. They also mentioned the importance of checking the wording of the ballot title, so voters will know whether a “Yes” vote means retaining the commission or eliminating it.
During commissioner comments, commissioner Greg Moon said Booth and the commissioners are “easy to talk to.” He also emphasized the HDC’s flexibility in materials. Hayde said applications are free, and commissioners are volunteers. “We want to be here,” she said. Bright said only six applications have been turned down in the past three-and-a half-years.
Approvals with caveats and questions
- The HDC had approved an application at 12 Fuller St., but the homeowner died before completing the project. Melissa Taliaferro submitted a new application for the house, which dates to 1897. The Level II application included a request to use engineered wood lap siding above grade. Commissioners noted that this new material did not appear in the city’s guidelines.
Taliaferro said the product would look like traditional lap siding and would come with a 50-year warranty. She said the pine siding currently on the market is genetically engineered for fast growth, and the resulting lumber will not stand up on an exterior. “I want my house to be as historic as possible,” she said, “but this wood is not like it was years ago.”
“Since we don’t have an exclusion, I don’t have a problem with it,” commissioner Steve Holifield said. Chair Dee Bright suggested a future workshop to consider this product in more depth, with a view toward altering the city’s guidelines. Moon opposed the material, but the others voted for approval. The HDC also approved replacing a side door with a screen door and a faux door.
- James and Carol Wicker have been renovating a house at 20 Pine St. During the work, they discovered that support under an exterior wall had badly deteriorated. Workers performed emergency repairs to stabilize the area, and removed a window sitting on the ground. They replaced that window with a shorter one. The HDC approved the replacement siding but rejected the smaller window. The city’s guidelines call for replacement windows to match the originals as closely as possible.
The Wickers have not found windows similar to the ones removed. With the pandemic impeding availability of products, commissioners granted six months to replace it, with an extension possible.
- The HDC approved a new house at 320 Spring St. for Teresa DeVito. The house will be 32 feet wide, with a 16-foot deck. The house will have a ribbed-steel roof, with Hardie Board siding and trim. DeVito said she is building in the middle of three lots, adjacent to Grotto Spring, so no one will be able to build closer to the spring.
- As part of a major investment at Pine Mountain Village, the HDC considered an application to build 10 rental cabins on Drennon Drive. The cabins would each be 350 to 400 square feet, with Hardie Board lap siding and metal roofs. Marshall Johnson described long-range plans to place as many as 31 cabins in the development.
Several nearby residents expressed opposition. Debra Mills described Drennon Drive as more of a narrow driveway than a city street, and she worried about additional traffic. Commissioners explained that they only address design, and Mills’s concerns should go to the Planning Commission.
Letters from Jake Achor and Pamela Ensiminger also mentioned the narrow lane. Achor reminded commissioners that the street was zoned residential until 10 years ago. Instead of tourist lodging, he suggested building residences for employees of the complex. In her letter, Ensiminger echoed that sentiment, noting that those employees could walk to work. The application was approved unanimously.
- No one attended the meeting to represent a belated application for work already performed at 118 Oakridge Dr. Booth said she had expected someone to attend because they cannot receive building permits or a Certificate of Occupancy without HDC approval. In response to a question from commissioners about the background of the application, Booth said, “It’s a long story.” She briefly alluded to the building official “addressing issues on unpermitted work.” The commissioners had more questions, and asked Booth to request that someone represent the property at the Sept. 16 meeting. The property is listed in the name of Praise the Lord LLC.
In response to the coronavirus, the HDC had gone from two meetings per month to one. During that period, they gave Booth more authority to grant administrative approval to Level I or II applications, provided the projects would clearly receive commission approval. They will return to holding meetings at 6 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of the month. A Level III request had come in too late for this meeting, adding to the reasons for scheduling a meeting Sept. 16. For that meeting, the deadline for Level III applications has already passed, and the deadline for Level I and II applications is Sept. 10. The commission has one vacant position.