HDC’s big focus was guidelines

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At its first meeting of 2017, the Historic District Commission faced an application for demolition of a significantly deteriorated contributing structure at 14 Singleton. In Building Inspector Bobby Ray’s report, he stated the exterior was in bad shape but the interior was even worse, and advised against entering the front door. A neighbor claimed wild animals lived there. Chair Dee Bright lamented the fact the house had been so neglected, but commissioner Melissa Greene added, all things being as they were, she applauded the owner for “getting this eyesore out of our neighborhood.”

Commissioner Virgil Fowler wanted more information about the cost of rehabbing the structure and asked for the plan for what would replace it., but demolition was approved.

Bright said she clarified for city council that HDC was not responsible for enforcement of Code violations, but the commission agreed to convene a workshop to discuss identifying where the contributing structures are and what to do if someone proceeded contrary to what was approved at their meeting.

Fowler was elected Chair for 2017.

In March, Fowler presented proposed changes to the commission’s guidelines and procedures regarding demolition of contributing structures, and at the following meeting commissioners approved renovations to two pre-1900 structures in serious disrepair.

In April, commissioners voted to approve new procedures for handling Code violations, stating that complaints would be channeled through Glenna Booth, the City Historic Preservation Officer, and the building official. Commissioners also voted to allow the Community Center Foundation to remove the old concrete block vocational trades building at the Community Center site. The Foundation intends to construct a greenhouse on that spot.

In May, Bright announced the historic doughboy sculpture, erected in 1929 in Basin Park, had been refurbished through funding by a Heritage Month grant from the Department of Arkansas Heritage with matching funds from Preservation Society.

In June, the HDC began a series of workshops before each regular meeting. Commissioners Wendi Super and Mark Ingram agreed to research setting up a digital property file database and Fowler suggested they discuss Code enforcement.

Commissioners approved allowing a section of rotting siding to be replaced by a fiber-enforced cement board product which the guidelines do not allow except in extraordinary circumstances. In this case, Bright spoke for the commission by stating, “It’s better to save the house.”

In July, Super followed up on the idea of a digital property file database by suggesting they develop a map-based system whereby points on a map of the Historic District would become links to a Dropbox file for each address, and each digital file would contain everything in the paper file for each property at the courthouse.

Super made a presentation at the next workshop of the plan she and her husband, Christian, developed. All archived files would have to be scanned onto a computer probably in Booth’s office. Commissioners agreed to volunteer to scan, a few at time, the 2000 files containing 30-40- pages each, or approximately 80,000 pages.

As commissioners discussed violations of Code at the August workshop, Fowler asserted inconsistencies with follow-up of complaints regarding violations meant there was no point in reporting them. He urged they make a list of talking points to discuss with Mayor Butch Berry. He preferred they discuss fines and enforcement procedures first at future workshops before meeting with the mayor.

Workshops on Code enforcement and related fines continued through the next workshops until confusion arose regarding how many votes it took to pass a motion. Fowler insisted HDC guidelines were not clear enough, and his reading of Robert’s Rules of Order was a majority of those who voted would prevail even though years of precedent had been for a majority of the number on the commission was required. Other commissioners disagreed. The mayor recommended Fowler follow what other commissions did and use four votes as the minimum for passage.

In October, commissioners voted 5-0 to amend guidelines to read that a majority of those voting to approve would pass a motion. At the November 13 city council meeting, City Attorney Tim Weaver responded that council was required by state statute to accept for passing a vote a majority of the whole number of seats on council. There are seven seats so four votes were required to pass any motion. He added he had been told repeatedly by Municipal League attorneys the same rule should apply to city commissions.

On November 15, Ray spent almost an hour detailing what he did when he received complaints about violations to Code. He said it would be easier for him and the judge if commissioners set up a fine schedule.

In December, commissioners approved a greenhouse at the Community Center and new rooftop balusters at the Post Office.

Fowler’s term expired at the end of the year and he did not re-apply.