Mayor Butch Berry wants to make sure voters know how much Eureka Springs may lose if a ballot initiative eliminates the Historic District Commission.
“In my forty-plus years as a preservation architect, I’ve never seen anything that has threatened our historic properties as much as this issue before the voters,” he said.
Paul Minze spearheaded the efforts to place an item on the Nov. 3 ballot calling for the elimination of the HDC. From the time he began collecting signatures on a petition, Minze has falsely claimed that the city will still have a historic district with guidelines similar to those currently in place. Arkansas law clearly requires the creation of a commission to oversee a historic district commission.
Without the commission, Eureka Springs would remain on the National Register as a historic district, but that honorary designation provides little or no protection from demolition, alteration, or neglect. Berry explained that Eureka Springs’ place on the National Register depends on the percentage of historic structures in the city, and that designation would change if a number of properties are demolished or significantly altered.
Berry also pointed out economic consequences. Much of the city’s tourist traffic depends on the preserved charm of its Victorian architecture. Businesses that depend on that tourism revenue help provide the city’s tax base. “If this passes what we know and what brings visitors to town could turn into Green Forest,” he said. “And it would all be because of one person’s resentment against a commission for catching him in violation of an ordinance for changing a historic building.”
In 2014, Minze bought a house at 35 Mountain St. In January 2015, his contractor came to a meeting of the HDC and received approval for some exterior work. Minze had asked to move a window to bring it into alignment with other nearby windows. This request was denied, and at another HDC meeting in July, commissioners told Minze not to move the window. At the time, Minze expressed his disappointment with the HDC ruling, although the commission consistently enforces the guidelines pertaining to windows: “Windows should be preserved in their original location and design.”
In many other states, an appeal from an HDC goes to the Planning Commission or city council. Arkansas state law dictates that appeals go directly to circuit court. Instead of filing an appeal, Minze had his contractors move the window anyway. After the city placed a Stop Work Order on the property, Minze and the city ended up in circuit court.
Judge Scott Jackson ordered the city to allow Minze to proceed with repairs to his roof and porch. With regards to the window in question, however, Jackson backed up the city. “The only finding this court can make is to move the window back,” he said. “You were told ‘no’ and you moved it anyway.”
Minze continues with the appeals process and has not moved the window back. In an Independent interview, he said he has spent more than $80,000 in legal fees in pursuit of his cause.