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HPC re-evaluates landscape requirements

April 25, 2012


The Starkville Historic Preservation Commission re-evaluated requirements in a current draft of its preservation guidelines which would place landscaping restrictions on historic properties at its meeting Tuesday at City Hall.

For the past few months, the HPC has been working with Mississippi Heritage Trust Executive Director David Preziosi on design guidelines for historic buildings. Once these guidelines are established, commission chair Michael Fazio said the group will be able to establish local historic districts which may share similarities with, but not exactly match, the three Starkville districts already on the National Register of Historic Places. Within these districts, he said, the guidelines will restrict certain changes to properties to better preserve historic property.

Fazio said the rules for local districts should be distinguished from rules for districts on the NRHP.

“In the case of a National Register district, that’s a federal program,” Fazio said. “In terms of restrictions, there are very few. If you want to demolish a building, all you need is a permit from the city. The exception to that is if you decide to pursue tax credits.”

By contrast, he said, requirements in the guidelines will carry the force of law even for building owners who do not pursue tax credits. With this stipulation in mind, commissioner Briar Jones said a section draft on building sites, settings and landscape features gave him pause.
The draft sets restrictions on maintenance, repair, replacement, alteration and installation of outbuildings, fences, sidewalks, driveways, landscape objects, trees and more. Jones said he supported requirements for outbuildings, but he said restrictions on the other items could be extremely disruptive.

“I would much prefer to see these as recommendations,” Jones said. “I just wonder if we’re not going to be closing opportunities for creativity.”

The commission then began to discuss which items to keep as requirements as well as whether to keep the remaining language as a set of recommendations. Commissioner Cyndi Sullivan said she was concerned that including suggestions together with requirements might lead readers to mistake one for the other.

“I think they’ll get confused,” Sullivan said. “I would rather we leave out anything we’re not going to (require).”

Commissioner Maxine Hamilton said she had another alternative.
“Could we have a separate pamphlet saying, ‘Suggestions,’” Hamilton asked.

Fazio said it might be best for the commission to continue studying the section draft on building sites, settings and landscape features and return to it at the next meeting, where they could vote, item by item, on what to restrict and not restrict.

“I think we are going to need to do exactly what we did with building materials — have a vote,” Fazio said.

In other matters, Fazio and the other commissioners said they were satisfied with the latest flowchart draft for the HPC’s certificate of appropriateness process. A certificate of appropriateness, or COA, is the instrument HPCs use to grant people permission to externally alter buildings they own in compliance with preservation guidelines. Fazio said the commission would not formally approve the flowchart that night, and discussion could resume later.

“But I think what I’m hearing now is as far as we’re concerned, as knowledgeable as we are, we’ve got it (right),” Fazio said.

Fazio said a form the HPC has been developing for the COA process is not as far along as he previously thought. The form was based on one city staff found from Franklin, Tenn., and Fazio said he found a newer draft with information the HPC should consider adding to its own form. No one objected to Fazio’s plan.

“What I’m going to suggest is I go back to work on this and see if I can produce by the next meeting another two-pager that includes the information from Franklin,” Fazio said.

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