By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville Historic Preservation Commission approved a final draft of “Standards for Starkville’s Historic Districts” Tuesday and began planning public hearings on the standards, discussing methods to educate the public about the standards before the hearings.
The commission also voted to send payment for the standards to Mississippi Heritage Trust Executive Director David Preziosi and accept a new authorization form to be used in conjunction with the certificate of appropriateness. A few minor clerical corrections to the standards arose at the board meeting, but commissioner Tom Walker made a unanimously approved motion to accept the final draft subject to the clerical changes and the receipt of an electronic copy from Preziosi for any further edits that arise.
With the drafting process complete, commission chair Michael Fazio said it was time to begin thinking about getting the Starkville Board of Aldermen to approve both the standards and the local historic districts, and where they would apply. These local districts may share similarities with, but do not have to exactly match three Starkville districts already on the National Register of Historic Places. If the city approves the standards and districts, the standards would have the force of law within the districts, establishing design guidelines for local historic buildings.
“Because we’ve been working on these (standards) steadily, we haven’t had to worry about the future, but now we do,” Fazio said. “What we’re looking at now is (holding) public hearings to adopt the standards.”
First, Fazio said he intends to speak to the aldermen at their meeting Sept. 18. Much time has passed since the aldermen created the HPC and tasked it with creating the guidelines, and he said the aldermen would benefit from a review of the HPC’s process so far.
“People are going to begin to have all kinds of comments made (at the public hearings), and we don’t want the aldermen caught off guard,” Fazio said. “I would speak, and anyone else (on the commission) who wants to would speak. The point is that we make sure the aldermen know what is about to happen.”
Fazio then proposed less formal meetings with residents in each of the neighborhoods targeted for local districts — Overstreet, Greensboro and Nash Street — as well as other stake-holders, such as contractors, real estate groups and the Starkville Central Neighborhood Foundation.
“We would like for them to feel like they’re part of the process and also to hear information and not misinformation,” Fazio said. “We don’t then go to a meeting cold where we don’t know how people are going to perceive (the standards and districts).”
Fazio said the commissioners could split up and lead these meetings, and commissioner Briar Jones said they would need to be careful not to have enough in one place for a quorum because that would establish them as public meetings. However, Fazio said he does not envision these meetings as closed to the media or the public; they would just be conducted as information sessions instead of official HPC meetings.
Commissioner Tom Walker said he likes the idea because it gives the commission time before the first public hearing to not only build support for the standards but also to address grievances.
“If someone has an objection that is real that we somehow miss, then we’ve got time to fix it, rather than have someone bring it up in a public hearing (where) everyone feeds on it,” Walker said.
The commission made tentative plans to hold the neighborhood meetings starting after Oct. 1, but it did not reach a consensus on how to handle the public hearings. City Planner Ben Griffith said the three historic districts each need public hearings of their own, and commissioners were concerned about holding all of them in a single, protracted meeting. Walker raised the possibility of holding public hearings on the standards and getting them approved before getting the districts where they would apply approved, but no consensus was reached on this measure either.