By STEVEN NALLEY
At its meeting Monday at the city building department, the Starkville Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously in favor of supporting the Starkville Central Neighborhood Foundation’s application for Downtown Starkville to join the National Register of Historic Places.
It also unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Starkville Main Street Association notifying business owners of the application and obtaining their opinions on it through canvassing.
Present at the meeting to discuss the NRHP application process was Michelle Jones, Certified Local Government coordinator with the historic preservation division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Jones said SMSA’s canvassing helps to facilitate the process for rejecting the nomination: 50 percent of property owners plus one owner must send written rejection notices to MDAH.
The due date for the SCNF to send in its application is Feb. 2, 2012, Jones said, and a final draft must be submitted by Feb. 23. Between these two due dates, Jones said, MDAH will likely suggest several corrections to the application, particularly the evaluation of which buildings contribute to the district and qualify owners for greater tax returns on building rehabilitation.
This means the canvassing and any letters of opposition or support from business owners needs to wait until the nomination is finalized, Jones said, and MDAH will hold a public hearing on the finalized nomination between March 17 and April 17. If property owners tried to vote before then, Jones said, they would be voting on an item which would still be subject to change.
“It’s ephemeral right now,” Jones said. “The basis of that national register nomination will be the survey (of contributing and non-contributing buildings), but that’s just the beginning of the basis. There’s additional research and findings that will be made.”
HPC Commissioner Tom Walker said he would prefer to have a single petition which property owners could sign. He said the reason he wants the petition is not because he wants the NRHP district defeated. In fact, he said, he believes it would not gather the needed votes even with the petition.
“It isn’t going to happen,” Walker said. “What you’re going to be creating is a situation where everybody’s going to feel like they had a say. The way y’all are talking about is a situation (where) when anybody asks me, I will say, ‘That’s a railroad job.’ There’s no way you could possibly get enough stuff to turn it around. You’re creating a perception you don’t want to create.”
Commission chair Michael Fazio said MDAH has consistently used letters to judge approval or disapproval of NRHP districts.
Walker said the fact MDAH has consistently used letters does not make it illegal to use another method, and Fazio replied.
“I don’t think there’s a perception out in the land that there have been hundreds and thousands of railroad jobs for the national register,” Fazio said. “This is the standard procedure, and it’s written into the law.”
Walker also said he disagreed with Jones on the likelihood of an NRHP district becoming a local historic district.
“I understand these two processes are different, but I’ve talked with some people at the national level,” Walker said. “There are examples in Mississippi ... but it is very common that once you get a national register designation that it becomes a local district. It’s logical because you want to protect the buildings.”
Jones said Starkville’s own national register nominations for districts in the Overstreet School District, Nash Street and Greensboro took place 30 years before a local district designation mechanism was in place. She said there were also exceptions in Vicksburg, but Walker said there were specific reasons for that. Jones then said there could be specific reasons for an exception in Starkville and it is too early in the application process to know for sure.
Ultimately, Walker did vote for the resolutions of support, taking the lead in crafting the resolutions’ specific language. He also prefaced his disagreements with Jones and his fellow commissioners by saying, “It’s all water under the bridge at this point. The only thing I would recommend that this situation be used in the future as an example that more information is better and inclusiveness is really important in small towns. Everybody (needs to know) what’s going on and everybody (needs to have) a say.”