Should history prevail?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 3, 2005

Hall Place residents divided over designation

By Allison T. Williams

Jason Norman

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Suffolk’s Hall Place, with its tree-lined streets and ramblings homes, is steeped in history.

Much of the quiet neighborhood was once owned by longtime downtown pharmacist Joseph P. Hall. It was also the birthplace of Anthony Gentiel, who created Mr. Peanut, the monikered goober that is known worldwide as Planters Peanuts’ mascot.

In years past, the neighborhood outside downtown had fallen victim to disrepair. Once elegant homes were chopped into apartments. Homeowners were removing items vital to historical character of the homes-porch pillars, gingerbread trim and the like.

But in recent years, Hall Place- like the rest of downtown-began to undergo a renaissance.

The Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority developed a conservation plan, a master document to shape the future preservation of Hall Place. That plan was

subsequently adopted by the Suffolk City Council.

&uot;Experts have determined that Hall Place is a community worth preserving,&uot; said Clarissa E. McAdoo, the SRHA’s executive director. &uot;It has major architectural integrity. &uot;Hall Place is a stable community, with trees, sidewalks and curbs and gutters.&uot;

City planners and the SRHA spent months developing Hall Place’s conservation plan, which provides design guidelines for residents rehabilitating or building new homes in the community, McAdoo said. The SRHA even had a consultant create a pattern book of design standards for builders and residents to follow.

Adherence to the conservation plan standards are enforced through zoning and the Neighborhood Development Services’ permitting processes, McAdoo said.

But some Hall Place residents trying to restore their homes and the neighborhood to its former glory say the conservation plan simply isn’t enough.

So a group of citizens in the Hall Place Civic Association began doing the research and collecting the data needed to have the neighborhood added to the Virginia Landmarks Register and the

National Register of Historic Places. The application was filed with the state in January, said Marc Wagner, a spokesman with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

If it is added to the state register, VDH will forward the application onto the National Park Service for consideration of the national recognition, he said.

Having the state and federal historic designation is mostly about the prestige that comes with it, said Jeryl Rose Phillips, plans and policy coordinator with the city. The only real tangible benefits is that residents who choose to restore homes in accordance with federal and state guidelines will qualify for historic tax credits.

That is different from having a local historic designation, which gives residents strict guidelines for modifying the exterior of their homes. Changes to homes in local historic areas-ranging from types of shingles used, the color of paint or installation of new windows-require prior approval by the Historic Landmarks Commission.

A neighborhood can have the state and federal recognition without the local historic designation, she added.

&uot;It’s not something being thrust down homeowners’ throats,&uot; said McAdoo, stressing that the city has nothing to do with residents’ push for state and national historic designations.

&uot;Having the designation would benefit all the residents who choose to use the tax credits.

&uot;The credits are another funding instrument to use in restoring homes to their original brilliance,&uot; McAdoo said. &uot;It is not in competition with the conservation plan. Rather, it will help fulfill the goals of the plan.&uot;

Ironically, the move to preserve Hall Place has created a division within the neighborhood.

Susan Blair, former president of the Hall Place Community Association, doesn’t understand why everyone in the neighborhood doesn’t see the proposed historic designations as a win-win situation.

&uot;The first obvious benefit is the tax credit,&uot; said the South Main Street resident. &uot;We’d be able to write off the money we spend on restoration on our taxes.&uot;

Hopefully, Blair said, the incentive of the tax credits will motivate some homeowners whose homes have been somewhat neglected in recent years to makes changes.

Tara Stainback agreed.

&uot;We owe it to the past and we owe it to the future to have the physical representations of where we’ve come from and where we are going,&uot; she said. &uot;This is about preserving houses and saving our future.&uot;

Several people reportedly opposed to the historic designations refused to discuss the proposal with the News-Herald.

&uot;I have no comments to make,&uot; said Hall Place resident Mamie Arrowood.

Though she wouldn’t publicly comment on the matter, Elaine Eason, president of the community association, indicated she did not support it.

But it will come up for discussion during the organization’s July 19 meeting in the Farm Fresh Grocery’s community room.

Hall Place homeowner Sharon Harris believes the neighborhood needs the state and federal historic designations.

&uot;This area needs to go historic,&uot; she said.

&uot;The people who are against this are people who never came to the meetings when this was being planned.

&uot;Susan did wonderful things for the neighborhood…that really increased the value of homes in the 200 block of South Main Street.&uot;