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Hall Place residents discuss historic designation

Last night residents of the Hall Place neighborhood near downtown made it loud and clear that they don’t want anyone – particularly the city – telling them what they can or can’t do with their homes, historic-district designation or no.

They had their first chance to learn a little more about what it could mean to have some of the area designated an historic district, on both the state and federal level. The meeting, held in city council chambers, also was a chance for residents to let city officials know, from the get-go, their thoughts on the proposed change.

Assistant City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn, Department of Planning Director Scott Mills and other city officials took notes on residents’ thoughts, but did not respond to the questions or comments of the more than 50 people who attended. Cuffee-Glenn said the concerns would be compiled into a report to help city officials determine their next step.

Camille Bowman, architectural historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, explained just what a state and federal historic designation would mean. Properties included in state and national registers simply are recognized for their historic value. It does not cost anything to register, and owners of registered properties could qualify for easements, tax credits and grants toward improvements and renovations of their homes.

Unlike local designations, state and federal ones do not place any restrictions on homeowners in terms of repairs, additions, paint, demolition, etc., Bowman said. Also, federal and state designations will not necessarily protect a property, she said.

&uot;I know there’s a fear of control,&uot; Bowman said. &uot;Controls come on the local level. They don’t come on the state or federal level.&uot;

However, people who apply for and receive grants or tax credits will have to follow certain guidelines, she said.

The process for listing properties on national and state historic registers consists of an evaluation and nomination. During the evaluation phase, either a paid consultant or volunteers gather information about the property that is compiled in a report that is reviewed by the Department of Historic Resources regional office and the National Register Evaluation Committee, and then moves on to the State Review Board.

The formal nomination form requires detailed historical and architectural documentation proving that the property meets certain criteria. After nominations are submitted, there is a public meeting for residents to learn what the boundaries of the historic district would be and the properties it would include, Bowman said. Any objections can be submitted in writing to the State Review Board.

Not every home in a district would be considered historic.

Those against the historic district designation fear repair and renovation restrictions, higher taxes and other fees. Retired residents on fixed incomes, or their neighbors of modest means, might not be able to afford repairs if they include special requirements mandated by historic designation guidelines, some said.

Several years ago, Hall Place, in conjunction with the Suffolk Redevelopment Housing Authority, developed a plan to guide conservation and renovation. Because it was tailor-made for the area, some say that plan is sufficient and there is no need for historic designation, residents said.

Others say the Conservation District Plan has significant flaws, including regulations that are unenforceable. Those who support the historic designation want to have the opportunity to apply for grants and tax credits to help offset the cost of work they put into their homes. They say there is no better way to clean up and improve the neighborhood than to give homeowners an incentive.

&uot;I know there’s a fear of control,&uot; Bowman said. &uot;Controls come on the local level. They don’t come on the state or federal level.&uot;

However, people who apply for and receive grants or tax credits will have to follow certain guidelines, she said.

The process for listing properties on national and state historic registers consists of an evaluation and nomination. During the evaluation phase, either a paid consultant or volunteers gather information about the property that is compiled in a report that is reviewed by the Department of Historic Resources regional office and the National Register Evaluation Committee, and then moves on to the State Review Board.

The formal nomination form requires detailed historical and architectural documentation proving that the property meets certain criteria. After nominations are submitted, there is a public meeting for residents to learn what the boundaries of the historic district would be and the properties it would include, Bowman said. Any objections can be submitted in writing to the State Review Board.

Not every home in a district would be considered historic.

Those against the historic district designation fear repair and renovation restrictions, higher taxes and other fees. Retired residents on fixed incomes, or their neighbors of modest means, might not be able to afford repairs if they include special requirements mandated by historic designation guidelines, some said.

Several years ago, Hall Place, in conjunction with the Suffolk Redevelopment Housing Authority, developed a plan to guide conservation and renovation. Because it was tailor-made for the area, some say that plan is sufficient and there is no need for historic designation, residents said.

Others say the Conservation District Plan has significant flaws, including regulations that are unenforceable. Those who support the historic designation want to have the opportunity to apply for grants and tax credits to help offset the cost of work they put into their homes.

“It’s my right to do what I want to my house. I’m not asking you to do anyting to yours,” said Regina Kunschman.

They say there is no better way to clean up and improve the neighborhood than to give homeowners an incentive.

“We only ask, recognize what you have,” said Ron Hatfield.

ashley.taylor@suffolknewsherald.com