Officials: Reduce historic area

Published 11:13 pm Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Members of the Historic Landmarks Commission on Wednesday were amenable to recommendations of reducing the size of the historic overlay district and creating better signage to mark it, but resisted suggestions to change guidelines for the district.

The commission held a joint work session with City Council to hash out issues surrounding the size of the district and guidelines for it, specifically relating to the materials that can be used in the district.

The meeting was spurred by a Pinner Street homeowner who appealed to City Council after the council-appointed commission denied his request to install vinyl siding on his home.

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“That has been an area of contention we have noted,” Planning and Community Development director Scott Mills said of the vinyl siding issue.

City staff put forth a number of areas for consideration for removal from the district. The suggested areas are considered “transitional” in terms of their historical significance, Mills said.

They include the areas of Katherine Street, Mahan Street, Hill Street, parts of Pinner Street, parts of Finney Avenue, Jackson Street, North Street, Chestnut Street, Pine Street and Gittings Street.

Randy Hicks, chairman of the commission, acknowledged the elimination of those areas would solve some problems.

“I think this would solve a lot of the issues that we had,” he said. “I’d rather protect the Suffolk jewels we have that are important and not dilute them just because there’s a line drawn down the wrong side of the street.”

Few members of the commission spoke during the meeting, but Stewart Tyler spoke up in favor of keeping portions of Pinner Street in the district.

“I think that area should be protected,” Tyler said. “It should be in the district.”

Councilman Robert Barclay suggested the district has become more of an issue of contention in recent years because of the economy.

“Deterioration is a constant,” he said. “I think the factor that’s changed in the last two or three years is the economy.”

Councilman Jeffrey Gardy said deleting some areas from the district also “might encourage more affordable rehabilitation.”

Some also suggested that one problem the historic overlay district has encountered is that some homeowners are not aware they’re in the district.

“That seems to be the problem at this point,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said. “People don’t know.”

Hicks suggested placing notices on tax bills that go to homeowners in the district.

The historic landmarks commission will discuss the issue at its Feb. 10 meeting at 9 a.m. in City Council chambers, 441 Market St. Any change to the district’s boundaries also will have to go through Planning Commission and City Council.