Historic district shrinks

Published 9:34 pm Thursday, September 22, 2011

City Council members approved a slate of changes to downtown Suffolk’s historic overlay district on Wednesday and sent a handful of lots back to the Planning Commission for review.

The process has been ongoing for nearly a year. City leaders wanted to make the historic district more compact and reduce the costly burden of historically appropriate maintenance on homeowners, they said.

After a lengthy review process, the Planning Commission last month recommended changes to city staff’s original proposal. Dozens of properties were removed from the district with Council’s vote Wednesday, including properties on Mahan, Church, Central, Hill, Grayson, Pinner, Jackson, Saratoga, North, Chestnut, Pine and Gittings streets.

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Three citizens spoke during a public hearing Wednesday on the topic. One North Street resident was concerned that the move was being taken so the city could eventually take her property, which is located close to city hall.

“We all are very proud of our homes and take care of our homes,” she said. “Is this to take our homes away from us?”

The city has said that is not the goal of the changes, which were spurred by a Pinner Street property owner whose request to put vinyl siding on his home was shot down by the Historic Landmarks Commission. That decision was overturned by City Council.

The commission has a say on any changes to the exterior of buildings in the district. Certain materials, such as vinyl, generally are not permitted.

“We wanted to ease that burden where we could,” Planning Director Scott Mills said. “A smaller, more compact district would be more palatable.”

Another speaker during the meeting was Harvey Whitney of First Baptist Church Mahan Street. The church wants to have properties it owns on North Main Street removed from the district, even though they were not included in the original process.

“We have worked with so many citizens, we should be able to work with the church as well,” Vice Mayor Charles Brown said.

Council voted unanimously to make the changes recommended by the Planning Commission. It voted 6-2, with Robert Barclay and Mike Duman in opposition, to have the commission initiate new reviews of the church parcels and of 118 Pinner St.