Developer joins landmarks commission

Published 9:55 pm Thursday, April 11, 2013

Walter “Mickey” Boyette described his first Historic Landmarks Commission meeting as “uneventful” when it was done.

Boyette, the newest member of the commission that approves exterior changes to buildings in the city’s Historic Overlay District, seconded a motion and otherwise said little else. The Thursday morning meeting was mostly without controversy or contention.

But they’re not always like that, and Boyette knows firsthand. He has been on the other side of the podium many times.

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As an investor and lover of historic homes, Boyette has done 32 restoration projects in Suffolk — about half in the Historic Overlay District, he estimates. That means he’s been in front of the commission roughly 16 times in recent years.

Most recently, he went before the commission on Nov. 8 to request a certificate of appropriateness to replace the metal porch roof with architectural grade shingles at his special-events venue The First Lady, located at 447 W. Washington St. It was denied by a vote of 4-3, but what stung the most were the comments made during the discussion.

“I will not go before the HLC again with that commission in place as it is,” Boyette said in the Dec. 19 City Council meeting, where he was appealing the decision. “I don’t get talked down to on the street, my family and business. But when I’m in there, oh my gosh. I wish it was recorded. I’m called a liar, I’m called all kinds of things. Because of that, I will not invest in the downtown historic overlay.”

The City Council overturned the commission’s decision, allowing Boyette to make the improvements. Boyette discussed his experience during the meeting at the request of Councilman Charles Parr, who objected to the treatment Boyette endured at the commission meeting.

Boyette said certain commissioners did not believe the porch roof was in poor shape, essentially saying he was not being truthful. Parr, who once owned the building, said in the City Council meeting that he had put enough caulking on the roof when he owned it to “seal up the USS Enterprise.”

“But there’s a bigger issue going on,” Parr continued. “The way that some of the members or commissioners are treating the people that come up in front of them is pretty disrespectful to the applicants. … Some of the comments that are made to the applicants when they come up there — to call somebody a liar…. It’s just inappropriate.”

Both Parr and Boyette said the majority of members on the commission are fair, reasonable and respectful. They declined to name those they feel are not.

“There are people who are on the money and do try to be the voice of reason, and then you have the guy in the wilderness, wherever they’re from, and they’re way off base,” Parr said in the December meeting.

He also suggested City Council members should make a better effort to find people who have some kind of experience with historic buildings so they will understand applicants’ situations. Commissioners also should get better training on the factors they should and should not be considering when making decisions, he said.

Boyette said he knows several people who have sold their historic homes, backed away from buying them or just haven’t upgraded them because they don’t want to deal with the commission.

“I have known good people that were trying, they were excited about moving to Suffolk,” Boyette said. “They have actually sold their house and left. These are real stories.”

Not long after that meeting, a former commissioner resigned for personal reasons. Parr suggested none other than Boyette to fill his seat.

“He’s done numerous amounts of historical renovations, and I thought he would have a perspective on the side of the person that’s actually doing the work,” Parr said Thursday. “He’s been on both sides of the fence.”

Boyette said in an interview last month that he doesn’t expect to be able to change people’s attitudes, but he did promise to “remember who we’re there for.”

“I will treat people with respect,” he said. “I understand what it’s like to be on the other side of that podium.”

The commission meets at 9 a.m. in City Council chambers, 441 Market St., on the second Thursday of every month, if there is business to be heard. The members, besides Boyette, are Isaac Baker, Susan Coley, Merritt Draper, Amy Elliott, Randy Hicks, Lee King, Geraldine Outterbridge and G. Stewart Tyler.