Paint color changes delay historic district guidelines

Published 5:26 pm Friday, July 28, 2023

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Suffolk’s Historic Conservation Overlay District guidelines moved a step closer to final approval Wednesday, July 19 after City Council heard public comments on the plan.

Initiated back in 2019, the update incorporates references to the Unified Development Ordinance and has been through reviews by local government, businesses and state agencies. Its adoption is likely to come in August with some changes suggested by Councilman John Rector.

At Wednesday’s public hearing, Suffolk resident John Jones thanked Council for their support on the update and commended Comprehensive Planning Manager Keith Cannady and his team.

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“I went to one of his meetings, they have put a tremendous amount of work into this,” Jones said. “Like I said, this is way overdue. I happen to be an owner of some of the buildings downtown myself and the process is not streamlined.”

He said this updated it long overdue to make the process more cost effective.

“This will allow people such as myself or anyone that’s interested in making their buildings look better and more attractive to people that might be interested in living in them, renting them or having a commercial space in them,” Jones said. “This is what we need.”

Councilman Roger Fawcett joined in thanking everyone involved in the work that was put into the historic conservation district document.

“It’s got a little bit of everything, but it streamlines the process and I think it’s going to be more cost effective in the long run, a little quicker for the folks,” Fawcett said. “I love the idea that we put up on the website.”

He said this helped with property owners’ awareness. Additionally it makes it clear for those looking to purchase a historical landmark providing them the opportunity to clearly see the process for what they are trying to do.

“If they look at this document, this document is going to take them from start to finish,” Fawcett said.

Councilman Rector agreed, noting it will be a tremendous benefit to historic district residents and businesses.

“What I like about it is (that) it’s very visually oriented,” Rector said. “There’s lots of examples of what you can do, what you should do, what you ought to do. Just as importantly there’s a lot of pictures and examples of what you should not do. What we do not recommend you doing.”

He also pointed to the issue of paint colors.

“One of my issues with it is not necessarily that they don’t completely regulate the paint color,” Rector said. “There’s not really much in the way of guidance at all, even saying we’re not going to regulate your paint color. Paint is mentioned I think on about seven or eight, nine different pages, but there’s no real guidance as to what you can do and what you cannot do.”

Suffolk Comprehensive Planning Manager Keith Cannady presented the key changes such as sign regulations being consistent with the base zoning district. He also pointed out that the amendments involved coordination with the district’s property owners, downtown business owners, and city staff within zoning administration, property maintenance and the city attorney’s office.

“We did go through a fairly detailed process, recognizing that this is the Historic Landmarks Commission that’s involved as well as the Planning Commission, and of course final action by this body,” Cannady said during the meeting. “It included some individual meetings, two-on-two meetings with City Council.”

Both the Department of Historic Resources and the Historic Landmarks Commission reviewed them at a March 9 work session and approved them 8-0 through a resolution May 11.  Prior to those reviews, the city met with the Downtown Business Association March 2 and held a public hearing March 28 on updated guidelines.

The Planning Commission was briefed on the overlay April 18 and then recommended approval on a 7-1 vote at its May 16 meeting. 

After the public hearing closed, Rector offered a motion to postpone adopting the guidelines until Wednesday, Aug. 16. He said this would allow time for city staff to include guidelines for the exterior building colors, which then would be followed by another public hearing on the same date. 

The motion for the delay was approved unanimously 8-0.

Additionally, City Council held a public hearing on a companion ordinance to the guidelines that amend Chapter 31 of the UDO.

No support or opposition was voiced in this public hearing.

Because of Rector’s prior motion to delay the overlay approval to Aug. 16, Council voted 8-0 to also delay this approval.

Council then agreed to postpone approval on another related ordinance with text amendments to Chapter 2 of the Code of the City of Suffolk to the Aug. 16 meeting with an 8-0 unanimous vote.