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First Step in Preserving Historic Buildings is Local Ordinance, Preservation Expert Tells Citizens
The first step in preserving historic buildings is a local preservation ordinance, said Jennifer Martin Lewis, speaking at the Preservation Forum held at City Hall Community Room June 1. Lewis, state of Georgia Certified Cities Coordinator, works with 120 cities that have local ordinances.
The Georgia General Assembly passed a Historic Preservation Act in 1980, setting guidelines for local districts to form preservation commissions of citizens to compile a survey of historic property and guide changes. Members of a commission must be residents and receive training.
While Norcross has a historic district designated in The National Register of Historic Places, the district is unprotected since a local ordinance was rescinded in the late 1980's. While citizens may enjoy state and local tax credits for rehabbing historic property, their investment is not protected from incompatible changes the neighbors down the street might decide to make.
Preservation commissions do not regulate paint color, Lewis pointed out, but if a building is brick and has never been painted, the commission can prevent the brick from being painted, as paint prevents moisture from escaping and deteriorates the brick more rapidly. A preservation commission can not force an owner to paint or rehab property or regulate temporary changes like shrubbery, but the commission can be an invaluable resource of rehabilitation expertise for owners wishing to enhance property value.
Lewis noted economic advantages in preserving a historic district, citing Madison, Georgia where a preservation-minded mayor and council have grown a $4 million historic tourism industry. "Studies exist now all over the country showing how preservation helps a community," she said.
A preservation ordinance committee worked with the DDA's Design Committee for two years defining components and educating citizens. Transition districts with less strict guidelines adjacent to the historic district could also be an advantage. For example, the architecture review board that is already in place could review the Buford Highway area and the rest of the DDD, and the preservation commission composed of residents would oversee the National Registry historic district.
Without standards and clear definitions, a community can be at risk each time a developer comes to town, and other federal regulations can overpower a community's desire to preserve its historic district that is the very heart of its economic vitality. A recent example is the proposed cell tower intrusion before the DDA in 2005. Attorney Ellen Smith, arguing for the potential plaintiffs stated, "FTC regulations trump your local Design Guidelines ordinance."
Only resident outcry last year stopped the potentially devastating proposal by the Gwinnett County DOT to build a bicycle trail down historic North Peachtree Street in accordance with the 2001 LCI Guidelines proposals. The tree canopy would have been destroyed on one side of this important historic gateway. Had a preservation ordinance been in effect, the Gwinnett County DOT would not have considered such a project.
Recent studies demonstrate historic districts with preservation ordinances have quantifiable economic and fiscal impact. With interest in the new CID, developers are poised to take advantage of the town's unique character. Concerned citizens cite contributing historic houses in the district are falling at an alarming rate. Seven or more will be lost this year.
As reported by Gwinnett Daily Post Correspondent Carole Townsend who attended the meeting," These ordinances are about the property, not the owner.so while some may oppose such legislation as being too restrictive or in violation of their rights as individual home or business owners, Lewis said, "look for more cities to follow the preservation path in the future."
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